Russell beats Leclerc to virtual Spanish GP victory

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Williams driver George Russell won the latest Formula One esports race after a penalty for cutting corners cost Charles Leclerc a shot at victory on the penultimate lap.

The race took place on the official F1 video game in lieu of the actual Spanish Grand Prix, which was scheduled to take place this weekend. The race featured six drivers from the F1 grid as well as football stars Sergio Aguero, Arthur Melo and Thibaut Courtois and golfer Ian Poulter.

Russell, who took pole position but fell to fifth at the start, fought his way back into the lead on lap 25 but was hit with a three-second penalty for abusing track limits. Russell later explained that he had watched the 'pro race' among full-time gamers earlier in the day and learned it was possible to cut the final chicane and get away with it four times out of five.

Leclerc, seeing Russell was gaining an advantage by taking the shortcut and seemingly not getting penalised, did the same only for the game to give him a three-second penalty on the penultimate lap, ensuring both drivers had three seconds added on to their race time at the finish. Leclerc crossed the line 2.5 seconds behind Russell, meaning he may have won had he not started cutting the chicane.

Leclerc, who admitted he was sweating during the final laps of the race, said the inconsistency over track limits had been "driving me a little bit crazy", adding that it was "ugly to watch." But the Ferrari driver, who won two virtual grands prix earlier this year, congratulated Russell on the victory and said the Williams driver had been the faster of the two.

If Leclerc was frustrated by Sunday's race, Lando Norris' love of the official F1 game must be wearing incredibly thin. The McLaren driver has had problems joining the game at every race so far and appeared to have more issues during Sunday's event at the Circuit de Catalunya.

He managed to start the race, but spun at Turn 7 while fighting in the lower midfield and then spun again at Turn 9, dropping him to the back of the grid.

"Do I really continue now?" he asked his viewers on Twitch. "Do I though? Or do I go and play COD [Call of Duty]?"

After dropping to last, he was then given a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane and dropped out the game after another spin a few laps later. Speaking to Leclerc on Twitch after the race he admitted he had decided to quit.

Mercedes reserve driver and ex-Sauber F1 driver, Esteban Gutierrez, finished third ahead of Red Bull's Alex Albon, who led early on but dropped down the order on a two-stop strategy to finish fourth.