Charles wins again in the Virtual Chinese GP
The second race and a second consecutive win for Charles Leclerc in Formula 1’s “We Race On” initiative. A fortnight ago, he won the Virtual Vietnam GP, which was held on the Melbourne track, and tonight Charles did it again in the Chinese GP held on the Shanghai circuit. The Monegasque driver thus brought home the win for the FDA Hublot Esports Team, the Ferrari Driver Academy’s dedicated Esports division. His team-mate Callum Ilott, the 21 year old British FDA racer came twelfth. The team’s representatives in the Pro Exhibition Race for professional sim racers came away with a fourth and seventh place for David Tonizza and Enzo Bonito respectively.
Qualifying. Charles was once again in dominant form in the 15 minute session used to set the grid for the Virtual Chinese GP, taking a second consecutive pole position ahead of Alex Albon in the Red Bull. Unfortunately, Callum Ilott encountered traffic and had to settle for twelfth on the grid.
Race. Leclerc got away in the lead, while Ilott got tangled up in a crash caused by Ciro Immobile, the Italy and Lazio football star, and dropped to the back of the field. Charles pitted on lap 6, coming out behind Albon who had pulled off a good undercut move. The Monegasque attacked at the end of the straight next time round, but it didn’t come off and after his pit stop, Ilott worked his way back up to 16th place. On lap 10, Charles pulled out all the stops and passed Albon on the straight, fighting off the Thai’s attempts at taking back the lead. Leclerc then pulled out a lead of over 2 seconds during the next few laps, while Callum continued to fight his way up the order to finish twelfth.
Pro Exhibition Race. First to tackle the Shanghai track in virtual form were the professional sim drivers, who had to contend with torrential rain during qualifying. David Tonizza secured a place on the second row, just beaten by the former world champion in this category, Brandon Leigh (Mercedes) and the winner of the Vietnam Virtual GP, Frederik Rasmussen (Red Bull). As for Enzo Bonito, he had to settle for ninth place on the fifth row. The race was run in the dry and David did not get the best of starts, dropping two places, while Enzo moved up to eighth, getting past Marcel Kiefer (AlphaTauri). Bonito was the first of the FDA Hublot Esports Team to pit and change tyres on lap 4, with Tonizza coming in next time round, both men switching from the Soft to the Medium compound. Once the compulsory pit stops were completed, Leigh, Rasmussen, Dani Bereznay (Alfa Romeo) and “Tonzilla” were all within one second of one another, while Bonito was seventh behind Daniele Haddad (Racing Point). Soon after, Alvaro Carreton, benefiting from new Soft tyres managed to pass Tonizza, who in turn got ahead of Bereznay to take fourth place. Bonito finished seventh.
Game of Cat and Mouse…
Another day, another win for FDA Hublot F1 Esports Team! Charles Leclerc once again navigated his way to victory in the Virtual Grand Prix, this time taking the digital silverware in China.
On the weekend would’ve hosted the 2020 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, the third instalment of the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series took centre stage, delivering the closest contest yet, with Leclerc crossing the line just two seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon.
A frenetic qualifying session saw Leclerc take pole position, just ahead of Williams racer George Russell. However a penalty for Russell demoted him on the grid, giving Alex Albon a front-row start instead.
Indeed it was a game of cat-and-mouse between the former GP3 team mates, with Leclerc taking off into an early lead, only to be under-cut by Albon in the first stint of the race. However the Monegasque driver turned up the pressure, and blasted past for the net lead of the race on Lap 11.
From there, Leclerc was able to maintain a slender 2.5-second advantage for the rest of the race, ahead of Albon. Third place went to Guanyu Zhou, who put on a great show at his home event, having won the inaugural race in Bahrain. He and Stoffel Vandoorne duelled for P3 for much of the race, although the latter would eventually drop down the order thanks to a penalty.
Russell’s race was a busy one. After his demoted grid slot he pitted extremely early to try and create a strategy masterstroke, and he would up fourth at the end of the event, ahead of Mercedes pair Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez.
Louis Deletraz took seventh, with AlphaTauri debutant Liam Lawson a fine eighth place, Carlos Sainz ninth – despite a huge collision on the opening lap – and Nicholas Latifi completed the top 10.
Real Madrid goalkeeper showed that defence is the best form of attack – he won the battle of the two superstar footballers, coming home P15, ahead of Lazio striker Ciro Immobile who ended up 17th. Fellow sporting hero Ian Poulter put in a solid driver, but crossed the line in 18th after contact in the race dropped him down the order.
The stars of the F1 Esports Pro Series were on hand once again to raise the bar, and the race in China was one of excitement from start to finish.
Brendon Leigh – 2017 and 2018 F1 Esports Pro Series champion – had a nightmare in Melbourne, crashing out on the opening lap. This time though, he was able to convert a stunning wet pole position into his first win since 2018.
It was no easy run though, with relentless pressure from Red Bull’s Frede Rasmussen for most of the race. He had to ultimately settle for second, with Alvaro Carreton third after a split strategy for the Spanish driver saw him homing in on the leading pair at the end of the race.
Reigning champion David Tonizza grabbed fourth, ahead of Dani Bereznay, Daniele Haddad, Enzo Bonito, Salih Saltunc and Cedric Thome. Marcel Kiefer completed the top 10, but not without controversy, after an over-aggressive defence of his position earlier in the race put his former team mate Lucas Blakely in the barriers!
It just goes to show that despite the lack of points on offer, the competition is still as strong as ever in the Pro Exhibition series.
The series now turn’s it’s attention to next time out, on Sunday May 3. The date was originally penned to host the return of the Dutch Grand Prix, but with Zandvoort absent from F1 2019, they asked fans to pick an alternative venue – so it’s off to Brazil!