Time penalty drama hands Russell Spanish Virtual GP victory


The top two earned themselves penalties but it was George Russell who won out versus Charles Leclerc in at the virtual Circuit de Catalunya

Spanish Virtual Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc leads George Russell but it wouldn't stay that way

In perhaps the most dramatic finish so far in the virtual GP series, George Russell earned himself his first victory from Charles Leclerc, as time penalty twists kept the race on a knife edge right to the chequered flag.

Three-second time penalties for the top two meant the Williams driver won out in the end, but it was a Leclerc error right at the end that threw almost certain victory away.

Russell might have been victorious at the end, but he won’t want to rewatch his race start as he dropped from pole to fifth position by the time he made it to Turn Four.

Esteban Gutierrez got the better launch from second and made it into the lead down the inside by Turn One while Leclerc, Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi snuck their way through the long sweeping Turn Three.

Leclerc wasn’t hanging around either after a strong first lap. The first real opportunity for an overtake presented itself at Turn One on lap two, and the Ferrari man breezed by into the lead, leaving Gutierrez to fight with those behind.

Alex Albon had to be more patient to make his move, but repeated Leclerc’s move several laps afterwards, setting up a repeat of the titanic battle between the pair last weekend.

Russell, desperate to make up for his poor getaway, made light work of Latifi and moved himself up to third.

Albon didn’t quite make it into DRS range as he might have hoped and the Red Bull driver opted for an undercut on lap five.

The race leader didn’t respond for several laps, and the hesitation cost him the lead of the race, though critically he switched to the hard compound tyre versus Albon on mediums.

The Anglo-Thai driver was then tasked with building a gap to Leclerc having opted to go for the medium tyres in his stop.

He stayed out until lap 18 but couldn’t stretch the gap significantly to the Ferrari man by the time he came in for a second stop.

It left Albon with a 14sec gap to make up with 14 laps remaining, and Leclerc to manage his pace to ensure his hard compound tyres lasted the remaining distance.

The strategy played into Russell’s hands immediately as he ramped up the pressure on the race leader, carving into the gap to the Ferrari driver.

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By lap 21, Russell had the gap to within half a second having been well over 2sec behind during the initial pit stop phase.

The fight looked to be over before it really began though as Russell notched up a three-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage on lap 23.

It didn’t stop him from making a move on-track though as one lap later, he made the pass down the main straight to take the lead from the Monegasque driver.

Albon’s strategy started to unravel early on in his second stint as he struggled to narrow the gap to around 10sec to the leaders.

He came up against a fast Latifi and crucially couldn’t find a way through for several laps. He eventually made a move stick after making it into the DRS window.

Not one to give up a fight, Leclerc muscled his way back past Russell as the leaders made it five to go, edging out the Williams wheel to wheel into Turn One.

Similarly to last week once again, Leclerc was fighting a back and forth battle for the lead, as Russell made it back past one lap later, with DRS assistance.

The Ferrari just about remained within a second, sometimes by thousands of a second but crucially nabbed DRS from the leader to remain in touch on the straights.

Albon’s pace tailed off with three laps to go, slowly closing in on third place man Gutierrez but not quickly enough to be involved in the lead fight.

With two laps to go, Russell finally managed to break the DRS to Leclerc, giving himself a 1.2sec cushion to work with.

Drama struck right at the death though as Leclerc earned himself a three-second time penalty at the penultimate corner of the penultimate lap. It handed initiative back to Russell.

The Williams man held on one final time to take his first virtual GP win and Leclerc just about held onto second ahead of Gutierrez in the Mercedes.