Norris charges, as Renault junior Zhou wins F1 Esports Virtual GP
Renault junior Guanyu Zhou won a chaotic inaugural Formula 1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix around the Bahrain International Circuit, as Lando Norris charged from 19th to fifth place.
BMW DTM driver Philipp Eng took pole position in emphatic style, half a second ahead of former Sauber and Haas Formula 1 driver Esteban Gutierrez. Formula 2 star Zhou completed the top three on the grid ahead of 2020 Formula 1 rookie Nicholas Latifi and ex-F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg.
At the start, three-time grand prix winner Johnny Herbert made a typically audacious choice to cut Turn 1 on lap one to rise from P16 to first place. He was handed a penalty but, before he had a chance to serve it, he was demoted on-track almost immediately by polesitter Eng.
On lap four of 14, Zhou wrestled the lead from Eng into Turn 4 after a lengthy wheel-to-wheel battle. Once Zhou emerged from his one mandatory pitstop, he set the fastest lap and held a nine-second lead when Eng made his pitstop a couple of laps later.
Zhou remained untroubled thereafter taking the chequered flag by 11.392 seconds ahead of former McLaren racer Stoffel Vandoorne, who wheel-banged his way past Eng for second place on the penultimate lap. Fourth place was contested by McLaren F1 driver Norris and fellow popular streamer Jimmy Broadbent.
The duo disconnected from the qualifying session, and the original planned race distance was halved in order to garner enough time for Norris to enter the race.
The 20-year-old was suffering technical issues and called his team-mate Carlos Sainz for help as well as Max Verstappen, McLaren boss Zak Brown and fellow 2019 rookie George Russell among others.
Norris’ car was controlled by the computer for the first half of the race before he eventually joined the race and hunted down Broadbent for fourth place. The duo collided at the final corner on the final lap, with Broadbent scrambling back to the circuit first to take fourth from 20th and last on the grid.
Latifi took sixth ahead of ex-motorcycle racer Luca Salvadori.
Gutierrez and Hulkenberg featured in arguably the most entertaining multi-lap wheel-to-wheel battle. Both were recovering from opening lap collisions, with Gutierrez leading Hulkenberg in tenth place.
Golfer Ian Poulter, ex-Olympian Chris Hoy and One Direction’s Liam Payne occupied the final three finishing positions.
F1 confirmed that the Virtual Grand Prix will return in two weeks’ time at the virtual Albert Park circuit.
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