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Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix result: Guanyu Zhou wins inaugural F1 eSports race cut short by technical problems

Inaugural Virtual Grand Prix had to be cut in half due to technical issues but provides plenty of drama as F2 prospect makes history with online victory

Jack de Menezes
Sunday 22 March 2020 22:30
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Guangu Zhou made history by winning the first Formula One Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix on a chaotic and technically-challenging night, as live motorsport returned to screens amid the coronavirus crisis.

Teething issues with the event could not mask the fact that F1 was attempting to bring a bit of light relief at a hugely difficult time, with the outbreak of Covid-19 currently sweeping the world and causing nearly all sport to be cancelled due to health concerns.

As a result, F1 have committed to running a Virtual Grand Prix each race weekend, with the first taking place at the Bahrain International Circuit. Unfortunately, the short-notice left many F1 stars unable to compete, leaving only Lando Norris and Nicholas Latifi as the only current drivers on the grid. But they were made up with a host of famous names, with former drivers Nico Hulkenberg, Stoffel Vandoorne, Anthony Davidson and Johnny Herbert all competing, while the more well-known names from outside of the sport featured Olympian Sir Chris Hoy and former One Direction star Liam Payne.

However, a lengthy delay that saw Norris unable to take part in qualifying meant that the race was cut to 25 per cent distance, leaving a 14-lap shootout rather than the 28-lap scheduled Grand Prix, and the technical gremlins returned when the current McLaren star was booted out of the race on the formation lap.

A lightning start from Herbert resulted in a 10-second time penalty as he cut the first corner to take the lead, but the veteran could not hold on as Philip Eng and Zhou quickly passed him to battle for the lead. Zhou elected to pit early, and utilised the undercut to take a healthy lead when the stops cycled through, leading by more than nine second and take the chequered flag. Eng lost second place on the penultimate lap to a charging Vandoorne, and although Norris was able to make a late charge when he reconnected to the session, his hopes of salvaging fourth ended in a collision with Jimmy Broadbent at the final corner, leaving him down in fifth.

The series will return in two weeks' time, with F1 set to announce a random venue to replace the postponed Vietnamese Grand Prix.

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Welcome to The Independent's live coverage of the first Formula One Esports Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix as the sport attempts to replace this Sunday's cancelled race, in an effort to brings fans a taste of motor racing during the coronavirus crisis.

With all sports in the UK and most worldwide, F1 has announced a plan to hold virtual races each weekend where a Grand Prix was due to take place, having been forced to cancel the opening seven races of the season.

The first sees a star-studded line-up battle for the Bahrain Grand Prix - which of course saw Lewis Hamilton last year win on the track in Sakhir - but this year the victor will be sitting in the comfort of their living room.

Before that gets underway at 8pm, we'll bring you the 'Not The Bah GP' run by Veloce Esports as the series follows on from last weekend's opening 'Not The Aus GP'.

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 17:35
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We're a little under 10 minutes away from the Veloce Esports event getting underway, so let's take a closer look at who will be competing this weekend following last weekend's 'Not The Aus GP' success.

There's an exciting blend of F1 drivers, motorsport names, famous sports athletes and leading sim races all involved, which could well see this event trump the F1 Grand Prix later on this evening. Lando Norris will be one of a handful who will feature in both, with the McLaren F1 driver a keen esports racer in his free time.

Other names include former Renault F1 driver Nico Hulkenburg, as well as current Williams star Nicholas Latifi. two other former F1 names will feature in Esteban Gutierrez - the former Sauber driver - and Stoffel Vandoorne, who Norris of course replaced at McLaren at the start of last year.

Two non-racing sports names set to feature are Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Ryder Cup great golfer Ian Poulter, while from the sim racing world will be current F1 Esports star Daniel Bereznay as well as James Baldwin, Jarno Opmeer, James Doherty, Cem Bolukbasi ans Sacha Fenestraz.

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 17:55
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Confirmed driver line-up:Mercedes: Stoffel Vandoorne (Mercedes Formula E) - Esteban Gutierrez (Mercedes test driver)

Ferrari: Steve 'Super GT' Brown - Jimmy Broadbent

Red Bull: Ben 'Tiametmarduk' Daly - Louis Deletraz (Formula Two)

Toro Rosso: Aarav 'Aarava' Amin - Cem Bolukbasi

McLaren: Lando Norris (McLaren F1) - Will 'WillNE' Lenney

Alfa Romeo: Dani Bereznay - James Baldwin

Racing Point: James 'Limitless' Doherty - Thibaut Courtois

Williams: Nico Hulkenberg (Ex-F1) - Nicholas Latifi (Williams F1)

Haas: Felix von der laden - Pietsmiet

Renault: Jarno Opmeer - Ian Poulter

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 18:00
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'Not The Bah GP' format

The first 25 per cent race(14 laps) will have its grid set by a qualifying session that will get underway imminently, while the second race will be a reverse-grid 25 per cent race (14 laps).

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 18:04
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'Not The Bah GP'

Here we go then, all 20 drivers are ready to go and qualifying is about to get underway.

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 18:08
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'Not The Bah GP

Lando Norris is one of the first out on track for qualifying, but when asked if he's going for pole position, his response is a fairly revealing one:

"No chance! I won't even be in the top three rows."

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 18:11
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'Not The Bah GP

The entire field is out there and it's a busy track as qualifying gets underway, with Vandoorne and Norris the first to start their opening qualifying lap.

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 18:12
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'Not The Bah GP'

Renault's Jarno Opmeer goes top of the timesheet early with a time of 1:26.483, but he's immediately pipped by Alfa Romeo's Dani Bereznay with a 1:26.261 - no surprise given both are F1 Esports regulars.

James Baldwin slots into third - last year's winner of the World's Fastest Gamer series - while the first non-sim racer is Lando Norris in seventh just ahead of Thibaut Courtois.

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 18:17
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'Not The Bah GP'

A bit of drama early on in the session as pro golfer Ian Poulter has been ... disqualified. Why? We're not to sure, but that means he'll be starting the first race in 20th and last.

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 18:18
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'Not The Bah GP'

Steve 'Super GT' Brown is pushing the track limits early, although that's not a slight on the YouTube star as the entire field is finding lines well outside the track boundaries - where's the stewards when you need them?!

A bit of extra info for you, there's five minutes remaining in the 10-minute qualifying session, with damage on but set to reduced and tyre wear also active.

Jack de Menezes22 March 2020 18:22

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