Red Bull Motorsports
The digital streets of Baku, Azerbaijan played host to the sixth virtual F1 race of 2020 and Alex Albon claimed second place, as Williams driver George Russell won for the third time in a row.
Albon emerged as Russell's closest challenger throughout the 26 laps around the streets of Baku, but the winner of the virtual Dutch Grand Prix couldn't do enough to overhaul Russell, who's a man enjoying the virtual form of his life.
For the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the field consisted of seven regular F1 drivers competing via the F1 2019 video game, including debutants Pierre Gasly of Scuderia AlphaTauri and Racing Point's Sergio Pérez. Pre-race qualifying saw Russell head the standings until the last couple of minutes, when Albon snatched provisional pole position, only to be denied by the Williams driver once more at the chequered flag.
When the lights went out for the start of the race, it was carnage at the rear of the field, with numerous spinners exiting the first corner. Up front, Russell converted his pole position to lead Albon and Esteban Gutiérrez in the Mercedes, opening up a gap of almost one second by the beginning of Lap 2.
Crucially for Russell, the Englishman was over a second ahead of Albon by the time DRS was activated after two laps, thereby denying the Aston Martin Red Bull driver any speed advantage. Behind, McLaren's Lando Norris moved his way up into fourth ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc suffered a frustrating early phase of the race. The double virtual race winner, who's shown superb pace in all the races this year, ended up well down in qualifying and pitted early after five laps in an attempt to battle back from 15th. The Monégasque driver would suffer a series of penalties however and ended up with his worst result to date, finishing 14th.
Finding himself over two seconds adrift of the leader, Albon elected to pit first from the leading group, on Lap 7, to take hard tyres. He rejoined the race in fifth. Russell pitted a lap later, taking medium compound tyres and rejoining the battle with a reduced advantage.
Luckily for Russell, he found his yet-to-pit Williams team-mate Nicholas Latifi in second and providing a crucial friendly barrier between himself and Albon in third place. The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver eventually made his way around Latifi on Lap 10 and resume his pursuit of Russell.
With 13 laps on the board, at the halfway point of the race, Russell’s lead over Albon had increased to just over four seconds. However, the Williams driver, with medium compound tyres, seemed far from content and lamented over team radio: "Alex isn't dropping back as much as I had hoped."
Albon's best hope in the latter stages centred around the perceived advantage of his hard tyres lasting longer than Russell's medium compound choice. However, with five laps remaining the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver remained over four seconds adrift of the imperious Russell, who was expressing further concerns regarding tyre degradation over the team radio.
At the finish, Russell's fears over a late attack proved unfounded and the Williams driver took his third consecutive win, with Albon, saddled with a three-second time penalty, proving the best of the rest in second place. Mercedes driver Gutiérrez claimed a lonely third place ahead of Norris – the Mclaren driver enjoying his best result so far, as the drivers prepare for the final virtual race of the year next weekend, the Canadian Grand Prix.
Virtual Azerbaijan Formula 1 Grand Prix results
- George Russell
- Alex Albon
- Esteban Gutiérrez
- Lando Norris
- Oscar Piastri
- Pietro Fittipaldi
- Nicholas Latifi
- Anthony Davidson
- Jimmy Broadbent