Formula One’s second Virtual Racing Series event featured a former world champion, a World Cup-winning cricketer and five of the existing grid.
The Vietnam GP replacement event was held on the Australian GP circuit as the Codemasters F1 2019 game used for the series does not feature the new Vietnam circuit). Here’s a run-down of some of the standout moments.
Leclerc excels at racing, struggles with tech
Charles Leclerc is one of those people who seems to be annoyingly good at everything he does competitively. The Ferrari driver needed just eight five-hour days of practice on the F1 2019 game to apparently master the virtual world of racing, winning the event from pole position.
The real entertainment, however, was to be found by watching his Twitch stream. As well as numerous, emotive complaints about how much he was sweating during the race, it soon became apparent Leclerc is not as well-versed with technology as you might think for someone seemingly naturally gifted at all things.
Having won the race, Leclerc started laughing while trying to switch off his Twitch stream — saying « I don’t even know whether I’m still live or not! » — as he looked at the screen in a bemused fashion.
He won the race driving on the limit 💪
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 6, 2020
Given how quickly Leclerc had adapted to the virtual world of racing, it was at least a relatable moment for the rest of us to see him struggle to do something.
Lando’s patience runs out
Lando Norris hasn’t had much luck with F1’s official esports series so far.
He was forced to start the opening Virtual GP, in Bahrain two weeks earlier, from the back of the grid due to technical difficulties. Those continued into the race, and he and his Twitch feed were left to cheer for the automated version of Norris — dubbed ‘Lando Bot’ — until he finally gained access to the game for the final laps.
Those issues continued at F1’s most recent race and prompted Norris, who was once again left to play entertainer on his Twitch feed, to call Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who is a frequent gamer but has refused to take part in the Virtual Racing Series as he does not like the F1 2019 game.
In what must be a slightly embarrassing moment for F1 and Codemasters, Verstappen gave Norris the following bit of advice.
« Take the game off your P.C. and throw it in the bin, » he said. « Have fun racing and I will never join that [event]! Bye bye! »
Norris eventually took the advice, uninstalling the game live on his stream.
Will he be back? Time will tell… F1 has two weeks to persuade him to reinstall the game ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix replacement event on April 19.
Ben Stokes mayhem
If you know Ben Stokes, you’re probably more used to his exploits on a cricket field. The World Cup-winning English cricketer was one of the wild-card entries for the race, and he had several amusing moments through the weekend of racing.
After qualifying, the cricketer admitted to getting bored waiting for the session to end, prompting him to drive the wrong way round the circuit, causing an amused George Russell to a spin.
May have got a bit bored toward the end of Qualifying laps 🤷♂️ https://t.co/3A2dQEGiyX
— Ben Stokes (@benstokes38) April 4, 2020
Stokes’ exploits were being followed closely by many non-F1 fans and a couple of his cricketing peers — England’s limited overs captain Eoin Morgan and fast bowler Stuart Broad.
While Morgan suggested Stokes could get a top-10 finish, Broad was quick to reply with a video of Stokes spinning out early in the race.
— Stuart Broad (@StuartBroad8) April 5, 2020
Stokes finished a lap down in last place, but he was quick to suggest Broad join him next time.
Both of us in next race Stu??? Then I can compete against someone rather than driving by myself and getting lapped https://t.co/QJTfmsbYUn
— Ben Stokes (@benstokes38) April 5, 2020
That suggestion got a positive response from Codemasters’ esports coordinator Dan Hawkins, who was quick to praise Stokes for his debut showing despite how the result looked on paper.
Just gonna say, you were very impressive and committed. You should hold your head up high as you were putting in some solid laps and to go from where you were on Friday to now, is impressive! 10/10 rating. But definitely down for you and Broady!
— Dan Hawkins (@DanHawk1ns_) April 5, 2020
Old guard vs. New guard
Jenson Button’s decision to race gave people a chance to see one of the stars of the modern era of racing go up against some of the stars of the future.
The 2009 world champion, who would later admit finding his esports debut harder than a real race at the Australian Grand Prix, given his limited practice, had an entertaining duel with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon in the closing stages.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 6, 2020
Thanks guys, that was so much more difficult than the real thing 😂 https://t.co/O1dSpexail
— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) April 5, 2020
Watching that prompts an obvious race idea: an all-star race between past and present F1 drivers? Watch this space: in the world of esports it’s not an outrageous suggestion at all.