Formula E is going to offer computer-generated recreations of its races in virtual reality, starting with a downloadable version of next weekend's race in Long Beach. The series eventually wants fans to be able to watch the races in real time, and it plans to do so well before the climax of the series' second season in July.
Fans will be able to experience the race from any of the 18 drivers' perspectives, or watch it from a number of virtual camera locations around each racing circuit. They'll also be able to explore the paddock and freely roam around the virtual reconstruction of each course. Audio of the race broadcasts will also be included, and the experiences — at least for this season — will be free of charge.
To capture the necessary data and create the virtual representations, the series partnered with San Francisco-based company Virtually Live. Virtually Live uses a combination of physical trackers and image recognition software to recreate the races on a computer-generated version of the racing circuits. A representative for Virtually Live tells The Verge that two sides have been privately testing live broadcasts as far back as the December race in Uruguay, and they hope that real-time streams will be available as early as the April 23rd race in Paris.
How we watch sports is changing in a big way
Until then, though, the virtual recreations of the races will be offered as downloads in the days following each race on the Oculus, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR stores. (Virtually Live says that it would have to "sacrifice too many polygons" if it tried to release the races on mobile VR platforms like Samsung's Gear VR or Google Cardboard.) Fans will also be able to chat with friends who are watching the same race.
The news falls right in line with some of the other forward-thinking ideas to come out of the young, all-electric racing series, like Fan Boost, or the virtual championship on Forza Motorsport 6 announced last week.
But watching a race in VR is more than just another clever idea. We're in the middle of a revolution when it comes to how we watch sports, one that really started when broadcasters started allowing fans to access live streams of major events on their computers or their devices. Formula E's organizers have taken these ideas a few steps further, offering things like free live streams of its races, and supplying 360-degree video replays. And when you consider that a series like Formula One made it even harder to watch its own races this week, Formula E's partnership with Virtually Live feels like a pretty big step forward.
Update March 25th, 4:40PM: Added clarification that the race content will be free for this season.