George Russell has secured his first Esports Virtual Grand Prix victory with a nail-biting success over Charles Leclerc at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a race that was turned on its head by a dramatic last-minute penalty.

The first win for both Russell and Williams in the fifth event of the virtual season, the Briton had started from pole position but a poor start dropped him to as low as sixth early on before surging back into contention in the second-half of the race.

However, it was the late twist of penalties for both Russell and Leclerc that made the difference after Russell, having closed the gap down to the Ferrari driver during the second stint was handed a three-second time penalty for multiple warnings.

Undeterred, Russell – via some questionable track limit lines into the chicane - pushed on to overtake Leclerc on lap 25 of 33 as they raced into turn one. Though the Monegasque got him back the following lap, a definitive move by the Williams man on lap 28 gave him just five laps to try and pull enough of a gap to negate the penalty.

However, while Leclerc was able to stay within two seconds as they rounded the penultimate lap, he threw his chances of a third win from four races away by picking up his own three-second penalty after cutting the chicane

As such, Russell eased to victory, in turn becoming the fourth different winner in five events after Guanyu Zhou, Leclerc and Alex Albon.

Esteban Gutierrez notched up a podium for Mercedes with a measured drive to third, the Mexican driver leading initially after getting the jump over Russell on the line before being shuffled back.

Albon, meanwhile, could only manage fourth place despite having the advantage through the first stint when he got the better of both Gutierrez and Leclerc. The Red Bull driver pitted from the lead early on lap eight as a prelude to a two-stop strategy but after emerging on hard tyres for his third stint couldn’t make up enough ground in the closing stages.

Nicholas Latifi made it two Williams’ inside the top five in fifth place, ahead of Mercedes’ Anthony Davidson, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Haas driver Pietro Fittipaldi. Antoni Fuoco and Max Fewtrell rounded out the top ten for Ferrari and Renault respectively.

Elsewhere, Lando Norris’ now infamous glitches struck him again as he trundled around at the back before eventually retiring, while footballers Thiabaut Courtois and Sergio Aguero gave a decent account of themselves with a run to 12th and 14th respectively.

 

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