Jarno Opmeer takes early F1 Esports lead | FOS Future Lab

18th October 2021
Andrew Evans

There’s a familiar look at the top of the 2021 Formula 1 Esports Pro Championship, as defending champion Jarno Opmeer has taken charge after the first set of three races.

It wasn’t looking too good for the Dutch driver, who made the switch from Alfa Romeo to Mercedes earlier this year, after qualifying for the first two races at Bahrain and China saw him 6th and 14th on the grid respectively. Instead it was Alpine’s Nicholas Longuet on pole and McLaren’s new signing Bari Boroumand taking pole in the two respective races.

In Bahrain though it was Lucas Blakeley who got the best start and passed the French driver into turn one to put his Aston Martin into the lead of the race, and it was a lead he’d keep almost throughout. Blakeley opted to pit first of the front runners, but Longuet came in a lap later to keep the status quo.

Longuet threatened late on, but as the two tussled for position over the closing laps the Alpine driver picked up a three-second penalty. That left Blakeley a clean run to the line, and promoted Alvaro Carreton’s Williams up into third. Opmeer ran a mirrored strategy and made his way up to fourth at the flag, ahead of team-mate Dani Moreno following a race-long, three-car scrap with Boroumand.

The weather played a major role in the race at China. Most of the field started on full-wet tyres except for defending champion Opmeer, which looked like a disastrous choice early on, as the Mercedes driver slipped from 14th to 19th.

However it soon became apparent that the intermediates were the way to go and, having sacrificed a little lap time early in the race, Opmeer hit the front as everyone else switched tyres on lap seven.

That seemed to be how the race would finish until Alpine’s Fabrizio Donoso rolled the dice. The Chilean driver pitted from third with four laps to take soft slicks, and his immediate sector gains prompted the entire field to follow suit a lap later, with Donoso just taking the lead as a result. Opmeer though struck back at the first opportunity, making a DRS-assisted pass down Shanghai’s back straight. From there he controlled the last two laps to emerge as the winner, ahead of Donoso and Kiefer.

Qualifying at the Red Bull Ring was very much normal service resumed, as Opmeer and Moreno locked out the front row for Mercedes. Red Bull’s Frede Rasmussen – last year’s championship runner-up – was next best, ahead of Boroumand.

There was no change of position up front in the early exchanges, and it did seem like the drivers were content to settle in ahead of a more frantic finish, but the weather changed things again.

Blakeley was the first of the front-runners to blink, pitting from fifth for new Intermediate tyres, but Opmeer, Rasmussen, and Boroumand stayed out a lap longer, with the unfortunate Moreno forced to stay out for another tour to avoid stacking the Mercedes in the pits and dropping to tenth.

Blakeley moved up to fourth despite his gamble actually losing him time to the front trio, but with no further moves at the front, the race finished with Opmeer taking a second successive win. Rasmussen came second for first trip to the 2021 podium, with Boroumand third for his first ever F1 Esports podium.

After the first round of races, it’s a familiar-looking table with Opmeer (63 points) and Mercedes (78 points) lead the way in the two championships. Blakeley sits second on 49 points, with Boroumand third on 33. Aston Martin also holds second in the teams’ table on 55 points, and defending champion Red Bull is in third on 43.

While the FDA Ferrari team didn’t have the best start to F1 Esports, the team did take the GT World Challenge Europe Esports Endurance title despite a major scare.

Although the duo of David Tonizza and Giovanni de Salvo took fourth on the grid for the three-hour race at Barcelona, it was Racing Line’s Kevin Siclari and Marek Schinz – the only team that could beat them – on pole position. Worse still, the #191 Bentley charged away at the front, leaving the Ferrari team needing third or better to take the title.

Fortunately, after some early skirmishes, the Ferrari team was relatively unchallenged for a podium spot, also passing the JOTA McLaren inside the first hour to take second, though eventually the G2 BMW would finish third. That gave FDA Ferrari the title by six points from the Racing Line squad which wrapped the season up with two successive wins.

Nils Naujoks and Arthur Kammerer took a BMW 1-2 in the hour-long sprint race at Imola. Championship leader Tonizza meanwhile had another torrid race, to finish outside the points, but with main rival James Baldwin only able to pick up a single point, the gap is only closed to five points. Naujoks remains in contention mathematically.

In the dead-rubber race in the GT World Challenge Asia Sprint Series, Andrew Laurenson took pole position and comfortable victory at Suzuka in the absence of champion Dayne Warren, to place third overall in the championship. Fourth place in the race was good enough for 2020 winner Andika Rama Maulana to take second overall.

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