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Formula 1 racing went ahead as planned for Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), just not as everyone had imagined it would.
Instead of motorsport fans cheering on their favourite drivers from the Circuit’s grandstand seating, they were treated to an exhilarating race through the world’s first F1 Esports Virtual GP on Sunday (March 22).
F1’s teams were represented by a mix of current and former drivers, rising stars and other celebrities as they competed against each other remotely on the F1 2019 PC game.
Twenty drivers from various career backgrounds took to the virtual version of the Sakhir track to excite and entertain while racing pundits were being isolated at home during the corona crisis.
The action was undeniably fun and unpredictable as racers including former F1 drivers Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi, Nico Hulkenberg, Johnny Herbert and Anthony Davidson took on Olympic cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy, golfer Ian Poulter and singer-songwriter Liam Payne.
The race was won by Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou. The 20-year-old Chinese youngster overtook pole sitter Red Bull athlete and Weathertech SportsCar driver Philipp Eng midway through the shortened 14-lap race. Eng had topped the timesheet from the first lap of Qualifying setting the early pace with a 1:28.638. None of the other racers could get close to the Austrian and with under two minutes remaining of the session he took another 0.371s off his best time ensuring pole position.
However, in the end, Mercedes’ reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne took second place and Eng raced into third. On the final lap, Eng was caught by Vandoorne before the two collided and nudged Eng Philipp off the track and into third. He was lucky to avoid the wall, but was unable to re-claim second place.
Following his podium finish Eng said: “It was good fun and I really enjoyed representing Aston Martin Red Bull Racing in the virtual world. Pole was a great achievement as I don’t really play this game very often. I struggled a bit to make the strategy work in the race. Somehow my pit stop took a little too long and I think I didn’t de-select to repair the damage. A podium finish was a good start though and now I have a good base, so I’m happy to be back driving for the team anytime.”
The next F1 Esports Virtual GP will take place on the Albert Park Circuit, a racetrack used annually for the Formula One Australian Grand Prix, from April 3 to 5.