F1 ESports Virtual Bahrain GP was a proper laugh

Esports has taken over. The official F1 Virtual GP took place to entertain us in place of the obviously postponed real race.

All F1 teams were invited and they put forward some rather eclectic lineups. Some strong sim racers, some more wildcard entries.

The lineup is:

Mercedes – Esteban Guttierez and Stoffel Vandoorne

Ferrari – Robert Shwartzman and Dino Beganovic

Red Bull – Sir Chris Hoy and Philipp Eng

McLaren – Lando Norris and Nic Hamilton

Renault – Ian Poulter and Guanyu Zhou

Racing Point – Nico Hulkenberg and Jimmy Broadbent

Haas – Anthony Davidson and Redeye (Paul Chaloner)

AlphaTauri – Luca Salvadori biker and Sadokist (Matt Trivet)

Alfa Romeo – Johnny Herbert and Cyanide (Aamir Thacker)

Williams – Nicholas Latifi and Liam Payne (Yes the guy from One Direction. I kid you not.)

Quite a mix, no one knew what to expect.

The bill of fare was a short qualifying session of 18 minutes and a 50% race made up of 28 laps. After issues with a few people joining the game, the race was reduced to a 25% race of 14 laps.

Pole position went to Philipp Eng followed by Esteban Guttierez and Guanyu Zhou. Eng was the only driver to make it into the 1.27s.

Two big names failed to qualify with tech issues. Lando Norris and Jimmy Broadbent, both straight after taking part in the Motorsport Games/Veloce Esports Not the Bah GP, started the race from the back row.

During the gap between quali and the race, Lando Norris’s stream lit up as he called a few different people for tips.

Max Verstappen suggested he take everyone out. Sainz and Randy (McLaren strategist) both suggested he start on medium tyres.

He asked George Russell for any tips about starting from the back of the grid…

Now the race!

Lap 1 ensued chaos.

I can tell you aren’t surprised.

Nico Hulkenberg recreated his Singapore 2016 start and spun into the wall.

Johnny Herbert took the lead stunningly after an immense corner cut and achieved a 10 second penalty to boot.

Screenshot 2020-03-22 at 21.35.39
They hadn’t got very far (note the Racing Point collecting the Ferrari © F1, Codemasters, FOM

Cyanide, the twitch streamer, retired at turn 5 before Eng and Zhou jumped Herbert to start a fight for the lead.

Norris failed to take the start but his AI car was up to sixth early on. By lap 6, it was running 3rd somehow.

Eventually Norris managed to get back into the session and kept his car at the top of the field.

There were battles all the way around the track for the whole session. Hulkenberg and Beganovic raced excellently before the Ferrari junior got ahead and Guttierez took his place to fight the ex Renault driver.

Zhou pitted early and used the tyre advantage to jump Eng and control the race whilst the chaos ensued behind.

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Lando Norris finally enters the race © Lando Norris, F1, Codemasters, FOM

Vandoorne forced his way into second ahead of Eng with one lap to go.

Zhou went on to win the race excellently and is one to watch this season in Formula 2.

Norris and Jimmy Broadbent fought hard at the end for fourth place with some very aggressive, clearly legal, punting allowing the Racing Point driver to take the position ahead of the popular McLaren driver.

Nicholas Latifi got into trouble at the start but worked his way back up to 6th with Italian biker Luca Salvadori just behind.

Celeb drivers, Ian Poulter, Chris Hoy and Liam Payne took up the bottom three positions but they all put on a good show.

The whole evening was a good bit of light entertainment that was very much welcome as a replacement of the cancelled events around the world.

The whole stream can be rewatched here.

By the end of it, my Mum and sister were watching it as well and we all shouted very loudly when Norris was punted.

They have never watched Esports. But hopefully will want to watch more.

There will be more to come, watch F1 social channels to see when.