The F1 virtual grand prix schedule has kept Formula One fans going through lockdown.
At long last, the 2020 season will finally get under way this weekend in Austria, although the race will look very different as a result of the continuing impact of the coronavirus crisis.
The pandemic provided an opportunity for esports with motorsport having had little impact in the sector prior to the past few months.
Back in March – which feels like a lifetime ago – Formula One officially announced the launch of the new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series to fill the gap until real races could resume.
In a smart move, celebrities were added to the grid alongside professional Formula One drivers in order to widen the potential appeal of the F1 virtual grand prix schedule.
Here’s how the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series played out on the F1 2019 PC video game.
Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix – 22 March
Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi and Nico Hulkenberg were among the F1 drivers who lined up on the grid for the first virtual GP over three months ago.
Liam Payne from One Direction, Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy and professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive caster Sadokist were among the other famous faces to take part in the race.
Formula 2 racer Guanyu Zhou came out on top, though Norris impressed by making his way through the pack to finish sixth after technical issues led him to qualify at the back of the grid.
Virtual Vietnamese Grand Prix – 5 April
A couple of weeks later Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was celebrating after he won from pole position at the Virtual Vietnam Grand Prix.
It was almost a one-two for the Leclerc family as Charles’ brother Arthur dropped back from second spot to finish fourth, with Renault driver Christian Lundgaard second and George Russell rounding out the podium for Williams in third.
The first lap saw Alexander Albon, Johnny Herbert and Nunzio Tudisco all crash, while technical problems continued for Norris, who was unable to take part in the race as a result.
Virtual Chinese Grand Prix – 19 April
The F1 virtual grand prix schedule continued in China, with Leclerc winning the second race in a row despite confirming he had never played the F1 2019 PC video game before in his life.
Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was among the celebrities booked in for the Virtual Chinese Grand Prix, while Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter also took part in the race.
Alex Albon battled hard for the win but Leclerc held firm, even if the post-race celebrations were a bit underwhelming. Leclerc tweeted: “Switching off the computer and go cook white pasta is a bit less glamour than spraying champagne on the podium.”
Virtual Brazil Grand Prix – 3 May
Leclerc’s streak was broken as Red Bull driver Albon went one better to claim victory at the Virtual Brazil Grand Prix.
Williams’ George Russell was second with Leclerc second after a costly time penalty. Third place went to Leclerc.
Among the celebrities to race were England cricketers Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad.
Virtual Spanish Grand Prix – 10 May
A time penalty late in the race cost Leclerc victory at the Virtual Spanish Grand Prix, with Russell earning his first victory of the series as a result.
Norris did not finish as his virtual misery continued, while sports stars Poulter and Arthur Melo were among the last to finish.
Virtual Monaco Grand Prix – 24 May
Russell was starting to dominate in the F1 virtual grand prix schedule and he earned his second victory at the Virtual Monaco Grand Prix.
Mercedes reserve Esteban Gutierrez came second with Leclerc third in his home GP.
Virtual Azerbaijan Grand Prix – 7 June
Russell won again at the Virtual Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with Albon continuing his fine form by coming in second.
Norris finally enjoyed some success with a fourth-place finish while Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte lagged behind at the back of the pack.
Virtual Canadian Grand Prix – 14 June
There was no official title on the line but Russell confirmed his overall victory by making it four wins in a row at the Virtual Canadian Grand Prix.
He ended the F1 virtual grand prix schedule in style by finishing ahead of Albon again, while Michael Schumacher’s son David Schumacher was in the middle of the pack.
While the series is now over, Formula One is planning further moves into esports in the future.