The Virtual Grand Prix series is back.
Following on from the success of the substitute online races during the first Coronavirus lockdown in 2020, a second season of celebrity racers is upon us.
George Russell won the mini drivers title last year beating Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon among others.
Albon is taking part once again this year but Leclerc and Russell are not. Russell was due to take part but had to pull out at the last minute.
There are some slick format changes for 2021 with the grid being set for the celebrity drivers by each teams corresponding esports drivers.
These are set from a 5 lap sprint race.
Each team therefore put forward four drivers; an esports driver in partnership with a celebrity driver.
The drivers are as follows: (LH = esports driver/RH = celebrity driver)
David Tonizza put Marcus Armstrong on pole with his Ferrari teammate Brendon Leigh working hard putting Arthur Leclerc in third.
Second went to Anthony Davidson courtesy of Dani Moreno. Alex Albon is in fourth after Leigh passed Marcel Kiefer on the last lap.
Armstrong kept the lead at the start of the race with A. Leclerc challenging Davidson. Davidson’s connection went somewhere between turns 1 and 3 and thus it was a Ferrari 1-2 that finished lap one.
Leclerc sent it to the inside early on to take the lead from Armstrong. The two then pulled away from the pack behind with a three second lead to the ever changing third place driver allowing them to solidify their control.
The battling in the pack further back was seemingly never ending. Early on, the two Haas drivers, Enzo and Pietro Fittipaldi, fought into third and fourth.
Pietro was the first to pit attempting the undercut on his brother and teammate.
Around a similar time Leclerc in the lead got a penalty for track limits which meant that Amrstrong could back off behind and try not to make the same mistake.
But Armstrong got a larger penalty for speeding in the pitlane.
Penalties were rife across the field with it becoming clear that the race would be about cleanliness and survival as much as it is about pace.
Former Red Bull and Toro Rosso driver Vitantonio Liuzzi even got disqualified from the session on only lap 15. He was last anyway but still, it was a thing.
By lap 20 there was 163 seconds worth of penalties…
After the pitstops, Leclerc led from the ever closing Enzo Fittipaldi with Armstrong in third. Pietro Fittipaldi was fourth and Stoffel Vandoorne was fifth on an alternative strategy with soft tyres to the other leader’s older mediums.
Enzo and Leclerc were pulling away from the field behind, both with the same number of penalties as the scrap for the lead became more intense.
For ten laps they fought harder and harder for the honours before Leclerc got another penalty handing the win to Enzo.
Neither held back however with the victory on the road being as important as the eventual result.
All the while Stoffel Vandoorne was closing down having passed Armstrong and Fittpaldi.
On the last lap, Leclerc dove down the inside of Enzo and went wide getting another penalty. At the line Vandoorne was only a second behind Enzo but the penalties equalled out and Enzo Fittipaldi took the win.
Stoffel Vandoorne took second, a result that could have been a win without a few squabbles at the start.
Arthur Leclerc rounded out third with Alex Albon fighting through to fourth after connection issues early on.
Pietro Fittipaldi was just behind beating Marcus Armstrong on penalties.
A large gap went back to Anthony Davidson and Luca Salvadori who both had relatively clean and fast races with Jimmy Broadbent and Oscar Piastri rounding out the top ten.
Thibaut Courtois, the Real Madrid goalkeeper, was 11th bagging the fastest lap alongside professional racing drivers in an impressive performance.
Nicholas Latifi finished in 13th with a whopping 21 seconds worth of penalties meaning Christian Lundgaard was able to beat him at the flag.
Twitch streamer PieFace was 14th with Jeffrey Herling, MXGP World Champion behind.
Tiametmarduk (Ben Daly) finished in 16th with George Russell’s stand in Flowstreet coming home 17th.
The Virtual GP returns next week with a visit to Silverstone for the virtual British GP.