After much anticipation and a wild qualifying session, the 2021 F1 Esports season finally got underway today.
The drivers gave us two thrilling races, with the opener in Bahrain and then the always-entertaining Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Would the same old names reign at the top? Or could a new generation of superstars emerge?
It was Nicolas Longuet on pole for the first race, but Lucas Blakeley managed to make a move from P2 for the lead into turn 1.
Those two and the Williams of Alvaro Carreton were able to make an early break from the pack, while the new Mercedes pair of Jarno Opmeer and Dani Moreno fought it out with the McLaren duo of Dani Bereznay and Bari Broumand.
It was Bereznay who jumped early to the pits, but his move didn't trigger a wave of pitstops. Instead, it was eventually Blakeley that took to the pits first out of the leaders, protecting from the undercut and maintaining track position.
On the alternate strategy, Jarno Opmeer pitted early, giving himself 9 laps on the soft tyre, but it worked wonders early on, getting him up to fourth place and in free air to chase down the front three. He couldn't keep his softs alive for long enough though, as Broumand fought his way back into P4, but the pair would swap again, with Opmeer finishing in fourth.
Further down the grid, poor qualifying from Red Bull left them with everything to do. Frede Rasmussen was able to get himself up to 7th, followed closely by teammate Marcel Kiefer.
On lap 17 Longuet pounced into turn 1 and took the lead, but Blakeley wasn't going away quietly, after an attempt on lap 19, he got himself through on the final lap. Longuet picked up a time penalty when trying to maintain the lead, but he couldn't deny Blakeley his maiden F1 Esports win!
Longuet would hang on to P2 and Carreton P3.
Opmeer ended up in P4, while Rasmussen and Kiefer were P7 & P8 respectively.
The mark of a champion
It would be rookie Bari Broumand who would take pole in China, with Marcel Kiefer alongside him. Blakeley and Rasmussen were on the second row.
The surprise of qualifying was that Jarno Opmeer finished P14, with Longuet next to him on P15. Could they battle back to the points? A spanner was thrown into the works with torrential rain, as everyone started on wets. Or at least, almost everyone.
Jarno Opmeer opted to start on the intermediates, and it was a gamble that would pay off enormously.
With no DRS it would all be down to ERS management and slipstreams. Kiefer was able to take the lead from Broumand, with Blakeley and then Donoso and Rasmussen rounding out the top 5.
Opmeer's gamble left him with little pace early on as he dropped toward the back of the pack.
Kiefer started to disappear up the road, or at least as much as you can in F1 Esports. While those on the full wets hoped the rain would continue, others at the back were desperate for a dryer line to appear.
At the end of lap 5, Fabrizo Donoso led a stampede into the pits for intermediate tyres, while the leaders perhaps waited a lap too late to make the move.
Opmeer jumped a whole host of cars, but could he make the inters last an entire race? The reigning champion had a nearly 6 second lead over Kiefer after the pitstops.
There were a few big losers in the pitstops, including Frede Rasmussen who had to stay out an extra lap rather than stacking behind Kiefer. The Dane ended up in P14. As Opmeer's gap began to disappear, it looked like he wouldn't quite be able to make it the whole race.
But he wouldn't need to as the race would turn again. On lap 16 DRS was enabled just after Fabrizio Donoso, with some information from teammate Longuet, boxed for the soft tyres. The stampede from the midfield was timed perfectly and the race spun as Donoso took the lead from Opmeer & co after they got around again.
Opmeer was close enough to retake the lead, but their battling bought Kiefer even further into play. In the end though, Jarno was able to claim victory with Donoso in P2 and Kiefer in P3. The Red Bull man could consider himself unlucky, being on the bad end of two weather changes.
Round 3 tomorrow
The action doesn't stop, as F1 Esports returns tomorrow for the Austrian Grand Prix.