Frustrated Verstappen brands Virtual Le Mans a 'clown show': was it justified?


Max Verstappen quit the 2023 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual and labelled it a "clown show" after connection issues, but many say that technical issues are simply part of sim racing

Max Verstappen sim racing

Red Bull

He’s a double F1 world champion and widely regarded as one of the finest drivers of his generation. But the competitive fire still rages in Max Verstappen, who flounced out of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual esports race, infuriated after a technical glitch saw his car lose the lead and tumble down the running order.

After rejoining in 14th place, the Dutchman pulled his car into the pitlane and retired. “Honestly, it’s a joke, you cannot call this an event, a clown show,” he fumed on his own livestream. “That’s why it’s better to retire the car, because driving around in P15 for six hours makes no sense for everyone.”

As well as leading the race, Verstappen and his No1 Redline team had been leading the Le Mans Virtual Series, a five-race esports endurance championship with a $250,000 prize fund.

“That’s it, game over. I think I have more chance to win if I go to Vegas and go to the casino”

But while his dramatic exit overshadowed the achievement of eventual winners Felipe Drugovich, Felix Rosenqvist, Luke Bennett and Chris Lulham, it also illustrated one of the major frustrations of virtual racing: the technical issues that are an almost unavoidable plague in large-scale online competition.

During the esports showcase race more than a dozen teams suffered a temporary disconnection, although most — unlike Verstappen — were reinstated to their previous position.

“You prepare for five months to try and win this championship, you’re leading the championship, you try and win this race that you prepare for two months and they handle it like this,” said Verstappen.

“It’s a disgrace for all the effort we put in as a team. I really hope the organisers really consider where they put this race forward, because on this platform, it’s not going to work.

“That’s it, game over. I think I have more chance if I go to Vegas and go to the casino, I have more chance to win.”

The series blamed the race’s multiple technical issues on a hack. It said that one of the teams had inadvertently shared the IP address of the unsecured race server, allowing it to be attacked, although it was also pointed out that the address was publicly available.

But even without the hack, disruption was almost inevitable. Fellow competitor and former F1 driver Romain Grosjean (who advises the series organiser Motorsport Games) likened disconnections to “real life mechanical failures” which are often seen in all forms of motor racing.

The most notorious example of these errors occurred in 2020, at the F1 Esports Pro Championship, when Ferrari’s David Tonizza became the victim of ‘desyncing’, a technical error which causes drivers to appear on some screens but not others.

In this instance, Tonizza had been racing Alfa Romeo’s Jarno Opmeer, who appeared to squeeze Tonizza’s Ferrari into a wall and force him out of the race. Whilst this was the case on Tonizza’s screen, Opmeer saw nothing but clear road ahead of him, meaning he could not be penalised.

The Alfa Romeo driver would go on to win the race and was crowned F1 esports world champion seven races later.

Max Verstappen stream after quitting 2023 Virtual Le Mans race

Verstappen expresses his frustration in his stream

Problems like these are not just limited to the sim-racing series. Despite being a multi-million dollar industry, the Call of Duty League (CDL) is an almost constant site of disconnections and technical issues that can cost teams vital matches as well as hundreds of thousands of pounds in prize money: the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans is far from alone in its battle against technical difficulties.

Esports racer Jimmy Broadbent, who was also taking part in the race, said that disconnection was “fairly common”in virtual races but suggested rFactor2 was known for its problems. “If they can’t get this event to run smoothly, it is only going to damage sim racing,” he said in a video.

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Verstappen’s harsh words caused outrage online, with series commentator Ben Constanduros accusing the Red Bull driver of “fuelling toxicity” in the sim-racing community. But co-commentator Lewis McGlade did sympathise with Verstappen’s frustrations.

“As a fan of everything sim-racing, I love seeing Max on track, he brings an enormous fan base that listen to every single word he says both positive and negative,” McGlade told Motor Sport. “So, in that sense his reaction hurts because of the amount of work we have all put into it.

“But then I think about it from the competitive side, and then you really do understand his, and the team’s frustration.

“I had a chat with Luke Browning [one of Verstappen’s team-mates] about the amount of work and preparation for this one event alone truly is months of work, laps, data, analysis. And to have that ripped away from you through no fault of your own is irritating and will always cause a reaction like that, born out of frustration.”

Much like the real event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual is a race composed of 28 LMP cars and 16 GTE cars, split between 37 different esports teams – acting as the grand finale of the Virtual Endurance Championship.

Verstappen had qualified fourth for Team Redline, who have been at the forefront of sim-racing for over 20-years, but quickly took the lead of the race on Saturday afternoon, passing Redline team-mate and F2 champion Drugovich, as well as both Porsche Conada drivers before Turn 1.

But four hours in, the event experienced its first issues, with seven cars disconnecting from the race within moments of one another. The race was subsequently red flagged as organisers attempted to fix the issue and a suspected security breach later that evening brought the race to a halt once again.

Despite the interruptions, both Team Redline cars remained in contention for the lead, with heated wheel-to-wheel battles against Porsche’s Jeffrey Rietveld providing much of the action. As the virtual sun rose, Verstappen’s patience with the event wore thin.

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At 5:30am CET, seven cars disconnected, but were granted their missing laps back, allowing them to keep their original positions. Just over an hour later, Verstappen’s leading car and one other were also disconnected but were not awarded a lap back once they re-joined, forcing them down the running order.

As per the sporting regulations, race control explained that Verstappen did not have his laps reinstated as only two cars experienced disconnections. In order to reinstatements to apply, four or more drivers have to disconnect at the same moment.

Upon hearing the news Verstappen immediately retired and voiced his anger.

“The issues were obviously not ideal,” added McGlade. “To sit here and say ‘these things happen’ is a pretty rubbish response, because they do yes but they shouldn’t. But it does seem as though people on the outside believe it’s easy to work out what the problem is and fix it when it isn’t.

“What I do know is we do genuinely have an incredible, close team for Le Mans Virtual from broadcast production, to race control, to social media and so much more. In the race they say they win and lose as a team, well we do as well.

“There is always more that can be done especially when it comes to preparation, as this is a constantly evolving industry.”

“I know a lot of people on the outside of the team do not trust those behind the scenes, but from having worked with them side by side for 2 and a half years now on and off for the Le Mans Virtual Series, I do trust them and I do trust that they will leave no stone left unturned in the pursuit of something great.”