LONDON (Reuters) – Audi suspended Formula E driver Daniel Abt on Tuesday after the German cheated in an official esports race by getting a professional gamer to take his place.
FILE PHOTO: Motor Racing – Formula E – Berlin E-Prix – Flughafen Tempelhof, Berlin, Germany – May 19, 2018 Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Daniel Abt celebrates winning the race REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo
Abt had issued an apology on Sunday for the deception in Saturday’s fifth round of Formula E’s virtual ‘Race at Home Challenge’.
The 27-year-old, who was disqualified and ordered to pay 10,000 euros ($10,956) to charity, risks losing his seat in the real world.
“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,” said Audi in a statement.
“For this reason, Audi Sport has decided to suspend Daniel Abt with immediate effect.”
The punishment, for something that happened in a virtual series designed to provide entertainment in the absence of real racing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was seen as an over-reaction by some of Abt’s track rivals.
Formula E’s championship leader Antonio Felix da Costa feared the sport was losing sight of what mattered.
“Do we accept cheating? No, but who never cheated at Monopoly? Lets put things in perspective please,” said the Portuguese on Twitter.
DS Techeetah team mate and double Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne said on his feed: “After all this a game that should be taken seriously, but it’s a GAME.”
Abt, a real-life race winner, had finished third on the virtual Berlin Tempelhof layout but rivals expressed doubts at the time about who was racing.
Mercedes driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who finished second, felt something was amiss and tried to call Abt on his mobile without success.
The esports series features all of the regular Formula E drivers competing from home and visible in their simulators online, but Abt’s face was hidden.
Organisers can check the IP addresses of competitors to ensure they are who they purport to be, with pro gamer Lorenz Hoerzing later revealed to be Abt’s ‘ringer’ and barred from future involvement.
“I did not take it as seriously as I should have,” Abt said on Sunday. “I am aware that my offence has a bitter aftertaste but it was never meant with any bad intention.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar