The first race of the 2021 Formula One Virtual Grand Prix series was marred with penalties, with so many drivers being so close to disqualification, with Tonio Liuzzi ultimately paying the price for making so many mistakes throughout the race. The new format caused a major shake-up on the grid that made this race a thrill to watch and gave us so much to talk about. With last minute driver changes, constant overtakes and a whole load of bedroom peeking, this race started off the F1 season in an unforgettable way.
Enzo Fittipaldi impressed to win the first Formula 1 virtual race of 2021 following a fight with Arthur Leclerc in the final laps of the race, with Stoffel Vandoorne managing to take P2 following a late mistake from Leclerc, impressing the viewers and commentators with impeccable skills following the late change to soft tyres. The younger of the Fittipaldi brothers proved to the world that he is exceptional online, as well as on the track, with consistent fight and skills when others around him were making mistakes. Despite leading on time sheet, following the additional penalty for Arthur, Enzo wanted to win from the front and fought for this, which then gave us the sweetest moment post-race, when his older brother came in to celebrate his win, with Pietro finishing an impressive P5, while Albon was able to regain places to finish P4, showing once again, that he is a force to be reckoned with, as he was in 2020.
While there are so many success stories, the race wasn’t as positive for other drivers, with Marcus Armstrong finishing P6 following multiple penalties after starting on pole, plus Anthony Davidson ending in P8 despite starting on the front row following early mistakes from the racing driver. They were not alone however, with Nicholas Latifi receiving more penalties than most of the others, despite being a Formula 1 driver competing against content creators and even footballers. This just shows how these races can be anyone’s to win and every driver in both the sprint and feature races has a chance in these lockdown races to impress or disappoint and both occurred today.
Winners and Losers in Austria
Of course, the biggest winner of the night has to be Enzo Fittipaldi following what can only be described as a truly courageous fight with Arthur Leclerc. The battle of the younger brothers gave us so much hope for the 2021 F3 season following such impressive performances from the two boys. Both drivers must be applauded for their driving around the Red Bull Ring in this race, with constant pushing and fighting for the lead with each other, in addition to other drivers on the grid. They were of course hugely helped by Cedric Thomé and Brendon Leigh respectively, with these impressive partnerships leading to exceptional results on track. All of these drivers started the 3-race virtual championship of strongly for Haas and Ferrari Driver Academy and have left us all very excited for the rest of the races.
Marcus Armstrong on the other hand had so many opportunities after David Tonizza qualified on pole, giving the New Zealand F2 driver the best start possible, but a mistake in the pit lane and then subsequent errors left him much further down the grid than his initial performance would have suggested. Just like Anthony Davidson, having so many opportunities to excel, we have to hope that things improve for them in the upcoming races, combining the skills of their sprint race partners to produce the results we all know they are capable of.
Outside of the top few drivers, there are some success stories further down the grid that must be mentioned. In terms of professional drivers, an unlikely success came from Oscar Piastri, being the only driver to not get a penalty of all of the professional and non-professional competitors, showing just how crazy this race ended up being. Aside from the racing drivers, Jimmy Broadbent and Thibaut Courtois impressed everyone with their ability to race alongside those with so much more experience. Broadbent had a lightning start, and despite falling back a little during the race, ended up in the points, a deserved feat. Thibaut Courtois was also extraordinary tonight, finishing the race with the fastest lap, a notable feat when driving alongside massive names in the sport and being able to hold his own on a world stage is an enormous achievement for the footballer.
Nicholas Latifi and Tonio Liuzzi are arguably the biggest failures of the evening, being the least impressive of the professional drivers getting consistent penalties throughout the race with Liuzzi being disqualified and Latifi being so close to the same fate. Both drivers played a part in last year’s virtual grand prix and therefore there is little to excuse their lack of respect for track limits and warnings which was underwhelming to watch. Hopefully they will both have the chance to improve on this week in the following races but it will remain to be seen if they are taking part and if so, it will be interesting to see whether their experiences today will affect their racing moving forward.
Race Format Changes
The drivers were not the only thing of note in this race, with the changes in the way the race is run being massively important, although the professional drivers quickly showed their skills ending up on top at the end of the feature race. The introduction of the sprint race where Esports racers showed their impressive driving skills around the Austrian track before their partners took over for the longer feature races, which were 50% of the normal race length. This meant that every driver in the race had a chance to start towards the front of the grid which was not seen last year when drivers such as Russell, Albon and Leclerc were able to qualify on pole and stay there throughout the virtual Grand Prix races themselves.
Of course, the last-minute absence of Russell from the race today was notable following his success last year, although his Esports driver partner Alvaro Carreton crashed in the early stages of the feature race. This left George’s replacement ‘FlowstreetYT’ a lot of work to do, which would have made his chances of continuing his winning streak much harder with these new rules. These new rules have changed the way these races are run so considerably and have increased the excitement of the races to an unprecedented degree and it will be thrilling to watch this continue in the future races after such an amazing start to the Virtual F1 series.
With the new format completely changing the way the virtual races will be run in 2021 and the addition of the donation to charity for the Esports teams, this series started off with a thrill which we all hope will be replicated for the next two weeks as well. The British Grand Prix is the next race to look forward to next weekend before the final race of the triple header in Interlagos on February 14, where it is of course hoped the same excitement and suspense that these drivers gave us in Austria will be replicated.