Guanyu Zhou dominated the inaugural Virtual Grand Prix held at the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain, taking the chequered flag 11.7 seconds clear of Mercedes Formula E racer Stoffel Vandoorne.
The official F1-organised event saw a peak of around
half-a-million fans tune in across all platforms while real grand prix racing
remains on hold due to the continued global Covid-19 pandemic.
The race was initially meant to be decided over 28 laps-50%
of the real-life Bahrain GP distance- but technical difficulties saw this
shortened to a 14 lapper instead.
Zhou-who qualified third behind BMW DTM man Philipp Eng and Mercedes F1 tester Esteban Gutierrez- managed to hold position off the start, passing the Mexican but losing out to three-time F1 race winner Johnny Herbert who launched into an early lead by cutting Turn 1.
The Brit’s time at the front was short-lived though, losing
out to Eng first and then Zhou by the end of the opening tour.
Zhou quickly set his sights on the lead though, finally
making the move stick on Eng at Turn 12 just a few laps into the contest.
The pair remained close as the pit stop window arrived, Zhou
electing to peel in early and bolt on a fresh set of medium compound tyres.
This proved to be a masterstroke, as when Eng emerged from
his own stop a couple of laps later the F2 racers lead had swelled to over nine
Zhou continued to edge clear across the closing laps, while
Eng now had to turn his attention to the chasing Vandoorne behind.
The ex-McLaren F1 driver had started the race on the medium
tyre, stopping late onto the soft rubber for a late charge.
He quickly dispatched YouTube star Jimmy Broadbent for third
before chasing down Eng’s advantage, eventually making a move- albeit a tough
one- to take second at Turn 13 with just over a lap remaining.
He could nothing about the relentless Zhou though, who took
the flag well clear of Vandoorne, with the frustrated Eng completing the podium
positions for Red Bull in third.
Broadbent managed to survive a late clash with McLaren’s
Lando Norris to clinch fourth, the pair coming together at the final corner.
Norris spun around the front of Broadbent’s Racing Point machine, but was able to recover and cross the line fifth ahead of Williams GP pilot Nicholas Latifi.
Superbike rider Luca Salvadori brought his Alpha Tauri steed
home in seventh, while eSports presenter Paul Chaloner clinched eighth for
Ferrari Junior Academy driver Dino Beganovic sealed ninth,
while Gutierrez bagged tenth in the end ahead of the second Racing Point of
Herbert slipped back throughout the contest to eventually finish 13th ahead of Nicholas Hamilton, while 11-time cycling world champion Chirs Hoy closed out the race 16th ahead of One Direction singer Liam Payne.