Daniel Abt has issued a statement regarding the events that took place during Saturday’s Race at Home Challenge – where he swapped himself for a sim racer during a “prank” that has ultimately led to him losing his real-world race seat with the Audi Formula E team.
The statement was published this evening to Abt’s YouTube channel, in German with English subtitles, after Audi AG issued their own statement confirming he was suspended this morning.
Abt was caught swapping himself out for teenage sim racer Lorenz Hoerzing during the fifth round of Formula E’s Race At Home Challenge. Hoerzing, who competes in the sim-racer-specific challenge grid, took Abt’s place in the official Formula E driver grid, achieving a third-place finish.
During the event, other drivers noticed that Abt’s face was obscured by his microphone, hiding the identity of the person really driving and he failed to answer a phone call from Mercedes Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who tried to investigate his suspicions.
Abt was found on Sunday to have not participated in the race and instructed by Formula E to make a €10,000 charitable donation – which he today stated he did immediately, to Kempten-based disability charity Allgauer Werkstatten. He was disqualified from Saturday’s race and all previously accrued points in the Race At Home Challenge were stripped, while Hoerzing was excluded from any further competition on the Challenge Grid.
Audi then issued a further statement this morning, confirming they had taken disciplinary action to suspend Abt
“Daniel Abt did not drive his car in qualifying and the race at the fifth event of the Race at Home Challenge on May 23 himself, but let a professional Sim-Racer do so. He directly apologized for this on the following day and accepted the disqualification. 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. For this reason, Audi Sport has decided to suspend Daniel Abt with immediate effect.”
At the time, it wasn’t known exactly why Abt and Hoerzing had decided to make the swap or when they had organised it and there was widespread speculation that Abt had paid Hoerzing to race for him, in order to achieve a good result.
In today’s statement, Abt said that his intentions were purely for entertainment – to find out what happened when a simulator driver infiltrated the Formula E Drivers’ grid. He said it had been organised very casually just before the event, during a discussion live on his Twitch stream, practicing with Hoerzing and other German-speaking drivers and sim racers.
He said “When we were practicing for this “Race At Home” challenge on a Twitch Stream, we were talking to other sim racers. We were communicating to them through an online program. We discussed sim racing, we drove together and had fun. In this stream, on this day, we had a conversation an the idea came up, that it would be a funny move, if a sim racer basically drove for me, to show the other, real drivers, what he is capable of and uses the chance to drive against them. We wanted to document it and create a funny story for the fans with it.”
And showed video of an exchange where he asks “Honestly, do you want to drive the race instead of me, man?”
To which Hoerzing responds “No joke, no joke.”
And Abt says “Let’s actually think about this. That would be super funny.”
He said that the public nature of the exchange, as well as their lack of attempt to properly disguise the swap – by using VPN to show Hoerzing (who lives in Austria) at a German IP address or any more elaborate ruse, showed that they had meant no harm by it and weren’t attempting to seriously deceive, only to experiment.
“That was our idea on this day and our thought. So we talked about it, we thought about how to make it happen, how to document it, and how to unwind it in a video afterwards. It’s also very important to me, to say, that it was never my intention, to let another driver drive for me, to get a result, and keep quiet about it later on, just to make me look better.
“Because I do not, These points, this result, is irrelevant to me, personally. It has no impact in any way. I’m not getting any money for it. Nothing of the sort. The sim racer hasn’t received any money either. It simply was a common idea. It was a feeling of “this could be something cool”. The sim racers themselves liked it, thought it was exciting. They went with the idea and so did we.
“When we did the stream on Saturday, and I “drove” this race, which I, of course, did not, we wanted to act as if I was actually driving, to unwind if afterwards. It has never been our intention to lie to you, or to withhold anything from you. I believe that, by openly communicating this idea live on stream, and there were 1000 people watching us talk about it live, I think that in itself shows, that it was not about withholding anything, because it simply is not personally important to me.”
Abt had, speaking weeks earlier to Inside Electric’s Katy Fairman for an upcoming podcast, said that he was not taking the challenge seriously as sport because it was unrealistic to become competitive in sim racing over such a short period.
Audi clearly ruled that the deception was sufficient to earn Abt dismissal, as Abt confirmed the two had parted ways as a result of the incident, “Today I was informed in a conversation with Audi, that our ways will split from now on. We won’t be racing together in Formula E anymore and the cooperation has ended.”
Abt has driven with Audi in Formula E since 2014, one of the first drivers to sign to the series. He, teammate Lucas di Grassi, Sam Bird and Jerome D’Ambrosio are the only drivers to have competed in every Formula E race to date. He achieved ten podiums, two of which were race wins and took Audi’s first factory Formula E win twice – firstly in Hong Kong, where a technical passport mix-up led to the wrong part being fitted to his car and a post-race disqualification on his 25th birthday, then again in Mexico City, where he kept the win.
Abt’s family run Abt-Sportsline, a motorsport and high-performance car engineering business closely associated with the Audi brand in DTM and as part of their Formula E team, which ran as Abt for its first three seasons, before becoming a factory team.
In his statement, Abt said that losing his position at Audi was “Pain, which I have never felt this way in my life.”
He went on to apologise to “my family, to my friends, to Audi, to my partners, to Formula E, to UNICEF, and of course to all fans, who have supported me over the years, with all of my heart.
“I made a huge mistake. I stand by it. I hope you can forgive me.
“Nevertheless, the last 6 years have been a great time to me in motorsport.”
He said that although this is a major blow to him, he aimed to recover – taking time away to reflect on the situation. “At the end, there only is to say: You make mistakes in life. I feel like I couldn’t fall any deeper. I’m on the ground. But I’ll get up again. I will come back. I surely need some time for myself now, to reflect on things, to think about my future.
“But I believe that it will always continue and there will always be a way. I would of course be extremely happy if you accepted my apology, supported me on my way in the future, again, and we will see each other again, soon.”
Speaking last year, at the Bern Eprix, Abt told Inside Electric’s Rob Watts that a departure from Formula E would probably mark the end of his racing career. “To be honest, I’ve found a series here [in Formula E] where I enjoy what I do and I’m still enjoying it but if I look at other motorsport series around there’s not much that really interests me in the same way.”
“I like being here and I want to be here again next year but if I can’t then there’s a chance that I will just end it and try something new.
“I don’t just want to race [for the sake of it]. I don’t just want to be in a series where I’m driving to just earn some money or to just be there. It’s not what I think life is about. I love racing but there’s lots of other stuff that could also interest me.
“I’ve had five amazing years so far and I’ve loved it and enjoyed being here but I see how other motorsport is evolving, I go to a lot of other series and I watch races but I just don’t see the same atmosphere and spirit so it just does not really attract me. For me, it would feel like going backwards and I want to go forward. It’s my honest opinion, that’s just how I feel.”