Renault's Zhou wins Formula 1’s chaotic first-ever Virtual Grand Prix


Renault youngster Guanyu Zhou wins F1 Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix in messy but entertaining race

Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix

Formula 1’s attempt to entertain the masses during the coronavirus pandemic brought together an eclectic mix of experience and exposure, as Renault Academy driver Guanyu Zhou won the first-ever virtual F1 Grand Prix.

Drivers such as Lando Norris, Stoffel Vandoorne and Nico Hulkenberg went wheel-to-wheel with golfer Ian Poulter, Olympic gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy and even music star Liam Payne in a virtual Sakhir race in place of the postponed Bahrain Grand Prix.

Almost half a million viewers tuned in to watch the event as Renault driver Zhou took an impressive victory in a hectic, controversial but thoroughly entertaining race.

Johnny Herbert somehow surged into the lead from 14th on the grid as several others were involved in dramatic crashes.

Zhou and former Porsche Super Cup champion Philipp Eng chased the former driver turned Sky Sports F1 presenter down, cruising by into a lead battle early on by lap three.

Norris’ game crashed during the formation lap, leaving his car to be AI controlled for 50 per cent of the shortened 14-lap race.

Vandoorne was quick to progress through the field from ninth, taking advantage of others’ misfortunes as both Ferrari Academy drivers Robert Shwartzman and Dino Beganovic found themselves slipping down the order.

The amount of wheel banging, spins and overtakes shook the field up and made for a frantic affair, though it was the AI-controlled Norris somehow able to take best advantage, quietly making up places inside the top 10

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Zhou relinquished the lead during the pit stop phase, but opened up an impressive gap to second-place man Eng in the process after stops had cycled through.

The returning Hulkenberg found himself locked into a scrap with Esteban Gutierréz for the majority of the race, the two trading 10th position several times before the ex-Renault man eventually won out.

Lewis Hamilton’s brother Nicolas suffered an issue with his McLaren, falling down the order and recovering back to the pits.

Norris, now back in control of his McLaren, set about chasing down streamer Jimmy Broadbent for fourth, taking a second-a-lap out of the simracer with five laps remaining.

As Zhou began his final tour en route to victory, Vandoorne had Eng in his sights for P2 and the pair banged wheels but it was the Belgian who came off best. Norris and Broadbent meanwhile flew into a lap-long battle.

Side-by-side for most of the lap, Norris eventually won out but contact at the penultimate corner sent the F1 driver into the barriers and Broadbent into P4.

Nicolas Latifi ended up in P6, while Gutierrez and Hulkenberg ended P10 and 11 respectively and Herbert’s lightning start was an early peak, as he finished outside of the top ten in 13th.