I watched the first Autonomous Racing League event and while it certainly wasn't exciting, it was unintentionally hilarious

Over the weekend, the very first event in the Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League (A2RL) took place, with 600,000 people watching it online. Two races took place (AI vs human, plus AI vs AI), along with a raft of entertainment for the visitors. While autonomously driven cars are certainly going to be prevalent on our roads in the future, the notion of it being a sport sounds as dull as the inaugural race turned out to be.

If you're wondering what it was all actually like, you can watch a repeat of the online stream on YouTube. I'm a huge fan of motorsports, especially of the two-wheel kind, and tried my hand at it in my early twenties (to precisely zero success, of course). I also really like my racing games, especially Codemaster's F1 series, although I'm frequently frustrated by the limitations of playing against the computer and the general awfulness of playing online against people.

But having watched the entire livestream of the first event in the A2RL (a series of 'races' between AI-driven open-wheel cars), I can't help but feel that playing F1 on my gaming PC is infinitely more exciting than looking at desperately slow AI muddle its way around a race track.

Don't get me wrong—the tech on display is cool and from an engineering perspective, it reminded me a lot of competitions where schools and colleges compete to build electric race cars and then duke it out on a track. That's great to get involved and watch as a spectator, but this was duller than watching paint dry.

Though there is definitely some entertainment to be gleaned from watching the ridiculous nature of the 'racing'. Most especially at the point where one car spins out, another gets confused by all the smoke, a further AI loses signal and stops in the middle of the road, and then they all just line up behind the stalled vehicle with the super earnest commentators pointing out that's exactly how they're coded to respond.

"It's impressive technology," says one of them. "Not ideal for a race, but impressive technology."

The AIs were very conservative, seemingly very reticent to accelerate hard out of any corner, and at one point, one computer system completely misjudged another car's braking and ploughed right into it.

Of course, that kind of stuff happens in real races but the human element adds considerably more drama. Although it's not my cup of tea, F1 e-sports generates plenty of action, thanks to wildly ambitious moves, dodgy tactics, and downright brilliant driving. None of this was on display in A2RL.

However, given how far and how fast generative AI has developed in just a handful of years, autonomous driving could well reach the point where it's just as good as any highly experienced and successful racing driver. Would that make it worth watching, though? AI vs humans, maybe, but I can't imagine anything more soporific than AI vs AI. Even if they added jet engines, missiles, and lasers, it still wouldn't do anything for me.

Well, maybe lasers. Lasers make everything cool.


Best gaming PC: The top pre-built machines.
Best gaming laptop: Great devices for mobile gaming.

Nick Evanson
Hardware Writer

Nick, gaming, and computers all first met in 1981, with the love affair starting on a Sinclair ZX81 in kit form and a book on ZX Basic. He ended up becoming a physics and IT teacher, but by the late 1990s decided it was time to cut his teeth writing for a long defunct UK tech site. He went on to do the same at Madonion, helping to write the help files for 3DMark and PCMark. After a short stint working at Beyond3D.com, Nick joined Futuremark (MadOnion rebranded) full-time, as editor-in-chief for its gaming and hardware section, YouGamers. After the site shutdown, he became an engineering and computing lecturer for many years, but missed the writing bug. Cue four years at TechSpot.com and over 100 long articles on anything and everything. He freely admits to being far too obsessed with GPUs and open world grindy RPGs, but who isn't these days?