F1's Virtual Bahrain GP: Renault win amid entertainment and chaos
Inaugural Virtual GP won by China's Guanyu Zhou for Renault; Herbert and Norris star in incident-filled race around Sakhir
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 23/03/20 11:15am
Formula 1 did stage a Bahrain GP on Sunday - but not as you know it - as the sport offered fans some entertaining Esports escape to fill the current live racing void.
On the same day the floodlit race should have taken place in the Sakhir desert before the wave of postponements amid the coronavirus pandemic, F1's teams were represented by a mix of current and former drivers, rising stars, and other celebrities as they raced against each other remotely on the F1 2019 PC game.
There was chaos, there was carnage and, amid it all, no shortage of sporting competitiveness as the 20 drivers from various career backgrounds took to the virtual version of one of F1's most overtaking-friendly tracks.
The race delivered the unique sight of current and former F1 drivers such as Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi, Nico Hulkenberg, Johnny Herbert and Anthony Davidson taking on Olympic cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy, golfer Ian Poulter and singer-songwriter Liam Payne.
The race was won by Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou, after the 20-year-old Chinese youngster overtook pole sitter Philipp Eng in the Red Bull midway through the shortened 14-lap race.
Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes' reserve driver, took second place late on from Eng.
But the action behind was fun and wholly unpredictable.
Much of the drama was provided by Sky F1's Herbert, who was involved in two of the event's most memorable moments.
The three-time grand prix winner crashed his Alfa Romeo through a trackside advertising barrier in qualifying and then, from 16th on the grid, propelled himself into the lead of the race coming out of the first corner.
However, Herbert's stellar start came with a sizeable caveat - he had driven straight across the grass at the first corner, and so the Englishman was handed a time penalty by the virtual stewards and dropped down the order.
But for fellow Sky Sports pundit Anthony Davidson, the real race never officially got started...
Esports regular Norris experienced technical problems of his own with his sim system at home, leaving the McLaren driver unable to take part in qualifying. The computer AI 'bot then took over his car for the first part of the race as the problems persisted.
But once the McLaren driver was up and running for real, Norris raced with typical panache and was headed for fourth before a dramatic final-corner collision with Jimmy Broadbent sent the 20-year-old's car into the barriers.
Norris - who phoned McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz and Red Bull's Max Verstappen during the break between qualifying and the race - came home fifth ahead of Williams' Latifi.