Following the success of last year’s Virtual Grand Prix, it was of no surprise when it was announced that it would be returning for 2021. Nine teams will enter this year’s virtual Formula 1 paddock to fight it out across a special three-round championship with the teams donating large prize funds to charities of their choice. The first round of the championship took place on Sunday, the 31st of January in the Styrian mountains of digital Austria.
Written and Edited by Aiden Hover
The first race of the event was a five-lap sprint featuring the Esport professionals who would battle it out to decide the grid order for the upcoming feature race. The sprint race proved to be a thriller with tight, fast-paced action throughout the field. At the end of it, however, Ferrari’s David Tonizza would finish in front, followed by Dani Moreno for Mercedes and Brendan Leigh rounding out the podium in the other Ferrari car.
There was much anticipation for the 50% feature race as the celebrities and real-world professionals stepped into the mixed-up grid, taking over from the Esport professionals. The roster included various real-world drivers, such as Alexander Albon, Arthur Leclerc, and Stoffel Vandoorne who would race against various celebrities, such as Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and the famous shed-dweller, Jimmy Broadbent along with many others. The two real-world Williams Formula 1 drivers were due to race until George Russell pulled out at the last minute and was replaced by Spanish YouTuber, FLowstreetYT. Nicholas Latifi would still race.
Pole sitter Marcus Armstrong led from Anthony Davidson and Arthur Leclerc as lights went out. Meanwhile, further behind, RedBull driver, Jeffrey Herling, attempted an ambitious lunge, earning himself a time penalty and plummeting him and several others down the order. Anthony Davidson blundered a good starting position and was quickly swallowed by the pack. Jimmy Broadbent and Benjamin Daly stayed out of trouble for McLaren at the start which led to Jimmy running third after the first lap. Alexander Albon made an incredible start from the back of the grid to avoid getting tangled in the usual first lap calamities.
As the race went on, it was clear penalties were going to play a big factor in its outcome. Track limits were proving to be difficult for all the drivers, with each being awarded time penalties, with the exception of Oscar Piastri. The strategy would also play a role as the half distance nature of the race raised the question of whether or not to start on soft or medium tyres. Former McLaren Formula 1 driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, started on the medium compound which helped him to an eventual second-place finish as he found great pace towards the end of the race once he had switched to softs with a lighter fuel load.
In true Virtual Grand Prix fashion, the time penalties awarded surmounted to an incredible 140 seconds, excluding former Formula 1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi who had been disqualified from the race after achieving too many penalties. Alexander Albon was awarded driver of the day after fighting through to fourth place from eighteenth missing the podium by just 1.4 seconds. Thibaut Courtois, who finished an impressive thirteenth, would achieve the fastest lap of the race. Meanwhile, at the front, Arthur Leclerc and Enzo Fittipaldi had been embroiled in an epic fight for the lead with the momentum swinging in both directions, until Leclerc made an unfortunate lunge which led to him running wide and being awarded a three-second time penalty which would eventually demote him to third behind Vandoorne and race winner, Enzo Fittipaldi. Enzo’s brother, Pietro, would finish fifth in the other Haas car. Armstrong and Piastri would make their respective driver academies proud with a sixth and seventh-place finish, followed by Anthony Davidson, Luca Salvadori and Jimmy Broadbent rounding out the top ten. Formula 1 driver, Nicholas Latifi would finish down in twelfth after collecting 21 seconds worth of penalties.
After round 1 of the 2021 Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix, Haas F1 Team are leading the team’s championship thanks to their Brazilian pairing running such impressive races. Williams Racing will be looking for things to improve at the next round in Silverstone after a disappointing race on Sunday, being the only team not to score points.