Our sim racers made a solid start to F1’s 2018 ESports Pro Series as the virtual championship kicked off at London’s Gfinity ESports Arena on Wednesday night.
The Team claimed a podium and two other points finishes from the opening three races to lie third in the team’s standings after Round 1 of the three-event championship.
Three months after the first Pro Draft saw teams choose their squads for this year’s championship from 40 of the world’s top sim racers, Finland’s Joni Törmälä and Britain’s Graham Carroll suited up in Red Bull colours for the first three races of the series, at Melbourne’s tight and tricky Albert Park, the vast Shanghai International Circuit and the notoriously challenging Baku City Circuit. Each race is 25% of the distance of a real-world grand prix.
And in the opening 15-lap race in Melbourne the Red Bull pair put in a superb performance with Joni grabbing the team’s maiden podium finish in ESports with third place behind winner and defending champion Brendon Leigh of Mercedes and second-place Tino Naukkarinen, while Graham finished 4.46s behind his team-mate in fourth place.
The result left the team in second place in the Teams’ Standings with 27 points, six behind Mercedes, who also scored points through sixth-placed Daniel Bereznay who finished in second but was later penalised for speeding in the pit lane during the race.
Race two, a 14-lap contest in Shanghai, was a more complex affair with both Red Bull drivers struggling slightly in a wet qualifying session. After the grid shoot-out Graham started from a useful eighth place while Joni found himself just outside the top 10, with a P11 grid slot.
In the race Graham made up one place in a tough race to bag another six points for the team, but Joni found the going much tougher and finished outside the points positions as Mercedes this time succeeded in claiming a one-two finish with Leigh again the victor.
In race three, featuring 13 laps around Baku’s high-speed street circuit, qualifying again proved tricky for the Bulls as Graham claimed P13 on the grid, two places above his team-mate in P15.
Brendon Leigh was denied an opening event hat-trick when Toro Rosso’s Frederik Rasmussen swept past him metres from the finish line.
“I have mixed feelings about that,” said podium finisher Joni afterwards. “The first race was obviously good but then things started to go wrong in both qualifying sessions and after that it was all about damage limitation. We both need to work more on qualifying but sometimes it’s not in your hands and there’s nothing you can do. But I’m sure we’ll bounce back from it next time. Ahead of the next race it’s just about putting in more hours, more laps. I think our practice for this event was pretty good, but we can improve.”
Graham, who ended the evening in fifth place in the Drivers’ Championship, two spots above his team-mate, was pleased with his efforts over the first three races.
“I feel pretty good. To come away with fifth overall in the drivers’ standings, I’m pretty happy with that,” said Graham. “I had a really bad final round, in Baku, I got sideways at the first corner and was my front wing was just dead. It was a bit of a struggle there, Australia was really good, P4 there, and I think it was P7 in China, so we’re in the points, we’re up there and we’re in the mix, so it’s a good start.
“My aim is to be consistent,” he added. “It’s a 10-round championship and there’s a long way to go still. I think if I hadn't had my damaged wing I reckon I would have been in the top 10 in the last round and that was my aim going in. I just wanted to finish in the points, to get three races in the points. But Baku is crazy!”
After the first event the Bulls lies third in Teams’ standings behind Toro Rosso, for whom Patrik Holzman also scored points on the night. Mercedes have taken a commanding lead in the Teams’ competition with 109 points from the first three races.
The next event takes place on 31 October, again at London’s GFinity Arena, with the Grand Finale being staged across two days on 16 and 17 November at a venue yet to be confirmed.