LONDON, March 15 (Reuters) - Red Bull Formula One driver Max Verstappen shone but finished only 11th in an ‘All-star Esports battle’ to fill the gap left by the coronavirus-caused cancellation of Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The 12 lap race around a virtual version of the Nuerburgring, a German track no longer on the F1 calendar, was won by Slovenian Jernej Simoncic and dominated by leading professional gamers.
Organisers The Race and parent company Torque Esports had assembled a field of real world drivers along with top simulator racers with a total prize pot of $10,000 and $4,000 for the winner.
Motorsports fans have been starved of action by the coronavirus with the Formula One, Formula E, IndyCar, MotoGP and world rally championships all halted by the spreading virus.
McLaren Shadow’s Kevin Siggy was second with Rudy Van Buren, winner of the inaugural 2017 World’s Fastest Gamer competition and the prize of a simulator role with McLaren, finishing in third place.
Swedish IndyCar driver and former Formula E race winner Felix Rosenqvist was the highest-ranked real world driver in seventh place. American Colton Herta, another IndyCar driver, was 10th.
Verstappen took pole position and won one of the three qualifying heats but qualified ninth for the final, which The Race said was watched by at least 50,000 online viewers, using rFactor’s Formula ISI 2012 package.
The Dutch 22-year-old spun at the first corner, dropping to 18th, but then showed all his real world overtaking skills and aggression by carving his way back up despite another spin setback.
Others who took part in the heats included Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and former F1 drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello, as well as their respective sons, and double Formula One esports champion Brendon Leigh.
“Shame we didn’t make the final. Got tangled in someone else’s shunt. Need to work on it as well. Was an amazing event. Can’t wait for the next one,” commented Montoya on Twitter.
Formula E driver Antonio Felix da Costa was 13th.
McLaren Formula One racer Lando Norris was competing in another virtual race, the ‘Not the Aus GP’ organised by Veloce Esports and shown live on Twitch.TV and YouTube.
Formula One has said it expects to start the season in Europe at the end of May, subject to review, while Formula E is temporarily suspended and hopes to race again in June.
U.S.-based IndyCar has cancelled all events through March and April. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)