Two-time Formula E race winner Daniel Abt lost his seat at Audi’s official Formula E factory team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler as a result of an esports scandal in the Formula E Race at Home Challenge.
The Formula E organizer introduced the esports series as a temporary replacement of the suspended 2019-2020 Formula E season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The series, which is run on rFactor 2, is part of Formula E’s fundraising partnership with UNICEF. The series was created to entertain fans during the current situation and does not award points for the actual championship nor offer prize money.
Abt, who is one of three drivers who started in all 62 races of the Formula E series since its inaugural race in Beijing in 2014, started his Formula E career as a driver for team Abt Sportsline, which is owned by his family and entered into a partnership with Audi in July 2017 to become an official factory team.
Besides motor racing, the Abt Sportsline company is well known for tuning cars from the Volkswagen AG conglomerate, including the Audi brand. During his time as a Formula E pilot, Abt built a following on social media, Youtube, and Twitch by bringing his fans behind the scenes, mostly through vlogs.
In the days leading up to the fifth stint of the Race at Home Challenge, Abt streamed his practice for the race on the German Berlin track on Twitch, while interacting with professional sim racers. In a conversation on stream, the idea came up to let an experienced sim racer drive in his position to prank the other drivers and create content around it.
When the plan was put into action on Saturday, Austrian sim racer Lorenz “Lozbert” Hörzing took the wheel and delivered an exciting virtual race. After crashing with Stoffel Vandoorne in a battle for the lead, the driver finished third. As a result, some of the other drivers suspected something was off as Abt wasn’t quick in the previous virtual races.
The organizers looked into it and found Abt wasn’t playing from his usual IP address. According to Abt, he admitted right away that he did not drive and tried to prank the other drivers to create a video for his fans.
In a statement released on his Youtube channel, Abt explained his thoughts on the series. “This is a game, a simulation, but it has nothing to do with motor racing, with what I usually do. Of course, they attempted to make it realistic, but it definitely is anything but what a real Formula E car is – how it drives, how it feels. Also, races are unrealistic. That became evident for everyone in the first [race at home challenge] race by what happened on track. Accidents happened en masse, everybody drove as they pleased, and the game had bugs,” said Abt in his video. “To be honest, I believe from an outside perspective it was not what constitutes a real Formula E race, the essence of professional racing. Our intention going into the races was primarily to entertain the fans at home rather than racing for results.”
Abt added that Hörzing was not paid to race for him and he intended to reveal his hoax in a video. The Formula E suggested Abt should donate €10K EUR ($11K USD) to a charity, which the driver agreed to and donated the sum to a charitable organization in his hometown Kempten, the Allgäuer Wekstätten. Furthermore, his points from the previous races in the series were nullified and he was excluded from further participation in the format.
In his statement, Abt continued, “…the media picked it up and immediately portrayed me as a cheater without giving me the chance to personally address the issue and explain what really happened. I can understand that we took it too far with our idea. In retrospect, we did not think about the seriousness and consequences of this and made an enormous mistake. I stand by my mistake and accept the consequences for what I’ve done and want to emphasize that I’m relieved that the sim racings guys haven’t been dragged into the scandal too much. It’s my responsibility and I’ll bear it.”
He ended the message by apologizing to his family, friends, Audi, partners, Formula E, UNICEF, and all his fans after revealing that Audi terminated the partnership with him. “However, integrity, transparency, and consistent compliance with applicable rules, especially with regards to the past, are top priorities for us at Audi. We stand by our culture of tolerating mistakes. However, the incidents that took place during the ‘Race at Home Challenge’ sim racing series were not a mistake, but a conscious decision to go against the rules,” explained the carmaker in a statement. “That is what makes the big difference for us. Therefore, unfortunately, we had no other alternative than suspending Daniel Abt.”
Abt became the third professional racing driver to face serious consequences from his actions in an esports exhibition event. In April, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace lost his sponsor Blu-Emu as a consequence of rage quitting during an iRacing eNASCAR event. Also in April, fellow former NASCAR driver Kyler Larson used a racial slur on his stream during another iRacing eNASCAR sim racing event, which got him suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and dropped by his team without pay, in addition to several sponsors terminating their partnerships with Larson.
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