McLaren’s Esports driver Lucas Blakeley has already beaten Sebastian Vettel in real-world motorsport, and he’s since started his own single-seater career. Formula Scout was trackside for his first events
In February 2022, Sebastian Vettel was making headlines after he was beaten by a motorsport newcomer in a one-to-one heat driving electric rallycross cars on the snow in Pitea, Sweden in the multi-category Race of Champions event.
The driver who inflicted defeat on him was Lucas Blakeley, who is now in his early 20s and five weekends into his fledgling single-seater career. The first two weekends actually came last year, as Blakeley signed with Graham Brunton Racing to contest the Scottish Formula Ford championship in one of its Rays.
Round one took place on home soil at Knockhill and he qualified 13th on debut, with the UK-wide BRSCC National FF1600 field adding to the grid size, then round two took place in England and also combined the Scottish and BRSCC National grids.
But of the 20-plus drivers who took part across the first two rounds, only four were entered for Scottish championship points and the lack of interest for the remaining events at Knockhill meant one by one they were cancelled. Blakeley called it a day on his campaign before the final two events were called off as it was announced he was joining Veloce Racing as an Esports driver for the rest of 2022, and then he was signed by McLaren too for its F1 Esports endeavours.
The outcome of that move – having previously represented Aston Martin in the series – was title success for himself and the team, and then he was also championship runner-up in Scottish FFord due to the points table being taken from Croft.
McLaren held onto Blakeley’s services for 2023 and beyond with a multi-year deal, and have provided enough free weekends to him that he could pursue his real-world motorsport ambitions again.
The first opportunity came in April when he signed with Kevin Mills Racing to contest round two of the United FFord season at Silverstone, which he announced the day before the event, as well as the National FF1600 opener at Oulton Park a week later.
Formula Scout was there for both to see how Blakeley got on. It began with a very impressive qualifying showing around Silverstone’s National layout, where he was denied pole by just 0.14 seconds as the chequered flag waved and by none other than Michael Moyers, a driver who has won the Walter Hayes Trophy twice at the track.
But Blakeley took the lead into Brooklands on the opening lap of race one and soon created a slender 0.7s advantage. He stayed ahead for 13 of the race’s 15 laps, eventually being passed by FF1600’s 2023 dominator Lucas Romanek and then running wide at Brooklands on the final lap, losing second place to Moyers. He finished just 0.633s off victory.
“I led all but two laps, and if you told me before coming here I would be fighting with some really top level FFord guys, I’d have taken that every day of the week,” Blakeley said to Formula Scout. “To lead a real car race, it’s something I never thought I’d get to do.”
Race two was consumed by two safety car periods. The first came as a result of a stalled car and the second immediately followed when Blakeley was nudged from behind by Elliot Budzinski exiting Woodcote and spun backwards into the pitwall. Despite that sour end to his weekend, it was a learning experience he thoroughly enjoyed.
“I did Silverstone for like 20 minutes four years ago in a BMW [on a track day]. It didn’t help going into the day. So much to learn yesterday,” he said. “Tuesday I was at McLaren, Wednesday I was at the F1 studio with Codemasters, Thursday I was getting my seat made and Friday I was here for the test day. I didn’t ever think I’d get to be driving on a race weekend at Silverstone so very grateful.”
There was “immediate disappointment” for Blakeley once he realised he had missed out on pole.
“I was coming into the pits and I knew the last two laps I had traffic and that’s when the track was at its best. I had some time left in there. Crossed the line and I was like ‘I’ve lost pole, haven’t I?’. Because I knew the track was getting better and better, I knew I was on pole up to that point and I got traffic in the last two. Came into the pits and they guys just went ‘two.’
“I was really annoyed because we [were] only 0.14s off pole and I knew we had that, so immediate disappointment because I was so close. But you’ve got to realise ‘you know what, I’m actually on the front row here.’ It’s not all bad, P2, very strong result, the grid’s competitive, especially the front part there’s not a lot separating the top five or six. It was a very dynamic session, just trying to get the laps in, that’s where the hard part was.”
A reminder that Blakeley had done two race weekends and one test day in 2022, totalling six days of seat time, and his Silverstone comeback involved having to adapt to a wet-and-dry circuit as well as a “completely different” FF1600 chassis to the one he had raced a year prior. Of course, he utilised his simulator skills to prepare for his real-world racing return.
“I drove the FFord on iRacing around this very same track a month or so before coming here. Even though you’re never going to get 100% accuracy, there’s certain techniques like into Luffield just being patient off the throttle, timing of picking up the throttle as well, understanding how to rotate the car. On and off throttle is something that is quite big in these because when you’re off throttle you get a lot of rotation, the minute you get on the power you get understeer.
“I’ve put together everything I’ve ever learned, whether its on iRacing in FFord, whether its just on the sim in general from years of racing, karting came in useful today with the wet. Even from Race of Champions going sideways! I’ve had the privilege of experiencing very different avenues. I’m driving not as Lucas the sim racer, but as a FFord driver, and that’s the way I’m approaching it.
“I’m a perfectionist, you’ll never hear me say I’m 100% happy, which is why I was extremely angry after qualifying. I literally slammed the steering wheel because I knew it was close and it would have been amazing to get pole.”
“When we went in the full slicks session and I was carrying fourth gear sending through Copse with a bit of oversteer on the entry, it’s the most fun ever.”
Unsurprisingly “it was a good fun race” back in the cockpit, and after nailing the start “I tried my best to hang on” as the gap between the top two never went beyond nine tenths of a second.
“I always felt I was under attack, always defending. Tried to hold on, but I gave Lucas an inch and he took a mile. So fair play to him, he did a phenomenal drive. I tried, but it you’d told me before the weekend I’d be on a podium I’d absolutely take that.”
Blakeley was in fourth before being knocked out of race two, and dissapointing as it was, mostly “I was grateful I didn’t just bounce back onto the racing line because otherwise it would have been much bigger.”
With KMR’s preparation of the Spectrum chassis feeding his confidence on track, Blakeley was left “extremely happy with the progress” made at Silverstone.
There were fewer cars to fight against at Oulton Park, and Blakeley was the only KMR driver in the field. This time he was fifth in qualifying, 0.201s off pole and without “a big mistake on my fastest lap, we would have been P2”, but failed to get going from the grid in race one and was wheeled into the pits, where he started the race a lap down.
“Race one was just really unfortunate. The lights came on and as I tried to release the clutch, the pedal physically got stuck at the bottom. So I couldn’t get away and then race one basically became like a test session. But I actually had a rear-left puncture the whole race, so race one was useless.”
That meant he started race two from 11th, and he finished it in seventh and just 4.352s off the fight for victory.
“Race two was extremely strong. We had the fastest lap, we had very, very strong pace. Went from 11th to seventh in the end, but we were up to sixth at one point until we got squeezed off at a certain stage. We were fighting with the guys for the podium as well. The squabble we were in was for P3.
“So we had a very good recovery, we were able to catch everyone in front of us, which is really encouraging because this grid’s really competitive. Overall very happy with how race two went, because I had to get my elbows out, had to take some risks.”
Being in one of FF1600’s classic pack battles, where queues of up to 10 cars can be closely slipstreaming each other, “was a baptism of fire”. But Blakeley admitted “when the lights go out and you start driving, you just turn into something different. You just go for gaps – if you watch it on a camera, you’d probably take a step back.”
Wheel-to-wheel racing was a box ticked after his lonely race one, and “some of the most fun I’ve had in racing” for years.
Blakeley wanted to make another single-seater outing before the F1 23 game hit the shelves on June 16 and occupied a lot of his time, but he did not get the call from KMR again until the day before.
The team had lost one of its GB4 drivers, and Blakeley joined them for the series’ two-day pre-event test at Snetterton. It was his first ever running in a slicks-and-wings car and he was eighth fastest, and when the test concluded he got the chance to stay with the team for the race weekend. While Blakeley has shown he “had the speed” in FF1600, competing in Formula 4 would be a new challenge.
He went fourth fastest in qualifying, but suffered a slow start in race one that dropped him to eighth, then later a spin that left him in 11th.
“Had to avoid a collision into turn one which forced me onto the marbles and caused the spin,” Blakeley said after. “Not much I could do there, but proud of how I kept my head down and showed worthy race pace.”
At the very start of race two he fought for fourth, but then struggled with tyre temperatures and finished seventh. The weekend concluded with a quiet run to the same position in race three.
“I didn’t really have any expectations coming into this, the testing or even the race weekend after I found out I was going to race,” he reflected later in the weekend.
“Qualifying was really strong. It’s good that we’ve shown that we’ve had the pace [in the races] to be where we qualified. It’s not gone 100% to plan in the races. I’m obviously a little bit gutted about that, but I’m still enormously proud of what we’ve done as a team. Without them I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to race in the first place.
“I’m living it to the maximum, I wanted to do the opportunity justice for myself and for the team. I would obviously love to [do more race weekends], but it might be the only time I get to do one. I’ve tried to enjoy it as if it’s the last time I’ll ever do it in my life because ultimately I know how these opportunities come about. You just don’t know whether opportunities are going to come about. I wanted to really savour and appreciate it.
“I’m out here as a racing driver, I’m not here as a sim racer. We’ll only see more and more [sim racers making the transition to real world racing] as time goes on. You’ve get various examples: Jimmy Broadbent, James Baldwin, a lot of people that are sort of leading the way.
“If I can help be a part of that in some way, whether small or big, and to help show that sim racing can be used as a platform to develop your talent and then transfer into the real thing, then ultimately I’ll be very happy. And if I can help inspire people along the way that’s also a massive bonus.
“I’ve had the pleasure of meeting quite a few people across the course of this weekend. If I can make someone’s day a little bit better by taking a few minutes to speak to them or showing them the car, that ultimately it makes everything worth it. If I can make one person’s day better then, ultimately, I feel like I’m using my position and my platform in a constructive and positive way.”
Following that event the focus returned to Esports, particularly with the upcoming first competitions for the new F1 game, but Blakeley still wants to make at least one more FF1600 outing in the second half of 2023. And just a few weeks ago he was also back in one of KMR’s GB4 cars as he did the pre-event test on Silverstone’s full Grand Prix layout.
Interviews conducted by Steve Whitfield
Blakeley’s single-seater career
|2022||BRSCC National FF1600||Knockhill||13th||18th||13th|
|BRSCC National FF1600||Croft||13th||9th||10th||12th|
|2023||United FFord||Silverstone [National]||2nd||3rd||Ret|
|BRSCC National FF1600||Oulton Park||5th||11th||7th|