Max Verstappen was 11th in a virtual race against other racing drivers and professional gamers. Picture: REUTERS
Max Verstappen was 11th in a virtual race against other racing drivers and professional gamers. Picture: REUTERS

Formula One drivers Max Verstappen and Lando Norris were racing on Sunday but, with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix cancelled due to the coronavirus, it was against invisible opponents on virtual racetracks.

The world of e-sports came to the rescue in the absence of a race in Melbourne or indeed of any single-seater series with the Formula E and IndyCar calendars also ravaged by the fast-spreading virus.

Red Bull's Verstappen finished 11th in an "All-star Esports battle" with a cast of other real racing drivers and professional gamers.

McLaren's Norris finished sixth in another virtual race, the "Not the Aus GP" organised by Veloce Esports and shown live on Twitch.TV and YouTube.

The 12 lap all-star race, organised by Torque Esports and The Race, featured a virtual version of the Nuerburgring — a German track no longer on the F1 calendar — and was won by Slovenian Jernej Simoncic.

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.

Torque had stumped up a total prize pot of $10,000 with $4,000 for the winner.

"More people watched today’s ‘The Race All-Star Esports Battle' online than watch a Formula One race on Sky TV in the UK. That is an incredible statistic," said Torque CEO Darren Cox.

"During the race we were the biggest gaming or esport stream in the world. Bigger than Fortnite."

Swedish IndyCar drivers Felix Rosenqvist and American Colton Herta were the highest-ranked real world drivers in seventh and 10th places respectively.

Verstappen won one of three qualifying heats from pole position but qualified ninth for the final using rFactor's Formula ISI 2012 package.

The Dutch 22-year-old spun at the first corner, dropping to 18th, but then showed his familiar overtaking skills and aggression to carve his way back up despite another spin.

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 e-sports champion Brendon Leigh.

Veloce reported 180,000 live viewers across all channels for their event that also featured Real Madrid goalkeeper and avid gamer Thibaut Courtois, as well as former McLaren F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne.

— Reuters

F1 season now expected to begin in May

After the cancellation of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and the postponement of the races in China, Bahrain and Vietnam, Formula 1 and governing body the FIA have said they now 'expect' the 2020 season to begin at the end of May — though this will be regularly reviewed.

The outbreak of Covid-19 forced the Chinese round of the calendar to be postponed last month. Then last Thursday, the opening race of the season in Melbourne was also called off, after a McLaren team member tested positive for the virus.

The Bahrain Grand Prix, which was due to take place this weekend, and the first ever Vietnam Grand Prix, scheduled for the beginning of April, have also been postponed.

A joint statement from Formula 1, the FIA, the race organisers and the relevant governments involved, said: "After the announcement of the Australian Grand Prix’s cancellation and the ongoing and fluid nature of the Covid-19 situation globally, Formula 1, the FIA and the promoters have taken these decisions in order to ensure the health and safety of the travelling staff, championship participants and fans, which remains our primary concern."

All parties said they were hopeful the races could be staged at a later date, and in light of the impact the virus is having, the statement added that it is expected the F1 season can begin at the end of May.

"Formula 1 and the FIA continue to work closely with the race promoters in Bahrain and Vietnam and the local health authorities to monitor the situation and take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates for each Grand Prix later in the year should the situation improve.

"As a result, Formula 1 and the FIA expect to begin the Championship in Europe at the end of May but given the sharp increase in Covid-19 cases in Europe in recent days, this will be regularly reviewed."

Chase Carey, Formula 1 Chairman and CEO, said the safety of the fans and people working in the sport was paramount.

New MotoGP calendar officially confirmed

After the cancellation of the season-opening Qatar MotoGP opening rounds of the MotoGP season due to the coronavirus outbreak, the first race of the year is scheduled to be the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez on May 3.

The MotoGP season is now expected to start in Spain on May 3. Picture: SUPPLIED
The MotoGP season is now expected to start in Spain on May 3. Picture: SUPPLIED

The second round in Thailand was postponed from March to October. The second round in Argentina and the third in Austin, Texas were also postponed to later on in the year as more countries locked down their borders.

MotoGP will now head to Buriram in Thailand over the weekend of October 3 and 4. This was the original date for the Aragon race, with the Aragon round moved to a weekend earlier, September 26 and 27.

Then MotoGP will head to the Circuit of the Americas over the weekend of November 14 and 15, Argentina on November 21-22, with the season finishing over the weekend of November 28-29 in Valencia, Spain.