F1 Virtual GP: Charles Leclerc, Ben Stokes, Jenson Button on the grid

An all-star cast of current and former F1 drivers, up-and-coming youngsters, and a World Cup-winning cricketer will compete in Formula 1’s second Virtual Grand Prix on Sunday night.

Two-time race winner Charles Leclerc, McLaren sensation Lando Norris, 2009 world champion Jenson Button, and England all-rounder Ben Stokes take to the grid in the Esports race live from 8pm on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Mix.

It is also being simulcast in the UK and Ireland on Sky F1’s YouTube channel. Plus, follow updates and video clips in the live blog on the website and app – plus on Twitter.

After a successful first outing for the virtual replacement for real grands prix with Bahrain, the second event takes place around Melbourne’s Albert Park – the circuit that would have opened the season on March 15.

This Sunday should have seen the inaugural Vietnam GP take place in Hanoi and, although the F1 2019 PC game used for the virtual events does not include the all-new street circuit, Sunday’s Esports race is officially known as the Virtual Vietnam GP.

Six current F1 drivers – Ferrari’s Leclerc, Red Bull’s Alex Albon, McLaren’s Norris, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, and Williams team-mates George Russell and Nicholas Latifi – mean nearly a third of the 2020 grid are represented.

Meanwhile, the Sky F1 contingent of Johnny Herbert and Anthony Davidson from the opening Bahrain event are joined by Button, who has been practicing in various sim events this week.

Button will join Norris in racing for McLaren, the team he drove for in real life between 2010 and 2017.

Who’s driving for who in the Virtual GP?

Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes
Esteban Gutierrez, Mercedes
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
Arthur Leclerc, Ferrari
Alex Albon, Red Bull
Ben Stokes, Red Bull
Lando Norris, McLaren
Jenson Button, McLaren
Christian Lundgaard, Renault
Andre Heimgartner, Renault
Luca Salvadori, AlphaTauri
Nunzio Todisco, AlphaTauri
Anthony Davidson, Racing Point
Jimmy Broadbent, Racing Point
Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
Johnny Herbert, Alfa Romeo
Pietro Fittipaldi, Haas
Louis Deletraz, Haas
George Russell, Williams
Nicholas Latifi, Williams

Virtual GPs: The Sky F1 pundits explain…

Three-time F1 race winner, but Esports novice, Johnny Herbert on adapting to a new racing challenge…

You’ve driven plenty of F1 cars, and on plenty of F1 tracks. How does this compare?
JH:
"It’s never going to be the same to driving an F1 car as it’s a visual feel. It’s a different skill. You have to reprogramme your brain to how the sim is visually giving you the information, because you don’t get any sensations in a physical way. Because of these sensations disappearing, the feeling – for me – was a million miles away at first.

"But as you get used to how the game and the simulator itself works, and your technique gets better, it weirdly shifts round and starts coming back towards the real thing.

"The tracks look great, but do drive a little differently to what I’m used to. There are kerbs for example which you can use when you drive in a car, and in the game you’re thrown straight into the wall! That means you’re doing a line your brain never did.

"I raced an F1 car in Australia so I remember where you could and couldn’t clip kerbs, but in the game there are places that you can clip which are not like it was when I did it for real. So you’ve got to learn where you can clip and then take advantage of the track. A couple of gamers told me if I go through 11 and 12 – which is the very quick left and right flick – you can use a lot of kerb. When I was racing, you could never, ever do that – you’d be straight into the wall.

"It’s all about learning how the game reacts."

How do you feel about Sunday’s race?
JH:
"I’ve been practicing Grands Prix, so I hope by Sunday I’ve put myself in a better position and better equipped to deal with the sim world that is out there! But it’s challenging. To adapt to it, it takes a lot of time."

And how different will be Sunday’s event race compared to the first in Bahrain? Mercedes simulator driver Anthony Davidson gives his take…

Will this be a more serious virtual race this weekend?
AD: I think it is (going to be more serious). I participated at the beginning of it two weeks ago, the Virtual Grand Prix Bahrain, there were lots of technical issues, teething problems. But this time around it will be stable and settled.

"The competition is greater. It’s Johnny Herbert, myself and Jenson Button this time around for Sky. It will be slick, we’ll be enjoying ourselves. It’s great that some sport is going on.

Is it true you helped Jenson set up his simulator?
AD: "I did. The guys organising it came to my house and set it up – my simulator. Jenson has been building his own simulator in America where he lives he’s done it by himself. He got a bit stuck at some points pretty complex all of the settings to modify. In desperation he FaceTimed me and we spent about an hour gong through all the different parameters. We got him up and running he is going to be partnering Lando Norris at McLaren."

(c) Sky Sports 2020: F1 Virtual GP: Charles Leclerc, Ben Stokes, Jenson Button on the grid

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