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German Audi driver Daniel Abt qualified in second place in the Formula E Race at Home Challenge, going on to take third place. This raised suspicions as he’d never finished above 15th before.
Ex-Formula 1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who finished second in the 15-lap race around a virtual Berlin Tempelhof track, said he believed someone else was competing under Abt’s name.
“Really not happy here because that was not Daniel driving the car himself, and he messed up everything. That was ridiculous,” he said. “I’m questioning if it was really Daniel in the car.”
Two-time real-life champion Jean-Eric Vergne agreed. “Please ask Daniel Abt to put his Zoom next time he’s driving, because like Stoffel said I’m pretty sure he wasn’t in,” he said.
Their suspicions were confirmed when organizers of the race cross-referenced the IP addresses of competitors and discovered Abt could not have been the one controlling his car. It turned out that professional e-sim racer Lorenz Hoerzing was at the wheel.
Reuters reports that drivers are usually visible during races via Zoom, but the face of the person pretending to be Abt was obscured by microphone equipment. Additionally, his Twitch stream had stopped working. Neither Abt nor Hoerzing took part in post-race interviews.
18-year-old Hoerzing, who competes in the FE Challenge Series—a parallel championship for esport drivers—has been banned from competing in all future rounds of the Challenge Grid competition and stripped of his sixth-place finish. Abt, meanwhile, has been disqualified, stripped of all his points, and ordered to pay 10,000 euros ($10,900) to charity.
“I would like to apologize to Formula E, all of the fans, my team and my fellow drivers for having called in outside help during the race on Saturday,” Abt said in a statement. “I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I’m especially sorry about this, because I know how much work has gone into this project on the part of the Formula E organisation. I am aware that my offence has a bitter aftertaste, but it was never meant with any bad intention.”