George Russell snatches Virtual GP win after Charles Leclerc penalty
Russell takes dramatic win after Leclerc's late time penalty; Russell had a penalty of his own before Ferrari star's error on penultimate lap
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 10/05/20 8:46pm
There was late drama in the Virtual Spanish GP as a last-gasp penalty for Charles Leclerc handed George Russell an unlikely victory over his F1 rival.
The pair were battling throughout Sunday night's online race around Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya but it looked like Leclerc, the Ferrari star, was going to seal another eSports victory when Russell was handed a three-second time penalty for cutting corners.
But as Russell tried to build a big enough gap over his rival, Leclerc was slapped with an identical penalty on the penultimate lap to give the young English driver his first Virtual GP triumph - in dramatic circumstances.
"I'm ecstatic," said Russell, who impressed in his rookie season with backrunners Williams last season. "I'm not used to this winning thing - I've not done it a long, long time. I dearly missed it.
"When I got past Charles and I knew I had that 3s penalty, I was pretty furious. But when that radio message came in at the end... I was almost wetting my pants!"
Leclerc, who was denied his third victory in the series, commented: "It's such a shame. But George was extremely quick, I knew it from the start."
Alex Albon, Leclerc's main rival in the previous two races for Red Bull, also looked to be in contention - but opted for a different strategy to Russell and Leclerc by two-stopping and finished fourth - behind former F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez.
Russell's Williams team-mate Nicholas Latifi was fifth, with Sky F1's Anthony Davidson an impressive sixth - ahead of Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi.
Thibaut Courtois was the fastest of the footballers - the Real Madrid goalkeeper was up in 12th - but only two places ahead of Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero on his Virtual F1 debut.
Golfer Ian Poulter and Barcelona midfielder Arthur Melo propped up the field, with Lando Norris retiring from the race completely.
The story of Russell vs Leclerc
Russell's win was a comeback in more ways than one. The 2018 F2 champion secured a somewhat surprise pole position, but dropped back to fifth on the opening lap. However, he didn't have as big a nightmare as Norris, who started 13th but immediately fell to the back of the field, and quit from the session soon after.
Russell, meanwhile, remained patient. He followed Leclerc's one-stop strategy and kept the Ferrari star in his sights throughout the race, with Albon, his other main rival, pitting early on for medium tyres and later, hards.
In a quest for crucial time as he tried to hunt down Leclerc, Russell took advantage of the track limits one too many times, much to his disappointment. But after superbly overtaking Leclerc and taking more dodgy lines through corners, he tempted Leclerc into a race-costing mistake of his own.
George Russell was certainly happy after his maiden Virtual GP win...
And particularly after THIS start!
Anthony Davidson: Not bad for a 41-year-old!
Sergio Aguero proved he was clinical on the track as well as on the pitch...
Virtual Spanish GP result
1. George Russell, Williams
2. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3. Esteban Gutierrez, Mercedes
4. Alex Albon, Red Bull
5. Nicholas Latifi, Williams
6. Anthony Davidson, Mercedes
7. Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
8. Pietro Fittipaldi, Haas
9. Antonio Fuoco, Ferrari
10. Max Fewtrell, Renault