Over half-a-million people tuned in across all platforms to witness the inaugural race in the Formula One virtual Grand Prix series.
With almost all of the world’s motorsport put on standby due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many series have taken to sim racing to provide some much-desired action for fans.
The virtual Bahrain Grand Prix was initially meant to be decided over 28 laps – 50% of the real-life GP distance – but technical difficulties saw this shortened to a 14 lapper instead.
The start was punctuated by an enormous pileup crash involving much of the field before anyone even reached turn one. Fortunately, car damage was reduced allowing everyone to resume.
Three-time Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert decided to cut turns one and two altogether to leapfrog himself from 16th to first. Ultimately, he was issued a penalty but, before he had any chance to serve it, pole sitter and ex-BMW DTM star Philipp Eng demoted Herbert back to second on-track.
Formula Two driver Guanyu Zhou was a man on the mission. Qualifying on the second row of the grid alongside former F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg, Zhou effortlessly guided his way through the carnage and, by lap four, had hunted down Eng for the lead.
McLaren driver Lando Norris experienced issues connecting to the server meaning his car was driven by AI for the first half of the race. When the 20-year-old did take control of his car he began to chase after popular motor racing streamer Jimmy Broadbent.
Broadbent had started last but had capitalised on everyone’s misfortunes to find himself in fourth on the final lap. A wheel-to-wheel scrap with Lando Norris ensued for much of the final lap before the duo crashed into one another at the final corner. Broadbent scrambled back on track to finish in fourth with Norris taking fifth ahead of Williams driver Nicholas Latifi.
Zhou was in a league of his own up front, winning comfortably by 11 seconds ahead of Mercedes Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne who overtook Eng on the penultimate lap.
Esteban Guiterrez and Nico Hulkenberg put on a ‘duel in the desert’ recreation. The two former F1 drivers running side-by-side for most of the race. Gutierrez leading Hulkenberg home at the chequered flag to finish in tenth place.
2018 Toyota Racing Series champion Robert Shwartzman was also featured in the race. The young Russian making solid progress for much of the race but suffered a crash on lap 11 before being disqualified for parking in a dangerous position.
After his opening lap antics, Johnny Herbert finished in 13th, almost 30-seconds clear of Nic Hamilton – younger brother of six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. Ex-One Direction singer Liam Payne was last of all the completed runners.