Late penalty drama as Russell beats Leclerc

Finley Crebolder
George Russell pleased with "small victories"

George Russell pleased with "small victories"

In a Grand Prix filled with time penalties, George Russell saw off the challenge of Charles Leclerc to take his first win of the virtual series.

The usual six F1 drivers from the 2020 grid lined up for the race, but they had some new competition this time around. Among those making their Virtual GP debuts were Vitantonio Liuzzi and footballers Arthur and Sergio Aguero.

Lando Norris missed out on qualifying for the last race due to technical difficulties, but faced different issues this time, quickly picking up a five-place grid penalty for hitting Charles Leclerc. His fellow Brit George Russell fared better, taking pole position ahead of Esteban Gutierrez. Leclerc and Alex Albon finished the session in P3 and P6 respectively.

Russell had a nightmare start, dropping down to P5, with Gutierrez taking the lead ahead of Leclerc, Albon and Latifi. However, he lost it a lap later with the Monegasque passing him around the outside of Turn 1. Albon followed him through two laps later.

The Red Bull man then dived into the pits on Lap 5 and put on medium tyres, moving to a two-stop strategy. Further back, Aguero impressed and managed to move up to P14 while Norris, stuck at the very back, retired from yet another race.

Leclerc came in on Lap 7 and came out behind Albon. However, with fresh hard tyres on, he wouldn’t have to pit again, unlike the Thai driver. The Williams pairing followed suit a lap later and came out behind both, with Gutierrez separating them.

By the halfway point, everybody had pitted, with Albon, Leclerc and Russell the front three, separated by six seconds. Two laps later, Albon, who had done 15 laps on his mediums, came in to put on hards. He came out in P7, just behind Anthony Davidson.

With Albon out of the way, Leclerc would have hoped to sail into the distance, but Russell had other ideas. The Williams man had far better pace and looked set to overtake for the win. However, these plans were hindered by a three-second time-penalty.

He overtook Leclerc at Turn 1 of the 25th lap before the Ferrari driver did the exact same a lap later. Albon meanwhile passed Latifi to move up to P4 and began his pursuit of Gutierrez and a podium spot.

Russell did manage to retake track position before the end of the race but couldn’t get out of DRS range soon enough to build a big enough gap to take the win. Therefore, Leclerc looked set to take his third win, but with one lap left, he picked up a penalty himself.

This penalty gave Russell his first-ever Virtual Grand Prix victory, while Leclerc just about managed to take his second straight P2 finish, with Gutierrez a second down in P3. Also in the points were Latifi, Albon and Giovinazzi, taking P4, P5 and P7 respectively.

Further back, Aguero completed a solid debut race to come home in P14, five places up on Arthur Melo who finished last of the running cars. Liuzzi finished in P16, just behind Nic Hamilton.

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