Audi has dismissed factory Formula E driver Daniel Abt, after it was revealed the German had not driven in the fifth event of the Formula E Race at Home esports competition around the virtual Berlin Tempelhof Airport circuit this past weekend.
Suspicions were raised by competitors after the camera of Abt in his simulator was obscured for the duration of qualifying and the race. An investigation – including cross-checking IP addresses of the drivers’ connections – confirmed that rather than driving in the sessions himself, Abt employed a professional sim racer to substitute in his place while still racing under his own name.
After the deception was uncovered, Formula E fined Abt €10,000 – with the payment going to charity – along with being disqualified from the Berlin sim race event (where the substitute Abt had finished third behind Oliver Rowland and Stoffel Vandoorne having tangled with Vandoorne while battling for the lead), and wiped the German’s points from the Formula E Race at Home series.
Audi went further with their sanctions on the driver, announcing in a statement that Abt has been suspended by the manufacturer for his actions, effective immediately.
“Daniel Abt did not drive his car in qualifying and the race at the fifth event of the Race at Home Challenge on May 23 himself, but let a professional Sim-Racer do so. He directly apologised for this on the following day and accepted the disqualification.
“Integrity, transparency and consistent compliance with applicable rules are top priorities for Audi – this applies to all activities the brand is involved in without exception.
“For this reason, Audi Sport has decided to suspend Daniel Abt with immediate effect.” – Audi statement confirming Abt’s dismissal.
Following Audi’s decision, Abt released a near-15-minute video statement, in which he confirmed he had not only been suspended by the German marque, but dismissed as a factory driver entirely.
“This has real consequences for me because today I was informed in a conversation with Audi that our ways will split from now on. We won’t be racing together in Formula E anymore and the co-operation has ended. It’s a pain which I have never felt in this way in my life,” he said in the recording.
The video also included an apology to Abt’s family, friends, team, Audi, Formula E, UNICEF and fans.
Abt also used the video to explain the background to the events leading to the substitution. He explained that for him, the Race at Home series was about entertainment and not race results, but using the competition as a way to entertain fans during the COVID-19 pandemic while also raising funds for UNICEF.
To this end, Abt explained his idea to have the professional sim race drive in his place was intended to be for fun and to see how the sim racer could compete against the full-time race drivers.
The German went on to explain that he had been documenting the substitution, and was planning on unveiling it as part of the entertainment of the competition after the race – he was aware that it could be traced, and there was not intention to hide the situation beyond the event. It was a move Abt admitted was a mistake, once the negative reactions ran out of his control.
“Shortly after the race, I realised myself that it did not end there and it suddenly went in a direction which I had not ever been able to even imagine in my dreams that this would happen,” he explained.
“I can understand that we went too far with this idea. We made a huge mistake there, I stand by this mistake. I accept it and I will carry all the consequences for what I have done.”
Abt’s dismissal from the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team brings an end to the final Formula E driver pairing to have remained unchanged since the inaugural season of the championship in 2014/15, with Abt and former champion Lucas di Grassi competing side by side in every race for the team to-date.
The German is also one of only four drivers to have competed all 63 Formula E races over that time, having taken two race wins and ten podium finishes. At the time of the 2019/20 season being suspended due to COVID-19, Abt was sitting 17th in the Drivers’ Championship standings, with all eight of his championship points being scored in the second race of the opening event in Saudi Arabia.
Abt’s firing may cause potential issues for the remainder of the Formula E Race at Home esports series, with a number of other drivers expressing their dissatisfaction over social media.
DS Techeetah driver (and leader of the current Formula E standings when the championship was suspended) António Félix da Costa tweeted: “Good bye Twitch, good bye streams… I’m out. See you never.”
While sim racing has provided a vital method for motorsport to remain at the forefront as sports globally have been forced to pause due to restrictions caused by COVID-19, Abt’s firing is the latest in a string of motor racing esports controversies during that time.
NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace lost a major sponsor after he rage-quit a sim race, while a week later fellow NASCAR star Kyle Larson was dismissed from his drive with Chip Ganassi Racing after he was caught using a racial slur in the Twitch stream of his online racing exploits.
Audi are yet to name any replacement for Abt in its Formula E lineup.
Image via FIA Formula E Championship
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