Charles Leclerc has declared himself ready to race, even if it’s without the presence of fans trackside. As COVID-19 pressed Pause on real-life racing, Leclerc, and many others have been practicing on race simulators to keep their skills sharp and fresh. What’s more, the young Ferrari driver has been participating in an online e-series.
F1 launched their own online series in mid-March in a valiant effort to provide fans across the world with racing – albeit it in a totally electronic format. The virtual events will run in place of every postponed Grand Prix, starting with the Virtual Grand Prix in Bahrain that ran on Sunday, March 22. Every subsequent race weekend will see the postponed real-world Formula 1 race replaced with a Virtual Grand Prix, with the initiative currently scheduled to run until May.
Leclerc joined the series in race mode in early April and took a win on debut. The circuit virtually raced was the Albert Park track in Melbourne, the site of what would have normally been the opening round. Leclerc competed under the banner of the FDA Hublot Esports Team, and in a situation for the dinner table conversation, virtually raced alongside his younger brother. Arthur Leclerc is part of the Ferrari Driving Academy.
As seems to be the case in real life, where a polesitter leads from start to finish, this is what happened with Leclerc. It’s all the more impressive given he’d only joined the series eight days before this e-race. However, he wryly noted that he had been practicing for five hours every day.
Arthur finished 4th and became embroiled in an enthralling battle with Formula 2 driver, Christian Lundgaard. It’s here that it’s important to note that only a handful of the current F1 drivers are competing in this e-series and the driver lineup is flexible. For the recent Chinese e-race race, Alfa Romeo listed current driver Antonio Giovinazzi who paired with Juan Manuel Correa. The new for 2020 team, AlphaTauri, who is yet to turn a real wheel in anger, see Ciro Immobile (professional football player) join with Liam Lawson, an 18yo Kiwi driver that is part of the Red Bull stable. Alongside Leclerc senior is Callum Ilott, a 21yo Briton that is in the Ferrari development stable.
For Haas, Pietro Fittipaldi continues the family name (he’s the grandson of Emerson) and was the team’s official test driver in 2019. Louis Deletraz has pedigree as well, being the 23yo son of a former F1 driver, Jean-Dennis, and current races Formula 2. The McLaren e-team has Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, whilst Mercedes fields Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez, both with f1 experience.
For Racing Point, Anthony Davidson and Jimmy Broadbent are waving the flag. Davidson raced for Minardi, whilst Broadbent is a well-known sim racer in his own right. Red Bull has Alexander Albon co-driving with Thibaut Courtois, a Belgian football player. Williams fronts with Nicholas Latifi and George Russell, whilst Renault brings along Guanyu Zhou and Ian Poulter. Zhou races Formula 2 and is the main team’s designated test driver. Poulter is a professional golfer.
For the virtual Bahrain race and the first of the virtual races, Johnny Herbert joined Alfa Romeo, whilst Red Bull fielded Sir Chris Hoy, a former Radical driver and known for representing Great Britain in the Olympics for track cycling.
The platform is from well-respected game-maker Codemasters and is from their 2019 F1 PC oriented game. To provide an equal playing field, some basic restrictions have been put in place. Real-time damage has been scaled back, and a driver can option anti-lock brakes and traction control.