Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou won Formula 1’s Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday night, but Lando Norris stole the show despite not driving for the majority of the event.
Technical issues led to both Norris and YouTuber Jimmy Broadbent being unable to take part in qualifying on the official F1 2019 game, leaving them both on the back row of the grid. It was Phillip Eng who took pole position driving for Red Bull ahead of Mercedes’ Esteban Gutierrez, with Zhou in third and Williams 2020 race driver Nicholas Latifi in fourth.
Nico Hulkenberg took part in three different Esports events during the weekend, and he showed rapid improvement to end up qualifying fifth for Racing Point, with other former F1 drivers Stoffel Vandoorne lining up 11th for Mercedes, Anthony Davidson 12th for Haas and Johnny Herbert 16th for Alfa Romeo.
There were a number of celebrity entrants too, with golfer Ian Poulter representing Renault and starting 15th ahead of six-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy in 17th as part of the Red Bull team and singer-songwriter Liam Payne in 18th for Williams.
The race was due to be 50% distance but was cut down to 25% to allow for the addressing of technical problems, which should have helped Norris and Broadbent enter. While Broadbent was able to, Norris again suffered a problem that saw his driver represented by AI – named as LandoBot on Norris’ Twitch channel that gained over 100,000 live viewers – for the first eight laps.
That worked to Norris’ advantage, as the start saw carnage when Hulkenberg collided with motorcycle racer Luca Salvadori’s Toro Rosso, and then Herbert opted to completely cut Turn 1 to take the lead, earning a 10-second time penalty as a result.
Gutierrez and Latifi then collided heavily on the run towards Turn 4, leaving Eng leading Zhou and Ferrari’s F2 driver Robert Shwartzman, albeit behind the penalized Herbert. Eng quickly forced his way past Herbert – as did Zhou – while Vandoorne and Shwartzman made contact at Turn 3 at the start of the second lap.
Zhou took the lead with a nice move down the inside of Eng into Turn 10, and he would not be seriously challenged after the pair switched softs for mediums, going on to pull clear and win by over 11 seconds.
Norris had phoned Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, George Russell, Zak Brown and a number of McLaren strategists and engineers on a highly entertaining live stream while waiting for the race to start, but finally regained control of his driver on lap eight while running second but still needing to pit.
Vandoorne had followed a similar strategy of starting on mediums and running long, and after his pit stop he was in third place on fresh tires, able to close down and barge his way past Eng for P2 on the penultimate lap. However, Zhou was well clear and cruised to victory.
There was more action further back though, as Norris caught and overtook Broadbent as the back rowers fought for fourth place, only for the pair to then collide at the final corner, with Broadbent coming out on top.
Latifi recovered from his first-lap crash to finish sixth, while Hulkenberg and Gutierrez delivered a close scrap for the final point that was ultimately won by the German.
Veloce Esport’s #NotTheBahGP saw a 25% sprint race followed by a 25% reverse grid race, with the first event being won comfortably by Alfa Romeo Esports racer Daniel Bereznay, who climbed through to finish third in race two behind Toro Rosso’s Esports member Cem Bolukbasi and 2019 World’s Fastest Gamer winner James Baldwin.
In that event, Norris was limited to 10th in race one and seventh in the reverse grid, while Latifi showed up well as he was first of the non-Esports drivers in fifth place in the opening race, and tenth in race two.