FIA Formula 3 reigning Champion Robert Shwartzman had to rely on his racing instincts in the first ever Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix, admitting that he only bought the F1 2019 game four days before the inaugural event.

The Russian has plenty of experience to call upon behind the wheel of a real life single-seater, but says he was still surprised by the virtual scene after competing electronically around the Bahrain International Circuit, against the likes of Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and 2020 F2 rival Guanyu Zhou.

“My first F1 Virtual GP was quite fun,” he began. “At first, I have to say that I was a bit surprised by the fighting, and the crashing, etc. Obviously in actual racing it is a lot less forgiving… But overall it was very entertaining, and I enjoyed it a lot.

“The preparation was also quite interesting and new to me. I enjoyed the fighting with the other players and getting back into the racing mood was pretty cool even if it was virtual.

“To be honest I am not heavily into Esports. I got the 2019 F1 game four days ago so I never really got the chance to play with it prior to this Esports experience. Considering my knowledge of this game I think it went fairly well.

Shwartzman was competing as part of his role in the Ferrari Driver Academy in the newly created event, which is aimed at scratching the motorsport community’s racing itch. The virtual races will become a regular feature while the season is postponed due to the continued outbreak of the coronavirus.

Most fans would assume drivers such as Shwartzman hold a significant advantage over those without experience of real-life racing, but the Russian was quick to dispel this theory in part, admitting that the two differ in several key aspects.

“From a driving perspective, comparing Esports to actual racing is quite different,” he explained. “The physics of it all is quite different and at the beginning you need to get used to the driving style the game requires.

“Compared to the real car the PC’s reaction seems quite slower so you need to predict it and change your driving a bit.”

Despite the differences, the PREMA racer proved competitive amongst the field, running as high as fifth at one point, before he suffered technical issues and a DNF. Despite his frustrating finish to the race, Shwartzman emphasised that he would be keen to compete again, should the opportunity arise.

“Compared to the real car the PC’s reaction seems quite slower so you need to predict it and change your driving a bit.”

He continued: “I can’t say I’m happy with how the race went after my DNF and also I had a technical issue with my steering wheel when I was sixth and I think I could have moved up to fifth with all the incidents.

“Pace wise it looked quite good so I would say that from a performance perspective I was quite happy but not with the overall result obviously.

“It would be interesting to take part into another Esports event with the FDA Hublot Esports Team in the coming weeks but at the moment I don’t know what the lineup will be for the next events and for sure there are other drivers who might want to try it out and I think it’s fair that they also get that chance but if I am asked to participate again I would for sure be very pleased to do so.”

Would you like to see the F3 champ out on a virtual track again?