Guanyu Zhou and Norman Nato claimed Feature and Sprint races wins respectively in today’s hectic F2 Virtual Racing’s second round which took place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain.
There was one man to beat going in to this Sunday’s event: Arthur Leclerc, who had dominated Round 1 last week. The PREMA driver picked up where he left off in the Feature race with a second pole position in a row. Zhou had qualified P2 and was ready to challenge the Monegasque driver for the lead, but Leclerc kept P1 at the start of the first race; behind the duo, Nato passed Lirim Zendeli for 3rd.
Zhou’s mission in the opening laps was to stay within 1s of Leclerc and by Lap 4, the Chinese ace managed to reduce the gap to 0.3s on the race leader. Further down the pack, Oliver Rowland overtook Zendeli for P4 but received a 3s time penalty for exceeding track limits.
The battle for the lead intensified as Zhou forced Leclerc to defend, but the Virtuosi driver eventually found a way past the PREMA racer but the latter would not let it stick. The two went side-by-side into Turn 9, with Leclerc regaining the lead. Zhou tried to have another go into Turn 10, but Leclerc stayed ahead using the inside line. Drama ensued after light contact sent Leclerc into a spin, while Zhou received a 3s time penalty following multiple warnings for track limits.
Nonetheless, by Lap 7 Zhou was firmly into the lead, ahead of Nato, as Leclerc pitted; the Chinese race leader dove into the pits a lap later. Driving for Carlin this week, Nato also stopped to switch to the harder compound, as Zhou and Leclerc were now racing in 5th and 8th. The former was quick to move up to 3rd before overtaking his 2020 teammate Callum Ilott (who still had to observe his mandatory pitstop) on Lap 10 for P2.
Nato was also handed a 3s time penalty and when Jack Aitken, who was on the alternate strategy, pitted from the lead for the softer compound on Lap 13, Zhou was back into P1 - 3.7s ahead of Nato. Rowland was P3 in front of Leclerc but lost his position to the Monegasque on Lap 15, with Nato then in his sights. Following a technical glitch, the Frenchman dropped to 5th, behind Zendeli, making way for Leclerc to chase Zhou who enjoyed an 8s lead.
On the final lap, the Virtuosi driver remained under control and flew to victory. It was not as smooth sailing for his closest rival Leclerc who first received a 3s time penalty, then retired from the race with what seemed to be technical issues. Rowland crossed the finish line in second, but after his time penalty was added it was Zendeli who inherited P2, whilst the Briton from DAMS classified 3rd ahead of Nato who recovered one track position in the closing stages. Felipe Drugovich scored more precious points for MP Motorsport with a 5th placed finish, whilst Aitken’s strategy saw him take 6th place in front of Louis Delétraz (who had also received a 3s time penalty). ART’s Théo Pourchaire took P8 ahead of Olli Caldwell and Sebastian Montoya.
Pourchaire then started from pole on the reverse grid of the 5-lap Sprint race, but the Frenchman’s slow start allowed Delétraz, Nato and Aitken to get past. Zhou moved up to P6 from 8th on the grid, but it was Leclerc’s getaway that impressed the most, asthe Monegasque driver quickly carved his way from the back to P9 in the opening corners.
At the front, Delétraz was under huge pressure from a confident Nato for the lead while Zhou managed to move up to 4th and was on the hunt for Aitken; the Renault protégé was the quickest man on track with one lap to go. Leclerc was also on a mission as he disposed of Drugovich for 6th, and then Rowland for one position higher.
The battle for the win between Delétraz and Nato continued and the Frenchman’s relentless efforts finally paid off on the final lap as he overtook the Swiss in Turn 1. Behind the pair, Zhou tried a move on Aitken but went a bit too wide giving the Briton from Campos room to breath until the chequered flag.
Nato sprinted to the win ahead of a frustrated Delétraz, whilst Aitken completed the podium in front of Zhou, Leclerc, Rowland, Drugovich and Montoya.
The third round of F2 Virtual Racing will take place on May 24th in the prestigious streets of Monte Carlo, Monaco.