George Russell made it back-to-back wins with a dominant victory in a virtual Monaco Grand Prix that was full of collisions and penalties.
As if the challenge of the street circuit wasn’t enough, the drivers were faced with wet weather for the first time in the Virtual Grand Prix series when qualifying got underway. And Pietro Fittipaldi sprung a surprise with a stunning late lap to take pole position for Haas by more than 0.4s. Russell took second on the grid with a good final effort of his own, pushing Racing Point’s David Schumacher down to third ahead of the second Haas of Louis Deletraz.
However, Deletraz had a five-place grid penalty that promoted Charles Leclerc to fourth ahead of teammate and brother Arthur, with Antonio Giovinazzi pipping Valtteri Bottas to sixth as the Mercedes driver made an impressive debut.
The race itself was held in dry weather and Russell leapt into a crucial lead before Turn 1, and just as in the real race it was a defining moment, although for slightly different reasons…
Russell pulled away from Arthur Leclerc on the opening lap while carnage ensued behind, with Giovinazzi caught in contact on the exit of Ste Devote and spinning, causing a massive accident. That relegated Bottas to the back of the field as an unfortunate victim, and spread the field out slightly.
Fittipaldi had a shocker of an opening lap to drop to fifth behind Schumacher and Charles Leclerc, and while the Ferrari driver was soon up to third place he couldn’t make much of an impact on his brother and Russell ahead. Russell had started on the medium tire and made serene progress, with Arthur Leclerc starting on softs and pitting for mediums a third of the way into the race.
If there was to be a lead battle, Arthur Leclerc needed clean air to use his fresh rubber, but instead found himself caught in an almost farcical — but highly entertaining — battle with the likes of Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi and Alex Albon for what was then third place. With damage off for the 50% duration race, cars were bouncing off the barriers but also willing to dive into gaps to try and force their way through, leading to numerous side-by-side fights that slowed the field.
Russell went completely untroubled until the end of Lap 28 before pitting with just 11 laps remaining and emerged 16 seconds clear of Charles Leclerc after Arthur’s Ferrari was wiped out by Norris at Ste Devote.
The difference in Russell’s race and the rest was made clear when Esteban Gutierrez and Bottas both opted to two-stop due to high tire wear when battling. Gutierrez held off one Ferrari to retain third place after his second stop and then reeled in Charles Leclerc to pass — with more than a little contact — out of the tunnel. This was all happening far behind Russell though, as the Williams driver won by nearly 40 seconds from Gutierrez, and Leclerc gathered himself after ending the battle facing the wrong way to finish third.
Albon took fourth after going side-by-side with Arthur Leclerc for half a lap, only emerging ahead as two cars can’t get through the hairpin together. Fittipaldi was classified sixth ahead of Norris — who finally had no connection issues — with Latifi, Deletraz and Schumacher rounding out the top ten.
Aside from Schumacher, Russell was the only driver not to pick up a penalty at any point, with strict corner cutting rules on, as the race winner also lapped everyone up to eighth place. Many drivers picked up multiple penalties, but there was a threshold — as Vitantonio Liuzzi found out to his cost when he was disqualified for picking up too many. That meant there were 18 finishers as Esteban Ocon qualified outside the top 10 in the wet and then failed to make the race start in his Renault.
The conditions and circuit did not help the celebrities shine, as Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (McLaren), surfer Kai Lenny (Red Bull) and signer/songwriter Luis Fonzi (Racing Point) were the final three classified finishers.