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F1 launches eSports world championship

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Formula One has launched an eSports series which will culminate at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.

F1 has teamed up with games developer Codemasters and eSports specialists Gfinity to create the championship, which will launch in line with the F1 2017 game in September. Throughout that month qualifying events will take place to determine the 40 drivers who will progress to the semi-finals.

The two semi-finals will be held at Gfinity Arena in London on October 10 and 11, with 20 drivers -- the number of cars on this year's grid -- progressing to the final. In standard F1 races, the top 10 drivers score points, meaning it is likely the semi-finals will work in a similar format.

F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches says the series is another example of the sport's new owners trying to reach a new audience.

"This launch presents an amazing opportunity for our business: strategically and in the way we engage fans," Bratches said. "First, it's a growing category with tremendous fan engagement that we're entering in a big way; and we are proud to have Codemasters and Gfinity joining us on this ride.

"Of course as we do in Formula 1, we'll continue to evolve and innovate in the way we run this virtual counterpart to the F1 Championship to ensure we provide the most exciting and enjoyable experience we can for our fans."

As an added bonus for the winner of the series, they will be named the 'F1 eSports Champion Expert' for the following year and be included as a character in the F1 2018 game. The series sees F1 following a trend set in motorsport in recent years, with the Nissan GT Academy programme renowned for taking gamers and turning them into GT drivers. Formula E also held a million-dollar gaming event in Las Vegas this January, while McLaren is also trying to find its next F1 simulator driver through the 'World's Fastest Gamer' programme.

Codemasters CEO Frank Saigner believes the new series will help attract new fans to F1.

"eSports is one of the fastest growing sectors of gaming already attracting audiences in the tens of millions," he said. "We are delighted to be announcing this incredible racing series with Formula One for our upcoming F1 2017 game. The highly competitive nature and high-speed spectacle of the sport combined with the authenticity of our game will provide a thrilling experience for players and viewers across the world.

"We look forward to engaging more deeply with our loyal and passionate community, and to bring new fans to both our game and the sport itself."