Some welcome tinkering to the rules, Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon put on a show and welcome, finally, to Lando Norris.
We’re starting to warm up a little to the Virtual Grand Prix series…
Formula 1 are listening
The Virtual Grand Prix series will never be a perfect series but, after a handful of races, the organisers are listening to feedback from fans and are acquiring a stronger understanding when it comes to making the races as entertaining and competitive as possible.
They, in our view, took a big step in the right direction from changing the corner cutting rule to strict in an immediate response to the silliness at the previous round in China, where the top drivers basically created their own version of the Shanghai International Circuit with some of the extreme lines they were taking.
But, at Interlagos – the venue voted for by fans to act as the Dutch Grand Prix’s replacement – one key exploit for the drivers was removed and forced them to try and keep it clean.
We would still like to see the organisers go one step further and turn on damage to at least a reduced level as there was still a bit of bumper cars going on, but progress is progress and Interlagos certainly showcased that…especially with the ding-dong battle at the front.
Charles Leclerc is human
After making the F1 2019 game look very easy since joining the Virtual Grand Prix series, we could not believe our eyes when we saw Charles Leclerc qualify down in P6 for Sunday’s race.
But, after pole sitter Stoffel Vandoorne completely blew his start and caused carnage, Leclerc inevitably emerged as one of the lead challengers. It has been a little unsettling seeing Ferrari win frequently but, in the continued search for realism, Leclerc gave us what we all usually expect from the Scuderia via the way of a poor strategy.
Leclerc pitted a little too early and Alex Albon in the Red Bull used that to his advantage by extending his first stint. Usually that would mean game over, but full credit to Leclerc for being able to stick with Albon all the way to the finish line even with a demoralising three-second penalty to deal with for exceeding track limits.
Leclerc and Albon put on an excellent show and significantly raised the standard, and our expectations, for the weeks to come. Perhaps George Russell can help create a three-way battle if he doesn’t get compromised early in the race again. He is not too far away from being a part of the fight.
When Lando Norris wasn’t anywhere to be seen again in qualifying, we got on our knees and cursed the online racing gods for not letting us have nice things. However, in the last few seconds, we all saw the glorious message: ‘Lando Norris has joined the session’. Hallelujah.
With a lack of practice and IndyCar racing taking up a lot of Lando’s schedule, the only miracle we were looking for was for him to be able to stay connected for the entire race, which unbelievably happened.
Hopefully that means we can see him on a more regular basis from now on in a series where he will be respected by absolutely everyone and not ludicrously taken out by a bitter driver who doesn’t like it when someone is quite simply better than him.
Stokes v Broad
Whilst we would still like to see as many Formula 1 drivers as possible make up the Virtual Grand Prix grids, another layer of interest and excitement was shown by England cricket stars Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad going head-to-head.
Perhaps they have shown another way forward, too, by pitting team-mates from other sports against each other so we can almost have a race within a race and shine more of a spotlight on those further down the grid.
Broad talked a big game prior to the big race but Stokes’ experience in prior races came through in both qualifying and the race itself. In fairness, the battle wasn’t even a close one, yet we were still regularly looking down the timesheet to see how they were getting on.
A battle between the F1 drivers for race wins and duels between others seems like a pretty good blend to us. Fingers crossed the next race at Spain on this coming Sunday can help solidify the Virtual Grand Prix series further as a nice alternative whilst we continue to wait patiently for the real track action to return.