Alex Albon won Formula 1’s Virtual Dutch Grand Prix, held on the Interlagos circuit, after an epic battle with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc – the pair swapping the lead 26 times.
Leclerc was hit with a three-second penalty for exceeding track limits three times, which meant he needed not only to finish ahead of Albon but also pull clear from the Red Bull driver to win.
In the end, he finished a few tenths behind Albon after hanging back during the early part of the final lap in the hope of passing him using the DRS on the run to the line – saying he was determined to win on the road despite the penalty.
The penalty relegated Leclerc to third place at the finish, 0.710s behind Williams driver George Russell.
— Aston Martin Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) May 3, 2020
Albon qualified only fifth, 0.140s down, but took the lead after a chaotic start that was triggered when polesitter Stoffel Vandoorne’s Mercedes spun a few seconds into the race – possibly after being squeezed by Ferrari drive Enzo Fittipaldi.
This pitched Vandoorne into fellow front-row starter Russell’s Williams, allowing Albon to jump into the lead ahead of Leclerc, who had started sixth after struggling to nail lap on his later qualifying runs.
The race immediately settled into a duel between Albon and Leclerc, with the Ferrari driver first taking the lead into Turn 4 on lap three.
Both drivers realised that the powerful DRS meant they would regularly swap positions, so they traded every lap on the run to Turn 1 from the end of lap three until lap 12, when Leclerc pulled out of a potential pass to dive into the pits.
With the field starting on softs, Leclerc opted to take hard Pirellis after his early stop in the hope of undercutting his way into the lead.
But Albon stayed out, running a further four laps before diving into the pits and taking medium rubber before emerging just behind Leclerc.
Leclerc knew he couldn’t afford to let Albon pull away in this phase of the race, saying “I can’t risk letting him get away”.
So when Albon retook the lead into Turn 1, he immediately fought back to repass him into the Turn 4 right-hander.
The duo continued to trade the lead, with Leclerc on one occasion passing Albon into Turn 4 but forcing him off the track before lifting off to let Albon back through – the pair making contact as the Red Bull drive came back past.
Heart. In. Mouth.
What a #VirtualGP!
— Formula 1® Game (@Formula1game) May 3, 2020
They continued to dice to the finish, with Russell inching upon them to be within the range of Leclerc’s penalty, before Albon picked up the DRS from a backmarker on the run to the chequered flag to ensure he stayed ahead on the road.
“The pressure was unbelievable,” said Albon.
“On pace, Charles was very quick but I was quite surprised because I thought most of us would go on soft/mediums – Charles decided to pit earlier than us and I definitely had the better strategy.
“He kept overtaking me and I was getting nervous about George coming as well, it was all going on.”
Leclerc was frustrated at his strategic error, admitting he didn’t attempt a race simulation during practice.
“I stopped way too early, I had not tried the strategy and Alex went for more laps,” said Leclerc after the race.
“I was on hards and struggling quite a lot, but with the DRS it made quite a fun race.
“Unfortunately, we took the penalty, which made things a bit less interesting – I should have tried at least one race simulation.”
Russell had to battle past the fast-starting Alfa Romeo of Antonio Gionvainzzi to establish himself in third in the first stint, by which time he was too far behind to threaten the leaders.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) May 3, 2020
Behind him, Vandoorne recovered to fourth after passing team-mate Esteban Gutierrez in the closing stages, with Renault’s Christian Lundgaard – also delayed in the start melee – sixth after being hit with a penalty.
Fititpaldi came hime seventh ahead of the Haas of Louis Deletraz and Lando Norris’s McLaren.
Norris had an eventful race to take ninth after starting at the back thanks to missing qualifying as a result of what he described as pressing “the wrong button” but then being hit with a jump-start penalty and a further 5s penalty for speeding in the pits.
He came home ahead of the second Williams of Nicholas Latifi, who was attempting to take fourth from Giovinazzi when he was hit by the Alfa Romeo – putting him into the wall and leading to the Italian retiring.
2⃣0⃣ ➡️ 1⃣0⃣
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) May 3, 2020
David Schumacher, son of six-times grand prix winner Ralf, took 11th place for Racing Point ahead of debutant Petter Solberg, the former world rally champion driving for Renault and picking up a track-limits penalty late in the race.
Ben Stokes was 13th for Red Bull, winning the battle of the England cricketers ahead of 17th-placed AlphaTauri driver Stuart Broad, with Juan Manuel Correa 14th in the only Alfa Romeo to make the finish.
AC Milan footballer Alessio Romagnoli took 15th in the other AlphaTauri ahead of McLaren debutant ‘Jelly’.
Racing Point’s Jimmy Broadbent was the last of the finishers in 19th place.