F1 Virtual Chinese Grand Prix result: Charles Leclerc holds off Alex Albon to seal back-to-back wins

Ferrari driver made it two from two as he prevailed in a race-long battle with his Red Bull rival

Jack de Menezes
Sunday 19 April 2020 18:22
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Charles Leclerc made it two wins from two as the Ferrari driver prevailed in a race-long battle with Red Bull’s Alex Albon to take victory in the Virtual Chinese Grand Prix.

The two F1 regulars proved the cream of the field, taking the top two spots on the grid in qualifying as Leclerc continued his domination of the eSports world with an untouchable lap time around the Shanghai International Circuit.

The event was in lieu of the postponed Chinese Grand Prix, which was the first of the eight races that have been called off this season following the coronavirus pandemic, with China’s initial outbreak laying claim to what was supposed to be the third round of the 2020 campaign back in February before anyone knew the extent of how badly Covid-19 would impact the sporting year.

But with a growing number of F1 drivers on the grid, every other Sunday evening provides something to fill the void left by the sport’s absence, with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz the latest to make the crossover from vehicle to virtual and join Leclerc, Albon, George Russell, Nicholas Latifi and Antonio Giovinazzi among the professional drivers along with a handful of Formula Two hopefuls.

Plenty of the early-race teething problems have been ironed out by Codemasters and hosts Gfinity Esports Arena, yet the one constant absentee remained Lando Norris as the Briton experienced connection issues to leave him unable to compete for the third race in a row, causing his thousands of Twitch subscribers yet another frustrating evening.

Yet that wasn’t the only constant in the Virtual Grand Prix series as once again Leclerc led from the front as soon as the lights went out, only this time he had company to keep him honest in the form of Albon. The London-born Thai put his Melbourne struggle behind him to show his true pace in China and emerge as Leclerc’s fiercest competition, and appeared to outsmart Leclerc with an early lap-three pit stop to take the lead when the Ferrari stopped two laps later.

The gamble for Albon was managing his tyres to the end, only for Leclerc to surprise him into turn one by forcing the Ferrari up the inside and holding onto the lead through turns two and three, from where he was able to pull away lap by lap. The move mirrored the one that Leclerc actually produced on Albon back in 2017 in F2 when the two battled on this very track for the race victory, although this time Leclerc gave Albon a shove just to ensure the move was made – returning the favour after being on the end of a rather robust overtake himself in Saturday’s Veloce Esports ‘Not the GP Versus’ event.

Behind, former McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne was able to make up for a disappointing qualifying session, which saw a second-place start unravel into a fifth-place start as the final lap times were posted, to undercut Renault development driver Guanyu Zhou and seemingly take the final place on the podium. Zhou was returning to the event after winning the opening Bahrain Grand Prix, but with the likes of Leclerc and Albon joining the series in his absence, the F2 race-winner got a quick realisation that the competition has increased significantly.

However, Vandoorne earned himself a three-second penalty for repeated infringement on lap 13, and it came back to bite him as both Zhou and Russell were able to finish within that timeframe to relegated him to fifth place and off the podium.

An infuriated Russell fought his way to the field despite receiving penalties in both qualifying and the race itself, with another F2 driver in Louis Deletraz holding off current Mercedes test driver Esteban Gutierrez to take sixth.

The grid also featured two superstar footballers in Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Lazio striker Ciro Immobile, and like so many times in the Champions League it was the Madrid man who came out on top with a 15th-placed finish on his debut, two places ahead of the Italian forward.

Virtual Chinese Grand Prix result

  1. Leclerc
  2. Albon
  3. Zhou
  4. Russell
  5. Vandoorne
  6. Gutierrez
  7. Deletraz
  8. Lawson
  9. Latifi
  10. Sainz
  11. Fittipaldi
  12. Ilott
  13. Broadbent
  14. Correa
  15. Courtois
  16. Davidson
  17. Immobile
  18. Poulter
  19. Giovinazzi DNF
  20. Norris DNS

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