F1's Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix was a scrappy affair

Renault junior Zhou wins shortened, crash-strewn Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix


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Renault development driver Guanyu Zhou won the first F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix after the race on the Bahrain International Circuit was cut from 28 laps to 14.

The race featured a mixture of current and past Formula 1 drivers plus competitors drawn from the rest of the motorsport world, celebrities and influencers.

After an 18-minute qualifying session Philipp Eng started from pole position for Red Bull alongside Mercedes’ simulator driver Esteban Gutierrez. Zhou and the first of two current F1 drivers, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi, shared row two.

The start set the tone for an often bizarre encounter. Nico Hulkenberg (Racing Point) and Dino Beganovic (Ferrari) made contact on the pit straight and spun into a barrier at enormous speed. Fortunately for both the damage settings had been turned down to compensate for the field’s varied ability levels.

From 16th on the grid three-times grand prix winner Johnny Herbert took a direct route into the lead by cutting the first corner. That earned him an immediate penalty but his lead proved short-lived, as Eng muscled his way through before the end of the first lap.

Zhou soon followed him past and on lap three relieved Eng of the lead. Eng reclaimed first place at turn one on the very next lap, but Zhou reasserted himself shortly afterwards.

After the pair pitted, Stoffel Vandoorne temporarily took the lead for Mercedes, pursued by his McLaren successor Lando Norris. However the number four was driven for at least part of the race by an AI, as Norris’s connection failed him on the formation lap, as it also did during qualifying. The technical problems, and consequent delay between qualifying and the race, prompted the decision to shorten the race from 50% real distance to 25%.

Zhou regained the lead after the final pit stops with a comfortable nine-second lead over Eng. Vandoorne, who reclaimed third by passing Jimmy Broadbent, then went in pursuit of Eng, who he muscled aside on the penultimate lap. But by now Zhou was 12 seconds to the good.

Simracing streamer Broadbent then fell into the clutches of Norris, and the pair put on a spirited show over the final lap, swapping places from corner to corner. Heading into the final turn, Broadbent tipped Norris into a barrier and secured fourth place. The top 10 was completed by Latifi, Luca Salvadori, Paul Chaloner, Beganovic and Gutierrez.

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    32 comments on “Renault junior Zhou wins shortened, crash-strewn Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix”

    1. Kyle (@hammerheadgb)
      22nd March 2020, 21:55

      All due credit to Zhou, but the rest of this was pretty farcical. Amusing, but farcical.

      From a professionalism point of view, if F1 wanted this to be taken seriously, they’d have been much better served by the earlier Veloce offering.

      1. Couldn’t agree more. Also hate to say it, but given the corona virus is the whole reason for this in the first place, why on earth were the commentators sitting so close to each other?! As the last leg (for example) showed on friday, you can practise social distancing whilst all presenting together. There was literally no need for them to be that close to one another.

      2. +1
        Made the effort to watch both and the Veloce was the better package irrespective of studio and the latter being shown on “real” tv.
        I can see F1 politely telling Herbert not to come back, even if it was amusing given the carnage.

    2. Very entertaining! Miss real racing.

    3. As a bit of comedy, yeah, great.

      But compared to NASCAR’s iracing race… Bwoah…

    4. Stephen Higgins
      22nd March 2020, 22:14

      Please no punterino Jimmer!!!

      1. Haha! I’m chuffed for the lad… It’s a pleasure to watch someone so relatable mixing it up in the world of F1 proper and not taking it for granted. Good on him!

      2. Lando punterino him

    5. After 10 years, Codemasters F1 games still look like an amateur effort.
      It’s well overdue for another more competent developer to be given a chance.

      1. Amateur how?

        Damage was all but off, traction control and other driver aids permitted. It was a bit of fun, not an all out simulation.

      2. Haven’t codemasters been around since like 1994? I remember playing the ’94 season in Grand Prix 2 and it was awesome.

        1. GP2 was from microprose, if you take in account the limitations of developing in the 90s, the GP series (F1GP, GP2, GP3 and.GP4) are still better than the current F1201X.
          The codemasters looks a lot arcade to me.

          1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
            23rd March 2020, 13:27

            For anyone interested … there’s apparently an updated version of Grand Prix Legends recently released (“GPL Demo 2020”, look on Youtube):

            F1 1955–1965–1966–1967–1969
            F2 1967
            CanAm 1966, CanAm 1971
            Sportscars 1967

          2. Duncan Snowden
            23rd March 2020, 13:39

            That’s nonsense. F1GP only used horizontal speed to calculate damage; you could launch the car several feet in the air without harm (and the cars never flipped; it was essentially a “2.5D” game, with only minor concessions to verticality). And they all locked framerate and game speed together, meaning that a) the game slowed down if it was struggling to render frames, and b) as a consequence the network code in 3 & 4 never worked properly because clients would get out of sync with each other very easily. By the time of the fourth game at least, there was really no excuse for that.

            Don’t get me wrong, Crammond was way ahead of his time, and in the early ’90s at least nothing else came close. He and Pete Cooke (who also worked on the GP games) are two of my gaming heroes. But by the standards of those days, F1 2019 is practically a professional simulation. An arcade game makes no attempt to simulate real physics, or deliberately fixes its engine to make life easier (Gran Turismo putting the car’s centre of gravity underground, for example); I’ve never seen any suggestion that, with all the driver aids turned off, Codemasters’ engine is doing anything like that. It may not be the best around, but it is a simulation.

            1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
              23rd March 2020, 14:33

              Cars flipped in Microprose GP3-GP4, but not in GP1-GP2.
              They were very good for the time. But things have obviously moved on a lot since then. I’m sure Codemasters F1 is very good.

              Still love GPL though. GPL is a living entity.

    6. Pretty poor standard of racing to be honest. They need to get more proper drivers on board if they want this to have any credibility. The whole thing was over at the first corner, which is pretty much why I gave up on online racing years ago.

      1. Have you seen professional drivers on sims? It’s always a crash fest.

    7. Let’s hope next time they turn the damage up (and reduce the grip off-track). That was a total farce.

    8. Luke Harrison
      22nd March 2020, 22:47

      It was like watching a beginners lobby online – it was amusing, but not as billed.

      Hopefully “Round 2” will be better.

    9. I intended to watch the first few laps but when it was cut to 14 I decided to stay, it was hilarious. During qually a bloke in a Ferrari was just ramming some other bloke constantly. The race itself was very much a demolition derby affair, track limits meant nothing.
      I liked the cometary it was very light hearted keeping in mind that it’s just an online game.

    10. I’d like to see more things like this but in games like Wreckfest!

      Lando’s twitch stream was the highlight again. Just casually calling people while waiting, including asking George Russell for tips on starting from the back row, and ‘what would you do?”to Zak Brown.

    11. In the meantime, NASCAR went about it the right way and it was a resounding success.

    12. Watched all the e-races today, have to say given the resources at Sky’s disposal I was shocked at the lack of a quality field, which was only made worse by the quality of the television coverage…absolutely no engagement before or after with the field (other than Zhou).

      Even Lando was making random phonecalls to various people (Sainz, Zac Brown, his McLaren chief strategist, Verstappen, Felix DaCosta…) to get tips on how to race from the back of the grid (this was before he realised he’d lost his connection.

      As a first attempt I’m willing to forgive, but really there was potential for so much more and it just came across as a thrown together rushed idea compared to the rest…very much like the first season of the F1 eSeries actually!

    13. Even in e-sports, F1 excludes the ladies.

    14. Very entertained i must say. They should keep this quarter distance for any future races. Amy longer and it would get tortourous.

    15. Neil (@neilosjames)
      23rd March 2020, 1:47

      It was entertaining, which is all it needed to be.

    16. Yeah-Nah, I guess it was somewhat entertaining. I agree with many comments. The commentators should’ve be more separated. The graphics standard is pretty ordinary compared to other games available. And yeah, what an opportunity to have many women included.

      It would’ve been wonderful to have some audio from the drivers. I can see that would be technically difficult, given that the swear jar would probably be overflowing. However, I would’ve loved listening to Johnny Herbert!

      Why try to replace the real event? Do something different. How good would it be to see Horner, Wolff, Claire Williams, Prost, Steiner (with full uncensored audio), Brown, Binotto, Abiteboul. Seeing them, with to say, “the shoe on the other foot” would be more entertaining. The could have made it a real competition too, with points added from race to race. I think the F1 missed a real opportunity here.

      I was oddly still hoping to see the Hulk on the podium, but still no joy there.

      Gee, I miss the real thing, but I’ll still probably watch the next one.

      I’m taking the long trip from Aussie-land to Silverstone this year. Fingers crossed it’s still on.

      Stay safe everyone!

    17. It sure was funny but I suspect unexpected lags on network caused some of those issues.

    18. Too much of bumper cars to me, they should be serious with a Simulation otherwise it’s not fun to watch (maybe for comic releave but that get bored very fast)
      I hope they get more F1 drivers so we get proper racing

    19. Bruno Verrari
      23rd March 2020, 15:31

      Fun, but very inferior software…more of an F1 circus joke than an eSIM-race!
      C’mon F1, you can do better. Raise your game!

    20. I wanted to watch the whole race, but it was just too intense, with too many gaps in it, and no time taken to fill in the blanks. In the end I just gave up.
      In a real F1 race they regularly go back and replay the start and repeat crashes and such like so you have an idea what happened. However here, we had things like a major pile up and then suddenly Johnny Herbert was near the front (or was it at the front?) because he’d cut a corner, but we never got to see a replay of the pile up or find out why it happened or how Johnny ended up near or at the front. I don’t know how F1 can fix that. It wasn’t even one incident after another, it was more like a cascade of incidents fighting for our attention. Is this because the drivers aren’t experienced enough? Or is it because of the way a race is presented to the driver makes them more error prone than they would otherwise be?
      Reading above it is obvious there are people with far more expertise than me in regards to sim-racing. I really hope F1 can pay attention to those comments and put some of their expertise into upgrading the presentation, because that’s what they’ll need to do if they want people to take this seriously.

    21. I have 2018 game, and im not impressed. Wheel to wheel contacts dont do anything than dmg to the front wing, rear wing is still indestructable and you lose control when damaged too much. But the most annoying thing of them all is when u buff AI to be faster and the only thing that happens is that they are faster on the straights. They corner half a second slower than me and they are 3/4 sec faster at full speed on a straight. And they are very dumb. They simply just push u off into a wall.

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