Ferrari Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc dominated the championship’s replacement Vietnam Grand Prix, held at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, on his Virtual Grand Prix series debut.
Leclerc joined the Virtual GP grid as one of six F1 2020 drivers and scored a commanding victory after inheriting pole position.
Formula 2 rookie Christian Lundgaard should have been on pole for Renault but picked up a five-place grid penalty in qualifying but rose up the order to finish second.
Sim-racing debutant and Williams racer George Russell completed the podium and made it three newcomers to the series in the top three.
Leclerc was never headed in the 28-lap race, easing clear almost immediately from the opening lap and eventually taking the flag 10 seconds clear of Lundgaard.
Lungaard had big shoes to fill after fellow Renault Academy man Guanyu Zhou won the inaugural Virtual GP for the French team in Bahrain.
Once he was into second – aided by errors from Russell and Arthur Leclerc in the second Ferrari – Lundgaard couldn’t get on the older Leclerc’s terms.
But he was comfortably best of the rest, finishing 12s clear of a delighted Russell who scored his ‘first’ F1 podium despite an off when he was running second early on.
“We did it! I’m happy with that,” said Russell, who was streaming his online debut.
“For a complete rookie at this game, we did all right.
“We need an investigation into Charles’ pace…It did not seem right at all!”
Russell managed to keep clear of the recovering second Leclerc, who passed Antonio Giovinazzi in the closing laps but could not get higher than fourth.
Stoffel Vandoorne was the leading Mercedes driver in sixth, ahead of Haas driver Louis Deletraz – who had run higher early on, but was one of several to err during the grand prix.
Virtual GP debutant Alex Albon finished eighth for Red Bull after a busy race in which he had an entertaining scrap with 2009 world champion Jenson Button, another F1 Esports rookie.
Albon had to pass Button again after finally getting past the McLaren driver then losing it exiting the penultimate corner.
Button slipped out of the points-positions-that-aren’t-really-points-positions in this race, and finished 11th, behind YouTuber Jimmy Broadbent in ninth and Williams driver Nicholas Latifi.
Lando Norris was the only current F1 driver taking part who failed to finish in the top 10: but that was hard to achieve given he failed to even make the start.
For the second Virtual GP in a row, Norris suffered a connection issue before the race.
Unfortunately, unlike in Bahrain, he was unable to join the session at all – which meant there was no repeat of LandoBot’s starring drive as the car never made it into the event.
Esteban Gutierrez was another non-starter in the second Mercedes.