George Russell won a fourth consecutive Virtual Grand Prix as the series came to an end, comfortably beating Alex Albon as Pierre Gasly was disqualified.
The Le Mans 24 Virtual event run on Saturday and Sunday ensured Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Antonio Giovinazzi did not take part, while Valtteri Bottas was a late withdrawal, leaving just four current drivers on the grid. Russell was already the unofficial champion as Leclerc was the only driver who could have overhauled him on points, but that didn’t prevent another dominant display at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on what would have been the original date of the Canadian Grand Prix.
Aside from Russell, Albon and Gasly, Nicholas Latifi was the other current driver involved and he duly qualified third behind Albon and his Williams team-mate who showed stunning pace. Russell took pole position by half a second with a rapid lap that was just 0.1s off the pole position time from the professional sim racers’ event an hour earlier.
The top three got away cleanly, but Albon was suffering a number of connection issues that saw him appear to crash on the opening lap and also drop from second to fifth at one stage, only to reappear comfortably in second place. Latifi was not so lucky, as he was caught up in contact with Esteban Gutierrez at the final chicane and hit the “Wall of Champions,” dropping back to 11th from third.
The race was a choice between one or two stops and in past events, Albon has opted for the reverse strategy to Russell in order to fight. However, the pair went for identical two-stop races and Russell pulled away with ease. Such was the Williams driver’s dominance, at one stage he even suggested backing off to let Albon catch up and give the fans a show, something Albon did not respond kindly to.
“I said if Alex got a few more penalties I would slow down to not put the race win in jeopardy and make a bit of a race for the fans,” Russell said. “But Alex didn’t listen to me then, I think he only got the penalties at the end so I’ll blame Alex for that one!”
Russell — the only driver not to be penalized due to the strict track limits rule — won by 15 seconds due to Albon being handed nine seconds in time penalties for corner cutting, but it was the man he replaced at Red Bull who suffered an even worse fate.
Gasly had completed the Le Mans event and then committed to the F1 finale — as had Louis Deletraz for Haas who won the 24 Hours — and the Frenchman was climbing through the field after being caught in a first lap accident but picked up time penalties as he went. Eventually, Gasly exceeded the number of permitted penalties and despite reaching the top ten he was then disqualified from the race.
Gutierrez rose to third place after his collision with Latifi and nearly caught Albon due to the penalties, while fourth went to Renault driver Caio Collet.
Teammates Collet and Guanyu Zhou performed well in qualifying fourth and fifth respectively and were fighting for the spots in the race, with Collet’s two-stop strategy proving the better option as Zhou on a one-stop crossed the line in sixth behind McLaren’s Benjamin Daly. Daly took fifth on the penultimate lap after two-stopping and finishing the race on soft tires.
Latifi recovered to seventh, hampered by 12 seconds in time penalties, while Anthony Davidson (Mercedes), Callum Ilott (Ferrari) and David Schumacher (Racing Point) rounded out the top ten.
Pietro Fittpaldi was classified 11th after disconnecting while running fourth, just ahead of Deletraz. The celebrities all finished near the back but were all relatively competitive with Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil finishing 18th, just behind Nicholas Hamilton’s McLaren.
This was the final race of the Virtual Grand Prix series with just three weekends until F1 restarts, and Russell admits it has been a welcome distraction while no real racing has been taking place.
“It’s been great — it’s kept us entertained and kept us busy, that’s for sure. And it’s kept the competitive side of us busy and interested. We don’t have that racing for us to go out and do at the moment and to have this opportunity to race against our mates has been great fun along the way. From my side I’ve put a lot of hard work and effort in and I’m glad we’ve got some good results to show for it.”
Albon has also regularly run at the front but admits it has been frustrating watching Russell emerge to dominate over the final four rounds.
“He’s extremely quick now,” Albon said. “George has stuck with it. In the beginning Charles looked like the quick one and then George has come through and destroyed all of us. I’ve just been an average P2 the whole way. Average Alex!”