F2 Sakhir: Zhou storms to victory in frantic feature race

Guanyu Zhou took the final win of Formula 2’s Sakhir weekend, in a feature race dominated by changing tyre performance and a dramatic late collision for title hopeful Oscar Piastri.

Zhou started the race from pole, but it was anything but an easy drive from the front for the Alpine junior. He was slow away off the line and lost the lead to Christian Lundgaard at Turn 1, then dropped to third behind teammate Felipe Drugovich at Turn 4.

After a brief safety car in the early laps when Roy Nissany was spun out by Robert Shwartzman, Zhou then found himself under pressure from Piastri. The Prema driver, who had started on softs as opposed to Zhou’s hard tyres, picked off Zhou for third on lap 4 and set off after Drugovich and Lundgaard, while Zhou lost another position to Marcus Armstrong on lap 8.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

By lap 12 Piastri had passed Drugovich and closed within half a second of Lundgaard, before overtaking the ART for the lead at the start of the following lap. By then the pit window was open and Lundgaard become the first to stop for hards at the end of lap 13, followed by Drugovich on lap 14 and Piastri himself on lap 16. Meanwhile, Zhou made his stop for soft tyres on the alternate strategy on lap 15, and came out of the pits just behind Drugovich.

Another safety car was deployed in the middle of the pit phase when Gianluca Petecof’s cockpit fire extinguisher went off and forced him to retire. The timing of this second safety car benefited Armstrong and Richard Verschoor, who had been shuffled to the head of the field and were able to stop while the pack was slowed down. Armstrong came out of the pits still in the lead, while Verschoor emerged in third between Piastri and Lundgaard.

At the restart on lap 19 however Armstrong immediately fell back, as Piastri and Verschoor both passed him for first and second respectively. Lundgaard also struggled for pace and lost fourth to Drugovich at Turn 4, then fifth to Zhou at Turn 10. Drugovich and Zhou then toppled Armstrong from third on lap 20, before Zhou overtook his teammate for the podium position a lap later.

Felipe Drugovich, UNI-Virtuosi (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

As Zhou returned to the podium positions, Verschoor took the lead from Piastri on lap 20 and set about building a two-second gap as his softs had more initial pace than Piastri’s hards. That pace deficit allowed Zhou — as well as Dan Ticktum and Liam Lawson, who were also charging through on softs — to close up to Piastri and challenge him for second.

Zhou took the position from Piastri on lap 23 and started reeling in Verschoor, who was struggling as his softs then started losing grip. But despite being on the same compound, Zhou was able to keep his tyres in better condition than the MP Motorsport ahead and he took the lead of the race at Turn 4 on lap 28.

As Zhou then leaped clear in the lead, Ticktum started challenging Piastri for third as the Prema couldn’t find pace on the hard tyres. After being rebuffed at the inside of Turn 1 and the outside of Turn 4 on lap 29, Ticktum was much closer at the start of lap 30. He pulled to the inside and got momentarily ahead, before the two cars made contact and Piastri was spun into a stall and out of the race.

Ticktum continued on in third, and after a brief virtual safety car to recover Piastri he improved to second with a pass on Verschoor. Lawson also overtook Verschoor on the final lap to take his second podium finish of the weekend.

Dan Ticktum, Carlin (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

Verschoor was able to hold onto fourth at the flag ahead of Armstrong and Jehan Daruvala. Shwartzman recovered from a drive-through penalty for hitting Nissany at the start to take seventh and the fastest lap, while Theo Pourchaire, Drugovich and Matteo Nannini rounded out the final points positions.

Zhou now leaves Bahrain in the lead of the championship by 11 points from Liam Lawson, and Piastri drops to fourth behind Daruvala. Carlin now lead the teams’ standings on 47 points, ahead of UNI-Virtuosi (43) and Prema (37).

Formula 2 returns on 20–23 May in support of the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix.

F2 Sakhir: Piastri snatches last lap sprint race win from Zhou

Prema’s Oscar Piastri became Formula 2’s second rookie winner in as many races after a strategy gamble and a hectic race helped him to overhaul Guanyu Zhou on the final lap.

The race started with an incident at the first corner. As Juri Vips led away Lirim Zendelli and Zhou from pole, Robert Shwartzman hit Dan Ticktum at Turn 1 as he challenged for fourth place. Ticktum spun out and Shwartzman pulled over with terminal damage, and the safety car was deployed for the opening lap.

When the safety car pulled in at the end of lap 3, Zhou immediately took second from Zendelli. Once ahead, Zhou then started reeling in Vips, setting the fastest lap at the end of lap 4 and taking the lead from the Hitech on the following lap at Turn 4.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

Meanwhile, Liam Lawson and Felipe Drugovich joined the podium battle. After moving past Piastri and Christian Lundgaard for fourth and fifth respectively at the restart, the pair then demoted Zendelli to fifth on lap 5 with Lawson ahead moving into the podium positions. Zendelli’s race then took another hit, as contact from Lundgaard at Turn 1 left the German with a puncture and dropped him to the back of the field.

At the front of the field, Zhou continued to stretch out a gap over Vips, and was running 2.5 seconds clear by lap 11. Behind them, Lawson and Drugovich were much closer in the battle for third, and on lap 15 Drugovich made a move to the inside of Turn 1. Lawson managed to hold off the Brazilian, but they were both passed instead by Lundgaard. Lawson and Drugovich continued battling through the next couple of corners, until they made contact at Turn 4 and Lawson was spun out of the race.

The safety car was deployed again while Lawson’s car was recovered, and Vips, Lundgaard and Piastri all took the opportunity to gamble on a switch to soft tyres. Despite dropping down the order, the trio had an immediate pace advantage over the rest of the field on hards or worn softs when the race resumed on lap 18.

After carving back through the field on the first green flag lap, Vips, Piastri and Lundgaard were back up to second, third and fourth respectively by the end of lap 19, and Vips had the gap to Zhou down to a second.

Juri Vips, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

But Vips’ hard work came undone just a few laps later when he lost power and started dropping through the field. Piastri assumed second and the pursuit of Zhou, and at the start of the final lap he and Lundgaard both lunged past their fellow Alpine junior at Turn 1.

As Zhou battled to repass Lundgaard, Piastri was free to pull away in the lead and take his first Formula 2 victory. Lundgaard finished second on the road, but a ten-second penalty for his collision with Zendelli dropped him back to ninth. Zhou therefore finished second, and Jehan Daruvala scored his second podium of the weekend in third.

Richard Verschoor finished fourth for MP Motorsport, ahead of Theo Pourchaire, David Beckmann, Marino Sato and Matteo Nannini.

UPDATE: Lundgaard’s second place finish was reinstated following the race, after the FIA confirmed he had already served his 10 second penalty during his pit stop. The updated result means that Zhou drops to third and Daruvala fourth, and Nannini loses his point as he drops to ninth,.

F2 Sakhir: Lawson dominates sprint race on debut

Hitech’s Liam Lawson opened his rookie Formula 2 season with a dominant win in the first Bahrain sprint race, holding the lead throughout after taking it at the start.

Lawson got a rapid start from third on the grid to get past fellow rookies David Beckmann and Theo Pourchaire, who started first. Pourchaire briefly dropped down to third behind Beckmann, but recovered by the end of the lap to retake second place. Just behind them, Jehan Daruvala jumped Oscar Piastri for fourth.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Lawson’s attempt to break clear of DRS range from Pourchaire was briefly halted on lap 3, when Marcus Armstrong’s DAMS stopped on track to bring out the virtual safety car. But by lap 6, Lawson pulled a second clear of Pourchaire for the first time and went on to build a gap in clean air.

As Pourchaire dropped back from the lead, he started coming under pressure from Daruvala, who’d passed Beckmann for third on lap 11. But on lap 13 Pourchaire suddenly slowed with a mechanical problem, gifting Daruvala second as he dropped out of the points and eventually stopped on track.

Now in pursuit of the lead, Daruvala looked to have much better tyres than Lawson. On his first lap in second, Daruvala took half a second out of the lead as his rival struggled for grip. Lawson then had a big lock up on lap 17, which brought Daruvala to within half a second of the Hitech.

But despite being in DRS range, Daruvala was ultimately unable to get close enough to Lawson to make a move for the lead. Lawson held on to win by 0.7 seconds over Daruvala, with Beckmann taking third on his F2 debut.

David Beckmann, Charouz (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / courtesy of FIA Formula 2)

Robert Shwartzman took fourth ahead of Piastri, after battling through the field from his starting position of 11th. Christian Lundgaard and Guanyu Zhou were sixth and seventh, and Dan Ticktum took the final point in eighth after being demoted by a time penalty for spinning around Richard Verschoor early on.

Lirim Zendelli finished ninth but took two points for the fastest lap, and Juri Vips finished tenth to start on pole for the second sprint race.

F2 Bahrain preview: New season, new format, same goal

The Formula 2 grid will take to the track this weekend in Bahrain, for the opening round of the 2021 championship.

It only feels like yesterday that Mick Schumacher was crowned the 2020 F2 champion, but a lot has changed since the series left Bahrain last December. For starters, there’s a new race weekend format for the teams and drivers to get their heads around this year.

Instead of a Saturday feature race and Sunday sprint race, the F2 weekend will now feature three races — two sprint events on Saturday, and a feature before Sunday’s F1 Grand Prix. Friday qualifying will still determine the feature race grid, while the first sprint race grid will be set by reversing the top ten from qualifying. The starting positions for the second sprint race will then be a reverse of the first race’s top ten finishers.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

The weekend format might be different though, but for the eleven drivers returning to F2 this year, the goal of winning the championship and reaching F1 remains the same. And of those drivers, Robert Shwartzman is going to come to Bahrain with the most expectation on his shoulders.

In his rookie season last year, Shwartzman took the most wins of the field, helped Prema to the teams’ title, and was in championship contention himself for most of the season. He’s already proven he’s quick in Bahrain — one of his four wins last year came in the sprint race there — so Shwartzman will be the one with the target on his back in the opening round.

But there are plenty more drivers from the class of 2020 who will be out to prove this weekend that it’s not all about Shwartzman. Jehan Daruvala and Dan Ticktum have a great chance of opening the year with a win, as their Carlin team had rapid pace in Bahrain last year. Watch out for Marcus Armstrong too, who was also quick here last year and is starting a new partnership with DAMS.

And lastly, Felipe Drugovich will be a driver with plenty of attention on him in the opening round. After being one of last year’s revelations, the Brazilian has earned himself a move to UNI-Virtuosi alongside Guanyu Zhou and the perfect chance to prove he can challenge the likes of Shwartzman for the title.

Dan Ticktum, Carlin (Michael Regan, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / Courtesy of FIA Formula 2)

But while the returning field is strong, they’ll have a real fight on their hands to keep ahead of an equally impressive crop of rookies.

One of those new faces will be the 2020 Formula 3 champion and Alpine F1 junior Oscar Piastri. Coming into F2 with Prema, Piastri is expected to be a natural title contender this year — and if his F3 days are anything to go by, he won’t be taking any time at all to get his campaign underway.

Piastri isn’t the only rookie looking to impress an F1 academy, though. Hitech is fielding an all-Red Bull junior lineup this year with Juri Vips and Liam Lawson, both of whom were consistently rapid in pre-season testing.

A lot of the spotlight will fall on Vips after he made his F2 debut last year substituting for Sean Gelael in four rounds, and scored a podium at Mugello. But Lawson is no slouch either — he was a multiple race winner with Hitech in F3 last year, and is every bit as quick as Vips.

And then there’s Theo Pourchaire. Like Vips, Sauber F1 junior Pourchaire made his F2 debut in a handful of rounds last year — including Bahrain — before a full campaign for 2021. He came within three points of snatching the F3 title away from Piastri last year and has been widely tipped as a future F1 star. Driving for ART this year, he’ll be with a team capable of challenging for podiums and wins right from the off.

But as Drugovich showed last year, it’s not just the F1 juniors to watch for. Between Formula Regional European champion Gianluca Petecof, F3 race winners Lirim Zendelli, David Beckmann and Bent Viscaal, and F3 podium finishers Richard Verschoor and Matteo Nannini, there are plenty of lightning-fast rookies coming in under the radar this weekend.

Liam Lawson, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Alpine’s 2021 F1 car officially unveiled

Alpine has unveiled its new contender for the 2021 season, the A521. The first car built by the newly rebranded team at Enstone.

Although a new name to F1, Alpine have been a part of motorsport since the 1950’s. After being bought out by Renault in 1973 they have developed a reputation as Renault’s ‘high performance’ brand. The Alpine name was used for Renault’s rallying and endurance endeavours, resulting in an Alpine-Renault World Rally Championship in 1973, and the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Alpine ceased production in 1995 but was revived in 2017, before the decision last year to elevate their long-forgotten brand to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Courtesy of Alpine F1

During a virtual launch, the car was unveiled in a striking blue, white and red livery.

On the new livery, Laurent Rossi, Alpine CEO stressed the symbolism of French and British collaboration:

“This car identifies the Alpine identity. It’s livery conveys it’s values. The blue, white and red is a reference to both the French flag and Union Jack. Representing the soul of this multicultural team that merges flamboyant skills under one banner.”

At first glance, the A521 looks to have the trademark 2021 shrunken sidepods and more complex outboard vanes to the bargeboards – all because of the new floor and diffuser setup created by changes in the aerodynamic rules. The rear wing looks subtly different too with more complex endplates.

“We had to adapt, we had to innovate, but that’s what we do best.” said Marcin Budkowski, speaking on the new technical changes.

“This year’s car is an evolution of last years contender. […] we’ve worked and tried to improve every area that was left free to develop.”

“But also the FIA, to spice things up a bit, have changed the aerodynamic regulations that means we have lost a lot of performance which we’ve tried to recover.”

“Interestingly, they are in an area that normally doesn’t behave in the same way on track than our tool and simulations tell us. So it’s going to be very important to get the best collaboration between people at the factory and on track to develop the car aerodynamically and allow us to realise our ambitious development programme for the first few races.”

Courtesy of Alpine F1

In addition, Renault will have a new and improved power unit, looking to maintain and improve it’s impressive position as one of F1’s most powerful units in terms of straight line speed.

On the team’s power unit, Laurent Rossi stated: “The delay in the technical (engine) regulations means we will be using an evolutions of our RE20A unit. There are a few developments with the power train and we have worked specifically for optimum  performance and reliability.”

The team finished fifth in the constructors championship in 2021, with three podiums to there name, their first in almost a decade of racing.

With returning two-time champion Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, they will be hoping to have similar success with what will be a formidable line-up with a mix of youth and proven championship winning pedigree.

“The team at Enstone are highly experienced and motivated” said Racing Director, Davide Brivio. “I’m very lucky to have two very excellent drivers.”

“The dynamic between Fernando and Esteban is going to be an interesting one, they can definitely benefit from each other. “

The Alpine A521 will make its first extended on-track appearance at the start of pre-season testing in Bahrain, which takes place from 12-14 March.

A Tale of Two Halves: The Diriyah ePrix in Full

Season 7 of Formula E officially kicked off this weekend for the season’s first night race in history. Set in the sprawling desert of Ad Diriyah, the historical old city under carbon-friendly lights, the double header was certainly a tale of two halves with Mercedes driver Nyck de Vries heading to Rome as the championship leader, but by no means are Mercedes running away with their first potential title in the electric series.

De Vries had shown a strong start to the weekend in topping both practice sessions and took a dominant pole in qualifying, by six tenths of a second from his nearest rival, Porsche’s Pascal Wehrlein. Rene Rast was able to line up in P3 in his first full season in Formula E, whilst Edo Mortara was able to put the Mercedes powertrain to good use and claim P4 in the Venturi. Alex Lynn and Mitch Evans rounded out the top six, the pair promoted to the final two slots of superpole by a bizarre timing incident in the initial qualifying stages in which Sergio Sette Camara crashed at the end of qualifying. Nick Cassidy, Tom Blomqvist and Nico Muller’s laps were deleted by the stewards and they were not permitted to run again. The qualifying format again mixed up the grid with the reigning champions Techeetah and Mercedes’ Stoffel Vandoorne starting near the back having had to go out in the dreaded group one.

Credit: Formula E

De Vries continued his dominance in the first race, pulling away almost immediately from a struggling Wehrlein at the start, and from there, he never looked back. The Dutchman controlled the race perfectly, dictating the pace even throughout two safety car periods. Behind him, Wehrlein and Rast fought for track position, but the pair never threatened De Vries’ building lead. Despite Mercedes’ dominance, the driver of the day was surely Mortara. Starting fourth, he pulled a stunning manouvre on Evans and Wehrlein – passing them both on the straight by darting past the Jaguar and squeezing himself into the gap left by Wehrlein. The Porsche faded in the latter stages of the race, with Evans able to claim P3 from Wehrlein. On the other side of Jaguar’s garage, Sam Bird’s first outing did not go to plan. The Brit was looking strong, battling for P6 with Alex Lynn when the two collided, bringing out the first safety car of the season. A second safety car followed to recover Max Gunther’s stricken car, allowing the battle for P2 to be ignited in the dying stages of the race, Mortara using his attack mode to sweep into the second podium position. But it was de Vries who claimed his first win for Mercedes, and all eyes were firmly fixed on the second race to see if the German team would continue their winning streak.

Credit: Formula E

If Race 1 was heaven for Mercedes, then Race 2 was almost certainly hell. A horrendous crash in the sole free practise session for race hero Mortara saw the Venturi driver taken to hospital for additional checks and all Mercedes-powered cars were banned from taking part in the qualifying session. It was later discovered that this was the result of a software issue leading to brake failure. With Mercedes and Venturi out, qualifying became a mixed grid. Evans and Rast failed to set a time in the opening group as they didn’t reach the start-finish line in time, leaving them at the back of the pack. But it was another Dutchman – Envision Virgin’s Robin Frijns who stormed the field by half a second, joined in superpole by ex-teammate Sam Bird, the Dragon cars of Nico Muller and Sergio Sette Camara, and the Nio 333 cars of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Turvey. Ultimately, Frijns took the first pole of his Formula E career ahead of Camara who took an impressive front row in the Dragon and Sam Bird slotting into P3. Turvey and Blomqvist filled P4 and P5, with Muller taking the final spot in the top six after a scrappy run. It was an excellent boost to Dragon and Nio to have both cars inside the top six after their previous struggles over the past few seasons. 

With the likes of Mercedes and Audi starting further back, the second race was expected to provide fireworks and it certainly did. Frijns pulled away at the front, taking Sam Bird with him as Camara suffered an initial poor start – and the pair began their duel in the desert with Frijns leading the way. However, the Dutchman began to struggle with energy consumption and fell behind Bird on lap 21. However,  the ex teammates were not the only ones caught in a duel. The tension that had simmered between current reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa and former two time champion Jean-Eric Vergne was reignited as the pair began their rapid ascent through the pack in the opening stages of the race. However, after their initial harmony when arming themselves with attack mode, the pair came together at turn 23, narrowly avoiding an incident. Vergne never got to challenge Frijns for P2 after the race was red-flagged after a long safety car period with four minutes remaining on the clock.

Credit: Formula E

Mahindra’s Alex Lynn was involved in a massive incident with Mitch Evans in the latter stages in which his car became airbourne at one stage. Lynn was taken to the hospital and thankfully, has now been released. Due to the severity of the incident, the stewards deemed the order the cars were in behind the safety car the valid result – with Bird taking his first win for Jaguar, Frijns collecting his first podium of the season, and Vergne rounding out the top three. However, the Techeetah man’s podium was taken away a few hours after the race when he was served a penalty for not taking his second attack mode during the race. Rast and Blomqvist too were penalised for failing to use their attack modes, whilst Nick Cassidy who had finished an impressive P5 was handed a time penalty for speeding infringements.

Riyadh’s first night race served up some interesting fireworks, and it’s almost certain that the action will continue in Rome in six weeks’ time. 




 



 

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen launches the C41

Alfa Romeo become the latest team to officially launch their 2021 F1 challenger – the C41, during an online media event in Warsaw.

Scheduled during a week of official car launches, it joins the current trend of online hosted events, rather than its traditional reveal usually unveiled at Winter Testing.

The team went all out to impress the tens of thousands of fans, using music and dance to portray a classy, elegant and cultured impression of Alfa Romeo.

The Alfa Romeo C41 car breaks from sequence, given the team raced with a C39 in 2020. However, the team wishes to skip the C40 name in favour of a title that aligns the chassis number with the year of racing.

The team  also underwent a livery change with a white on red style, the inverse of the last few years.

Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Team

Alfa Romeo will be aiming to bounce back after a difficult 2020 which saw the team score just eight points as drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi struggled to compete with the midfield teams further ahead.

However, with a new and improved Ferrari power unit, fired up earlier this month, Alfa Romeo can find plenty of optimism surrounding their hopes for an improved campaign.

Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Team

On the changes made to the C41, technical director Jan Monchaux said:      “[We had to] Invest our tokens on a new nose […] front suspension, front wing and the bargeboard deflector. The rest of the effort was spent on the floor and the diffuser where due to the regulations we lost a lot of downforce.”

Due to changes in the technical regulations, teams are restricted to what they can develop. Many parts of the 2020 cars are carried over to this year.

“The chassis is the same, the gearbox is obviously the same and the rear suspension as well because of the regulations”

“Then for return-on-investment reasons we decided to carry over radiators and some part of the body work to really in the short time we had to concentrate on the areas we were expecting to provide the highest return on investment.”

Speaking of the team’s hopes, Fred Vasseur said: “For sure the expectations are high,” he explained. “It is an exciting time for the team at the launch of a new car.”

“The most important is to try improve so to put a goal is limiting. Step by step we have to come back. It is a long path but we will improve.”

“We will see in Bahrain in a few weeks time where we are exactly.

Many factors are being considered for Alfa Romeo’s long term plan back to the front including investments on infrastructure such as a new wind-tunnel and simulator. “We’ve invested a lot of money and energy to the simulator. We are at an early stage at the project. I am really convinced on it.”

On preparations for the season, Kimi  underplayed it explaining that it has been: “Very normal life, nothing special. We are excited for the year.”

“There’s rules changes, but in a few weeks we will see from testing how things are running, how things are feeling and roughly in one months time we will see roughly where everybody is.” 

 I enjoy the racing and the challenge to try to improve things and to get better”

Both drivers will be retained for the 2021 season supported by reserve and test drivers Robert Kubica and Tatiana Calderon.

On his 2021 European Le Mans program Kubica said: “It’s a great opportunity I will have to discover a new car, new series, but also a bit of different way of racing”.

“From a performance point of view the field is very competitive in European Le Mans Series. But of course we are working on getting ready and first of all will be to learn as much as I can and try to do something good.”

“You always want to do your best and I think this will be a goal.”

On the driver line-up, Vasseur stated stability and continuity was key: “We only have three days (testing) this winter, we won’t lose time to know each other and to build up a relationship. The relationship between the team and the drivers is a good one and this is crucial.”

Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Team

Russell bests Albon in Virtual British GP duel

Image courtesy of F1 2020 gameplay

After last weekend’s Virtual Grand Prix return at the Red Bull Ring, it was round two at Silverstone before the finale next weekend on the Interlagos circuit.

It was nine of the ten teams competing last weekend with Racing Point/Aston Martin electing to sit out, but despite coming perilously close to winning at the Austrian GP circuit with driver Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes chose to not compete in the second event.

The line-up for the event is as follows, with the driver competing in the main 50% distance race listed accordingly with the Formula 1 Esports driver doing the five-lap sprint race to determine their grid positions next to them in brackets:

Red Bull
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Liam Lawson (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren
Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly (Josh Idowu)
Jimmy Broadbent (James Baldwin)

Alpine
Lucas ‘Squeezie’ Hauchard (Bence Szabó-Kónyi)
Aléthéa ‘Theamusante’ Boucq (Fabrizio Donoso)

Ferrari
Callum Ilott (Brendon Leigh)
Robert Shwartzman (Amos Laurito)

AlphaTauri
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘PieFace’ McDermott (Simon Weigang)

Haas
Pietro Fittipaldi (Samuel Libeert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Floris Wijers)

Williams
George Russell (Álvaro Carretón)
Nicholas Latifi (Alessio Di Capua)

Note: 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza was meant to be qualifying the car for Robert Shwartzman but had to withdraw due to a foot injury, and Nicolas Longuet had to withdraw from qualifying the car for Squeezie due to unknown reasons.

Before the five-lap sprint was a one-shot qualifying for the Esports drivers, and it was Marcel Kiefer who came out on top in that session looking to seal that position in the feature race for Alex Albon.

The sprint race began and Ferrari’s Brendon Leigh got up to third ahead of Floris Wijers whilst Kiefer held off Alessio Di Capua. Wijers spun heading into Village, whilst Leigh put an incredible move on Di Capua into The Loop and was now in second behind Kiefer.

Lap two and Haas’ other driver Samuel Libeert had just passed McLaren’s Josh Idowu and the Welshman wasn’t taking it lying down, he tried a move heading into Village but suddenly had the Williams of Álvaro Carretón and the Alfa Romeo of Simon Weigang either side of him coming out of The Loop. He held off Weigang but Carretón held his ground going onto the Wellington straight and pulled off an outside move into Brooklands.

Back at the front, Leigh looked to be weighing up a move on the leading Kiefer. Lap four heading into Brooklands, the two-time champion pulls off the maneauver into the lead looking to get fellow Brit and Ferrari reserve driver Callum Ilott pole position for their home Virtual Grand Prix.

Kiefer had no answer to Leigh and so it was the Ferrari driver winning on his home track, meanwhile just behind them Alfa Romeo’s Dani Bereznay pulled off a pass on Alessio Di Capua, who then proceeded to spin right at the end which plummeted him from at the very least fourth to what would become twelfth at the line.

Thanks to Leigh’s efforts, Callum Ilott would start the feature race from pole ahead of Alex Albon, with the remainder of the top 10 consisting of Thibaut Courtois, Jimmy Broadbent, George Russell, PieFace, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Benjamin Daly, Pietro Fittipaldi and Squeezie. The previous Virtual Grand Prix winner Enzo Fittipaldi would have all the work to do as his sprint race teammate Floris Wijers couldn’t improve his position after his first-lap spin, thus the younger Fittipaldi brother would start 16th and last on the grid.

Onto the all-important Virtual Grand Prix main race, 26 laps around Silverstone.

At the start, Ilott elected to start on softs whilst Albon was on mediums, so Ilott got away well whilst Albon held off the charging Courtois. McLaren’s Jimmy Broadbent had a shocker, he had hardware issues as his racing wheel disconnected, undoing all the hard work by James Baldwin in the sprint race.

The other McLaren of fellow YouTube racing gamer Benjamin Daly spun coming through The Loop after potentially getting into contact with the Alfa Romeo of PieFace. So it was the worst possible start for the McLaren duo.

At the front, Ilott rocketed into an early lead and Albon was attempting to hold off a Real Madrid goalkeeper. Courtois was on the grippier softer tyres and seemed very eager to pass the two-time podium finisher, and subsequently used up a lot of his ERS in the process. He used it all to great effect though as he managed an outside move into Maggots! A stunning move. One that George Russell teased Albon about over their shared game chat.

Albon immediately attempted a move on Courtois heading into the Village-The Loop complex but it resulted in Russell getting the better of his childhood friend. Russell was now up to third, and a lap later once again on the Wellington straight with the help of DRS, he put a move on the Belgian goalkeeper who held his line, but relinquished the position after exiting Luffield. He then got immediately passed by Albon on the run up to Copse.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the fight was between Ilott, Russell and Albon. The Ferrari driver was on a different strategy and was trying to use up his softs in the first stint to get as big a gap on the other two who would then get the grippier tyres in the second stint.

Behind them though, the Haas drivers had gotten past Courtois. Enzo Fittipaldi inparticular benefited hugely from the first lap melee to get himself from last into a strong points paying position. His brother Pietro made inroads on Albon and attempted an audacious maneuver heading into Village but outbraked himself and the Red Bull driver got back past.

Further down the field, Benjamin Daly was holding off the advances of 2021 Formula 2 drivers Robert Shwartzman and Liam Lawson. First the Ferrari driver got through on the YouTuber and then Lawson attempted to follow but couldn’t avoid smacking the rear of the McLaren, sending the Aussie into a half-spin.

Laps 9 and 10 saw the Fittipaldi brothers pitting in, both of whom ran the soft tyres so it was clear that longtime race leader Callum Ilott would be pitting soon. Surely enough, the following lap saw Ilott pitting as Albon pulled off an overtake on Russell just in time to take the lead.

Ilott rejoined behind the AlphaTauri pair of Liuzzi and Salvadori, but he made quick work of Liuzzi and put himself in relatively clear air to ensure he could have the gap to Albon and Russell when they both pitted. Speaking of Albon, he was the first of the leading group to pick up a three-second time penalty for track limit warnings, which would prove later on to be pivotal.

The Thai driver came into the pits on lap 14 to fit the softs, and just rejoined ahead of the Fittipaldi duo and behind Ilott. Russell followed suit the next lap and slotted in behind Albon who was just eating into Ilott’s lead. Lap 17 and Albon managed to pull off an immense move on Ilott around the Abbey and Farm complex to run side by side with Ilott, held it on the outside through Village which turned to the inside of The Loop. He was now in the lead, but still had that three second penalty looming over him.

Later on in the lap, Russell caught Ilott but couldn’t pass him on the Hangar straight even with DRS assistance, so attempted again on the Wellington straight and made it stick. It was now inevitably a straight battle between Albon and Russell for the win.

Lap 23, a few laps from home and football game streamer PieFace elected to pit for softs to go for a fastest lap attempt, which despite being on a controller when everyone else was using a wheel and pedals, he actually managed to do! But Alex Albon quickly took that back later on to earn the point for fastest lap.

Back at the front on the following lap, George Russell pulled the pin when he didn’t have to, and overtook Albon for the lead. As long as Russell didn’t get a corner cutting penalty, he could have sat behind Albon and still win but he wanted to win it on track too.

It wasn’t long before Albon got it back, as with the usage of DRS on the Wellington straight on the last lap, he flew past Russell and brought it home first over the line. However of course on penalties, it meant that it was George Russell, the unofficial Virtual Grand Prix champion winning yet again. He won the last four Virtual Grand Prix races before the 2020 season got up and running, and made it five wins in his last five entries.

Joining Russell and Albon on the virtual podium was Callum Ilott, a valiant effort from who many believe to be deserving of a full time F1 seat. The top 10 were completed by Pietro and Enzo Fittipaldi, Liam Lawson, Nicholas Latifi, Robert Shwartzman, Benjamin Daly and Luca Salvadori.

In the team’s standings, Haas still lead the way on 57 points from Ferrari with 42 and Red Bull on 39. Williams get off the mark on 31 whilst the absent Mercedes hold 22. Then at the tail end of the standings we have Alpine on 6, AlphaTauri 3, and finally McLaren and Alfa Romeo tying on 2 points. Their finishing positions will dictate which of the team’s elected charities will net the most money from F1’s £100,000 prize pool after next weekend’s finale around the Interlagos circuit.

Be sure to tune in next Sunday at 6pm UK time to F1’s official Twitch, YouTube and Facebook social media channels and potentially your country’s F1 broadcasting channel to see who will come out on top in this Virtual Grand Prix series.

Grosjean joins Dale Coyne Racing for the 2021 IndyCar season

Romain Grosjean is to join Dale Coyne Racing for the 2021 IndyCar season. The French driver will make his debut with the Rick Ware entry and will race in all 13 road and street races.

This heralds a remarkable comeback narrative after being dropped from the Haas F1 team alongside teammate Kevin Magnussen. There were question marks looming as to whether Grosjean may altogether retire from racing after a near-fatal high-speed accident at the Bahrain Grand Prix left him with multiple degree burns, broken ribs and a dented confidence.

“It was never an option,” Grosjean said, concerning any doubts following the Bahrain accident. “I felt like I wanted to go back racing.”

The soon-to-be rookie has no qualms about returning to top tier racing, excited about the prospect of a return to competitiveness.

“What I want is to be happy and enjoy my time in racing,” Grosjean said during his Twitch stream, suggesting there is a pathway to longevity in the American single seater series: “And if I do, I would stay longer for sure. And if things don’t go to plan, I would come back to Europe but I think its going to be great.”

During Dale Coyne Racing’s official press conference Romain stated he had been in early contact with the American outfit: “I got in touch with Dale last year before Imola and I really felt that they were enthusiastic about getting me on board. I’ve been watching the races, the series looks super competitive, the cars look fun to drive.”

Romain Grosjean, Haas (Joao Filipe, DPPI / Haas F1 Media)

Santino Ferrucci, who drove the #18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda, left the series for the NASCAR Xfinity Series to compete for Sam Hunt Racing, and Alex Palou, who drove the #55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda, left the team to replace Felix Rosenqvist at Chip Ganassi Racing. Grosjean will be teammates with Ed Jones who will replace Ferrucci in the #18 Vasser-Sullivan Honda.

Grosjean will join Alexander Rossi, Marcus Ericsson, Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais as the ex-Formula 1 drivers on the 2021 grid.

Achieving a respectable 10 podiums, 391 career points and a fastest lap in his time in F1, he will be looking to add to his list of achievements, aiming to get up to speed as soon as possible.

On the subject of his injuries Grosjean was in optimistic spirits: “It’s going okay. My left hand is still quite marked but it’s uglier than it is bad I will say. It’s all working well, the left-hand ligament was pulled away so I’ve had surgery.”

He will get his first test in his new machinery on the 22nd February at Barber Motorsport Park. There are reservations whether he will be fully fit by that point but he iterated it is not long away.

“The first test is the 22nd of February. I may not be 100% but [I will be] good enough to do well. By race one I am going to be ready and I’m not going to worry about it. I have been in the gym. It was a difficult call for the doctor but we knew there were more risks of delaying the healing. With the season postponed a little bit it all played into my hand, if I can use the play on words.”

French racing drivers have had a good open wheel record in the United States. Sebastien Bourdais holds the most consecutive IndyCar championships 2004-2007 (4) while Simon Pagenaud is the last European to win the championship in 2016.

With a sporting comeback story such as this, this will hopefully give fans who were still reluctant to follow the IndyCar series more reason than not.

Pourchaire joins ART for full-time F2 move

ART have confirmed that Theo Pourchaire will reunite with the team for his full-time move to Formula 2 in 2021.

Sauber junior Pourchaire led ART’s Formula 3 charge in 2020. He took two wins early on in the season and the most podiums of anyone in the field, and came within three points of taking the title from Oscar Piastri at the Mugello finale.

Following his impressive F3 campaign, Pourchaire then stepped up to F2 with HWA in place of Giuliano Alesi for the final two rounds in Bahrain.

Theo Pourchaire, ART F3 (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“I’m very happy to be able to continue with ART Grand Prix,” Pourchaire said. “This team gave me the opportunity to drive in F3 last year and now accompanies me to the gates of Formula 1, in F2.

“This year my aim does not change, I’m still aiming for the top. I feel perfectly ready for this new season.”

ART team principal Sébastien Philippe added: “Theo’s progress has been remarkable since his debut in motorsports. [In F3] he impressed the team by his evolution in a delicate context and with an extremely competitive field.

“Theo had nothing to gain by doing a second season in F3 and his move to F2 is the next logical step of our collaboration. The step is high, but between his talent, his determination and his thirst for learning, I’m sure he can make this transition a success.”