2020 Virtual Canadian Grand Prix

What’s changed and what hasn’t in F1’s new-look charity Virtual GPs


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The Virtual Grand Prix series, which Formula 1 launched when the pandemic forced a four-month delay to the start of last year’s season, will return again on Sunday.

With the 2021 F1 season due to begin with testing on March 12th, a trio of virtual races have been scheduled across the coming three weekends.

Since the last Virtual Grand Prix seven months ago the new edition of the official Formula 1 game has appeared. Instead of F1 2019, the new series will therefore race on F1 2020.

But the organisers are not taking advantage of the opportunity to race on either of the new circuits added in the game – Zandvoort or Hanoi – the latter at any rate absent from the real 2021 F1 calendar. Instead the Red Bull Ring will host the opening round, followed by races on Silverstone and Interlagos over the following weeks. These should at least offer good opportunities for racing, the Brazilian track having produced the highlight of last year’s series.

2020 Virtual Monaco Grand Prix
Was F1’s Virtual Grand Prix series a success?
The switch to the 2020 game means AlphaTauri’s competitors will appear in the correct livery (they had to use Toro Rosso cars last year). However new-for-2021 teams Aston Martin and Alpine will have to use their 2020 identities of Racing Point and Renault respectively.

The format of the races and lobby rules will be largely unchanged from last year. That means races will be half-distance and some driver assists permitted.

In one of the biggest changes, the starting order will not be set by a qualifying sessions. Instead each team’s official Esport Pro Series drivers will take part in a sprint race to establish the starting order. These five-lap races will be run to a different set of rules, with all driver assists disabled.

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As last year the competitors will include a mixture of current and past F1 drivers, young racers plus other sportspeople and celebrities. The series never attracted more than eight current drivers to a single race last year, and that contingent dwindled to just four by the end of the season.

For the opening race of the new championship only two current drivers – the Williams pair – have been confirmed, but F1 promises more 2021 season drivers will appear in future rounds.

George Russell, Williams, Hungaroring, 2020
Russell was last year’s ‘unofficial champion’
George Russell was the ‘unofficial champion’ last year and won the final four rounds in increasingly dominant fashion. Nicholas Latifi, the only driver to cover every lap of the 2020 competition, will return alongside him.

Two other drivers who raced in F1 last year, Alexander Albon and Pietro Fittipaldi, will also return, for Red Bull and Haas respectively. Fittipaldi’s team mate will be his brother Enzo, who is part of Ferrari’s Driver Academy.

Ferrari will turn to two other FDA members to fill their cockpits: Arthur Leclerc – F3 driver and brother of the team’s real-world driver Charles – and Marcus Armstrong. Renault will also run two of its junior drivers: Christian Lundgaard and Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri.

Ex-F1 drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Vitantonio Liuzzi will also take part this weekend, for Mercedes and AlphaTauri respectively. Other competitors confirmed for Sunday’s opening race include MXGP champion Jeffrey Herlings at Red Bull and footballer Thibaut Courtois at Alfa Romeo.

While the original series was devised as a means of sustaining F1’s profile and providing entertainment to its fans as the world locked down in response to the pandemic, it has been revived partly to raise money for charity. A $100,000 prize pot is on offer which will be divided between teams’ chosen charities based on where they finish.

Sunday’s event will be broadcast across F1’s official social media platforms. It begins at 6pm, with the Esports drivers’ sprint race at 6:10pm and the main event due to start at 6:30pm.

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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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    14 comments on “What’s changed and what hasn’t in F1’s new-look charity Virtual GPs”

    1. Dug this series last year. At the time it was blast to watch and proved to be a valuable substitute until real machine were turned on. Plus to see George solidly kick the competition squarely in the backside. The equipment they use was something else. The racing was good and less good at times. Throughout it all was Mr.Russell getting down to business. Why is George still trapped at Williams? It’s a good bet he will be worthy of a top seat in some team. Maybe Mercedes again? This season?

      1. Are you an American?

        1. Am I that obnoxious? I live in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

    2. F1 should really make their own simulator for this to up the credibility which has been seriously tarnished by the arcade game they have been using. Maybe even people like Newey might be interested as he likes all sorts of side projects.

      1. They could just use an existing mod from RFactor2 with some updated liveries.
        But they can’t make enough money out of that….

        1. Colonel_Blimp
          28th January 2021, 11:41

          Formula Hybrid from Race Sim Studio for Assetto Corsa is probably the better choice.

          1. But less realistic… And that was the biggest gripe from last time.

    3. Why is that F1 is the only sports series in the world whose own competitors won’t participate?
      They don’t even race as one in the virtual world.
      How embarrassing.

    4. I really hope no more celebrities who have no relation to the sport do not participate in these events. Courtois is the probably the only exception because he is part of Veloce Esports, a youtube channel dedicated to F1 content, and a channel in which esports drivers are part of.

      1. Yeah, I really found it unfun to have people in there who at best were fans/partners of motorsport @krichelle, it cheapens the series.

    5. petebaldwin (@)
      28th January 2021, 10:46

      I watch F1 because it’s the top tier of motorsport. Sadly, F1’s virtual GPs aren’t in the top 10 tiers of sim racing. There are way too many better options out there.

    6. I hope they change the corner-cutting rules back to relaxed, rather than strict. I know it was a bit annoying with drivers constantly exceeding track limits, but it kind of ruins the racing when you know everyone has some kind of penalty but of different amounts, and so you have no idea what the actual order is.

    7. What’s annoying is when the commentators don’t know who’s a robot driver or not, if a driver has dropped out because of IT issues or not, and the onscreen graphics being so small it’s impossible to read.
      Lots to fix. Going to bet they haven’t.

    8. Indycars incredible effort was on another level compared with F1s gimmick events last year. Looks like this will continue.

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