Charles Leclerc won a second Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix in a row with a robust pass on Alex Albon for victory in the online series’ Chinese Grand Prix.
Leclerc joined the virtual series two weeks ago and won on his debut, and the Ferrari driver has launched himself into the esports world since then.
Victories in the Race For The World series, which he and other F1 drivers organised to raise more than $70,000 for charity, and Veloce Esports’ second Versus event made Leclerc the form man heading ‘to’ Shanghai.
He qualified on pole position and led the opening stint before falling behind Albon in the first round of stops.
“That was really intense” :: Charles Leclerc
Albon had moved into second place at the expense of front-row starter George Russell, who got a poor getaway in his Williams and fell to eighth.
Red Bull driver Albon pressured Leclerc intensely in the early laps, then started to fall back.
But a pitstop at the end of lap five, one lap earlier than Leclerc, launched him into the lead of the 28-lap race.
Leclerc got ragged in pursuit, particularly with a lairy half-lap in which he forced his way past Albon’s professional footballer Red Bull team-mate Thibaut Courtois, and then had a curious moment where his car and Juan Manuel Correa’s Alfa Romeo were intertwined exiting the hairpin.
However, Leclerc somehow got away with that glitch without delay, and launched an aggressive move on Albon for the lead and the win three laps before half-distance.
He drafted Albon down the start/finish straight and using DRS dived inside the Red Bull, banging wheels and forcing Albon wide.
Albon tried to retaliate into Turn 2, but Leclerc fended him off and then covered the inside line on the short run down to the next right-hander.
From there, Leclerc stretched his lead gradually and won by more than two seconds.
“That was intense guys,” Leclerc told his 60,000 Twitch viewers. “That was really intense.”
Albon was an untroubled second ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne, but the Mercedes F1 reserve and Formula E driver missed out on a podium because of a time penalty.
That meant a superb chase and pass on Guanyu Zhou counted for nothing, and also promoted Zhou into the top three, allowing a Chinese driver to ‘stand’ on the podium at the Chinese GP.
Renault protege Zhou had won the inaugural Virtual GP ‘in’ Bahrain but was absent from the second race.
The recovering Russell also got ahead of Vandoorne thanks to the Belgian’s penalty, but Vandoorne still beat Mercedes team-mate Esteban Gutierrez – who he had passed on the opening lap with a mega move on the inside into the hairpin.
Haas’s Louis Deletraz finished seventh ahead of Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri, or should that be Toro Rosso given that’s what it is on the game).
Nicholas Latifi finished ninth, with Carlos Sainz Jr not-scoring a virtual point in 10th place on his F1 esports debut.
Courtois was the leading VIP racer in 15th, ahead of ex-F1 driver Anthony Davidson, with fellow footballer Ciro Immobile 17th and golf ace Ian Poulter 18th.
Antonio Giovinazzi retired from the top 10 late on, while Lando Norris failed to make the start yet again after more technical problems.
He is yet to take the start of a Virtual GP and missed the last round completely because of issues connecting, while in the first race he was able to join halfway through and take over from ‘LandoBot’.