In the Formula 1 drivers’ chess club

But it’s not the only sport or hobby to benefit from such a surge. In October 2020, The Queen’s Gambit became a hit on Netflix, based on the 1983 novel about a chess prodigy, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who becomes the world’s greatest gamer.

This has resulted in a massive increase in interest in chess. Retailers reported that chess board sales increased by up to 1,000%, according to the New York Times, while new listings on, one of the world’s largest online chess sites, were seven times larger than usual.

But it is not only the general public who entered 2021 with increased interest in playing chess, which, along with golf and padel, has become one of the new major hobbies for F1 drivers this year. year.

Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr are the two drivers who have taken failures most seriously this year. As well as having excelled on the track as teammates, helping Ferrari take third place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of McLaren, Sainz and Leclerc also became good friends off the track. This gives a touch of youth and freshness to the atmosphere of Maranello.

Chess is an interest that has always been with Leclerc, but as he and Sainz were looking for something to do during the quiet periods at the start of the season, it quickly became competitive.

“In fact, I’ve always been in it, I always liked chess when I was a kid,” Leclerc told Autosport.

“I think it was all the media days at the start of the year, we didn’t know what to do and I was playing chess, and he saw me and said OK, I’m uploading this.

“We got pretty crazy with it in the first part of the year. We played against each other and we never stopped.

It was a new obsession for Sainz in particular. “He loves his failures with Charles,” said Lando Norris, former McLaren team-mate. “I think maybe I beat him in the first game, then I stopped! I might be wrong, he would probably tell you that I’m lying …

“He and Charles played for hours and hours. I didn’t know he was playing before.

From thefts between races to between sessions in the car, and even during the long rain delay at the Belgian Grand Prix, Leclerc and Sainz were glued to their phones playing each other using an app.

And unsurprisingly, it has become incredibly competitive. In a video for Autosport earlier this year, Leclerc and Sainz debated who was the best in chess and won the games most often.

“Today we played on the plane, and it was 2-2,” Sainz told Leclerc. “And you didn’t want to play the last one. So if anything… I had the advantage.”

– No, no, replied Leclerc. “Do you remember the Spa? Sainz claimed he lost because he was so focused on the race.

“He’s very good at nighttime chess so every time we come back from races after 9pm he’s very good,” said Leclerc. “But from morning till night, I am much better.”

But Leclerc and Sainz are not the only drivers to have tried a lot of chess this year. Between sessions and various engagements at Haas on race weekends, Mick Schumacher is another driver who will typically be found playing the game with whatever spare time is available.

A chess board is now part of Schumacher’s essential kit to take with him to races, giving him the opportunity to sit and play to relax. Schumacher usually plays with Kai Schnapka, a physio who worked with Michael Schumacher towards the end of his F1 career before joining Mick in the junior categories. Schumacher also played a few games with Timo Glock, but has yet to play with the Ferrari drivers.

Yet it was only by accident that Schumacher really became interested in chess. “We have a chess board at home, we’ve always played it here and there, but never properly,” Schumacher told Autosport /

“We were very passionate about backgammon, Kai and I. And then we quit playing – we forgot our backgammon board, and the only thing we had was chess, so we started playing chess!

“Then for a while we were mixing chess and backgammon, and now we’re basically just playing chess. It’s fun, I beat him the whole time!

Mick Schumacher, Haas F1 team

Photo from: Haas F1 Team

Chess is something Schumacher has improved at over the years. “At the start of the year I was losing most of them,” he said. “Then for some reason I understood the game a little better and started winning most of it. “

This kind of mental improvement is exactly the benefit that Schumacher sees in the test. In May, he discussed the benefit of playing such games in an interview with GP racing.

“I feel like these games kind of brings the focus back, because you always have to be turned on with your mind,” Schumacher said. “In a weekend, I always want to be mentally prepared for any challenge that comes along.”

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Next year’s 23-race season is expected to give drivers more time on the road than ever before, which means more flights and more time at racetracks to fill in between their racing duties – and for the club. F1 unofficial but growing failures, maybe more members.

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