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Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
6:54 AM 25th May 2020

Flawless Russell Makes It Two Wins In A Row

It should have been the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix this weekend, but its cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic left us with an online virtual race instead, with Williams’ George Russell putting in a stellar performance to take the victory spoils again.

A second consecutive victory for the highly likeable George Russell
A second consecutive victory for the highly likeable George Russell
Six current F1 drivers have been competing regularly in the ongoing series of virtual events (Russell, Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, Lando Norris, Antonio Giovinazzi and Nicholas Latifi), but for the jewel in Formula 1’s crown the usual 20 car grid also included two more of their 2020 colleagues.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton may still be unwilling to take part, but at least the highly successful German team was represented by its number two driver, Valtteri Bottas, and France’s Esteban Ocon lined up for his Renault outfit. Ocon’s team-mate was another debutant, Nico Prost, the son of the four time champion Alain Prost.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of this year’s real Monaco Grand Prix
The pandemic forced the cancellation of this year’s real Monaco Grand Prix
Ferrari’s young star Leclerc, already blindingly quick in a real F1 car, has proved equally adept in a virtual one too and was partnered by his 19 year old brother, Arthur, who is part of the Scuderia’s Driver Academy. Earlier the same day the real streets of Monaco had been closed to enable Charles to blast round the circuit at speeds of upto 150mph in a Ferrari SF90 Stradale road car for a remake of the controversial 1976 film which featured a high speed dash across Paris. The new film, entitled “Le Grand Rendez-vous”, also includes a brief appearance by Prince Albert and is due for release on 13 June.

Valtteri Bottas made his virtual debut, driving of course for Mercedes
Valtteri Bottas made his virtual debut, driving of course for Mercedes
Back on the virtual Monaco grid one of the footballers keen to show off his driving skills was the Arsenal forward and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who paired up with Norris for McLaren. Elsewhere Luis Fonzi, the Puerto Rican singer, songwriter and producer, debuted for Racing Point alongside David Schumacher, the German F3 driver and nephew of Monaco legend Michael Schumacher, who was returning for a third race.

It rained heavily during the qualifying session, with full wet specification tyres very much required, and a famous racing surname topped the timesheets in the form of Pietro Fittipaldi - the Brazilian grandson of two time F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi. Russell proved to be next fastest ahead of Schumacher and the Swiss Formula 2 racer Louis Delétraz. The Monégasque Leclerc brothers used their local knowledge to claim the third row on the grid, with Bottas eighth.

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became the latest footballer to join the grid
Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became the latest footballer to join the grid
The weather had improved as the start of the Grand Prix neared, with dry running promised. After a frantic start Russell emerged in the lead ahead of Arthur Leclerc, Schumacher and Fittipaldi and from this point onwards the Williams driver was in a class of his own following his hard fought win in Spain last time out. Charles Leclerc was a man on the move though as he first deposed Fittipaldi at Casino Square and then Schumacher one tour later at Portier.

Many of the drivers, including third placed Leclerc, started to pick up time penalties for track limits abuse, with the Ferrari ace pitting on lap 10 for medium rubber and rejoining back in tenth position.

Your Formula 1 correspondent undertaking his own virtual laps of Monaco!
Your Formula 1 correspondent undertaking his own virtual laps of Monaco!
Out front Russell maintained his composure and by the 17th tour was a mighty 25 seconds clear of the rest of the field before pulling out an even larger margin as he waited to undertake his sole pit stop of the race on lap 28 of 39. Having switched to soft compound tyres, he emerged onto the circuit still with a 14 second lead over Leclerc, who was now running second.

At this stage former F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez, driving for Mercedes, was in fourth position, but the Mexican soon passed Arthur Leclerc round the outside at St Devote and set about closing the seven second gap to the older Leclerc brother. With just a handful of laps remaining, we witnessed a great scrap between Leclerc on worn tyres and the two-stopping Gutierrez on far fresher rubber, so reminiscent of the classic Senna versus Mansell battle around the same streets back in 1992. In the end Leclerc dropped to third on the penultimate lap after a big moment following the tunnel exit.

As the chequered flag flew, the delighted Russell won by an unheard of margin of 39 seconds as Gutierrez and Leclerc joined him on the podium. Red Bull’s Alex Albon ended up as the best of the rest after squeezing past Arthur Leclerc at the Hairpin on the final lap.

The highly likeable Russell is on the books of Mercedes despite currently driving for the very much out of form Williams squad and must be hoping that team principal Toto Wolff has been taking note of his performances as the best outfit in real Formula 1 considers who will fill its two race seats next year.

After many consecutive years of reporting from the famous Principality I’ve missed not being there in 2020, but the virtual race was entertaining and in the build-up to the event I at least enjoyed spending some time flying round the famous street circuit on my own simulator!