Charles Leclerc took victory in the second Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix, held at Albert Park in place of the postponed Vietnam Grand Prix.
After the first Virtual Grand Prix was held on the Bahrain circuit two weeks ago featured just two current F1 drivers, the number expanded to six for the second effort — held in Australia as Vietnam isn’t a circuit on the F1 2019 game — and it was Leclerc who won for Ferrari with an impressive performance. After qualifying second, Leclerc started from pole after Renault’s young F2 driver Christian Lundgaard was harshly penalized for getting caught up in someone else’s crash in qualifying and dropped back from provisional pole to sixth.
Leclerc led away from George Russell — who only got a sim installed this week — and was never troubled, eventually winning by over 10 seconds after starting on soft tires and pitting for hards.
“Easy?!” Leclerc laughed afterwards. “No of course not. It was unbelievably hard. We are sitting on a chair so there’s not even the G-force of a real car and I’m sweating like crazy! The muscles aren’t hurting but it was very hard.
“Probably (it could have been closer), but in the end the others shouldn’t have done mistakes! It was tough, everyone was very quick. We knew before the race everyone who would do the least mistakes would win basically, because we were all very close on pace.”
Leclerc admitted he had put a lot of time in on the official F1 game after getting a simulator setup in place last weekend.
“Eight days go, last Sunday, but I put quite a lot of hours in it. I don’t know how much, but basically probably at least five hours every day. At the end of the week we decided to get together with George (Russell) and Alex (Albon) and stream it live — it was very fun and we will try and keep doing that. It’s obviously a very hard time for everyone so we hope we entertained them.”
With F1 seeing more drivers getting involved for the second race, Leclerc says he is likely to return for the next official event in place of the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time if Ferrari is happy for him to.
“I’m not the team manager of the team so I don’t know if they’ll want to take me but I think the result was good and I hope they take me again!”
Lundgaard recovered from his grid penalty to finish a solid second, after a good scrap at one stage with Leclerc’s brother Artur, who was in the other Ferrari. The younger Leclerc made a few too many mistakes after running P2 at one stage, ending up fourth behind Russell who was the only one of the top six to opt for medium tires for the second stint of the 50% distance race but made them last.
Russell took a photo of the podium after the race, before asking “Where’s the champagne, guys, by the way?” and being handed a chilled bottle in his racing seat.
It was an impressive performance from the Williams driver who also streamed his efforts live on Twitch alongside Leclerc and Lando Norris, but the latter had trouble with his game and failed to make the start.
Russell, Norris and Albon were enjoying plenty of banter throughout the build-up and over their headsets but Albon’s chances of a good result disappeared on the opening lap as he crashed out of the high-speed Turn 12 — one of three drivers to do so at that point. At the time it dropped him behind England cricket legend Ben Stokes in the sister Red Bull, but Albon managed to climb back up to eighth at the flag as Stokes faded to finish 18th.
There was plenty of good racing between Antonio Giovinazzi, Stoffel Vandoorne and Louis Deletraz for Alfa Romeo, Mercedes and Haas respectively as they filled P5-7. Jimmy Broadbent in the Racing Point and Nicholas Latifi rounded out the top 10, with Latifi snatching the position on the last lap after overtaking Pietro Fittipaldi, with the Haas reserve driver subsequently crashing.
A number of drivers picked up penalties for corner cutting, including multiples for Johnny Herbert as he finished 17th for Alfa Romeo, but there was a notable F1 2019 debut for Jenson Button, who qualified 0.9s off Norris and finished 11th in the sole McLaren in the race having been in the mix for points throughout.