F1’s Virtual Grand Prix returns
George Edwards reviews the opening two rounds of the increasingly popular Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix series.
The 2020 Formula 1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix Championship achieved a record-breaking 30 million views last year across its various platforms. Real-life Formula 1 and ex-F1 drivers, such as Lando Norris and Stoffel Vandoorne, raced against celebrities from sport, music and YouTube. It’s back again for 2021, but with a few changes.
The 2020 Virtual Grands Prix consisted of 8 races, each with a qualifying session and a feature race. Points were awarded, as in Formula 1, based on the driver’s final positions in the race, with 1st grabbing 25 points, down to 10th, who receives one. Drivers who end up in the bottom 10 leave empty handed. This year, the Virtual Grands Prix will consist of only three races, with the clarity over the 2021 F1 calendar meaning there is less need for a full virtual series. Each of the three rounds will involve two events: a five-lap sprint race performed by the Formula 1 Esports racers, such as Jarno Opmeer, the 2020 F1 Esports World Champion, and a 50 per cent feature race, where real-life drivers will once again compete against famous faces, including Thibault Courtois, for the points.
The point system remains the same, with 1st being awarded 25 points, 10th one point and 11th to 20th receiving no points. Yet unlike last year, the drivers and teams are competing for money. The winnings will be divided based on the overall position at the end of the three races and will all be donated to chosen charities.
The 2021 Virtual Grand Prix Series shot off the line with the first round at the Red Bull Ring, Speilberg, Austria, a 10-corner track located in the heart of the Austrian Alps. The sprint race ended with Marcus Armstrong (F2 driver) lining up on pole position and Alex Albon (recently demoted F1 driver for Red Bull) lining up in P18, for the feature. The opening laps included a crash between F2 driver Christian Lundgaard, Motocross racer Jeffrey Herlings and former-F1 driver Tonio Liuzzi, causing them to plummet down the grid. Enzo Fittipaldi, a 2020 F3 driver, one of the two sons of Brazilian F1 legend Emerson Fittipaldi, rose from P9 to P1, with pressure from Arthur Leclerc, the younger brother of Ferrari’s Charles, in P2. Enzo went on to cross the line in P1, giving himself and Haas their first Virtual Grand Prix win, with Alex Albon finishing P4 after a charge up from the bottom of the grid.
Round two took place at Silverstone, UK, the home race for Alex Albon, George Russell (2020 Virtual Grand Prix World Champion and driver for Williams in real-life) and Callum Ilott (F2 2020 runner-up). With 18 corners, Silverstone provides many opportunities for overtaking, while still being one of the fastest tracks on the F1 calendar. Callum Ilott lined up on pole, with Alex Albon P2 and Thibaut Courtois P3. Russell, after a dive down the inside of turn one jumped from P5 to P3 and soon worked with friend and rival Albon to catch up to Ilott. Enzo Fittipaldi, the winner of Round 1, started 16th, his brother Pietro starting even further down. The race provided the long-desired battle between Albon and Russell for P1 in the closing stages, with Russell avoiding receiving any penalties for corner-cutting or exceeding track limits, unlike most other participants. Russell crossed the line in P1, with Albon P2 and Ilott P3.
The final race will take place at the Autodromo José Carlos Pace in Interlagos, São Paulo, Brazil at 6:00 pm on Sunday 13 February, with the 2021 title up for grabs.