Another month, another trio of F1 Esports qualifying streams! And boy, is the excitement ramping up. As we tick over the halfway mark, the superstars of 2021 are beginning to emerge.
Our three cohorts of racers on PS4, Xbox One, and PC are embroiled in an epic 10-race season, with the top six from each group making it to the Pro Exhibition. There, theyâ€™ll have the opportunity to be selected by one of the 10 official F1 Esports teams. Hereâ€™s what went down at two of the fastest fan-favourite circuits in F1: Silverstone and Spa!
First up, the PS4 racers took to the track, with a downpour at Silverstone greeting the qualifiers. The session was a pure test of nerve with slippery conditions levelling the playing field. The dying seconds saw times improve, and though early efforts for Thijmen SchĂĽtte and Mattijs van Erven momentarily put them on pole, it was Valentin BrĂĽffer who snatched top spot for the race.
Lights out heralded a monster start for van Erven, and he took the lead â€“ but only for two laps, as he headed to the pits for an early stop. The pit lane was the place to be on the following lap, with several drivers diving in, although a speed limit infringement landed the one time polesitter a time penalty.
As the pit stops shuffled the pack, SchĂĽtte emerged in the lead, until three laps to go, when Dario Iemmulo took the lead. Out of position and with a hefty load of penalties, the Italian was never truly in the hunt, and SchĂĽtte stamped his authority on the final lap to take the win on-track as well. SchĂĽtte became the first repeat-winner of the PS4 races, extending his lead.
Different race, same front-row. BrĂĽffer took pole ahead of van Erven, while SchĂĽtte languished down in P15 after invalidating his lap in the tense one-shot qualifying session. BrĂĽffer held the lead until his pit stop on Lap 4, while van Erven had to wait until the following lap. Remarkably, his overcut strategy (prompted by not wanting to double-stack with the other Ferrari) paid dividends, and he emerged still in the lead, resisting immense pressure for the remaining laps to take his first win in Challengers. Points leader Schutte recovered to take P8.
The Xbox group were up next on Wednesday, and straight into the action of qualifying. Kedon Lutt was the championship leader coming into this round, and he stamped his authority once more with a solid pole position. The Estonian converted it into the race lead at the start with a good getaway, but he was shuffled down the order at the pit stops, with Christopher Parry taking the lead. Parry would remain virtually unchallenged at the front, but it all kicked off behind, with Lutt recovering from P4 to come back through the field. He dispatched of Miko Hautajoki with two laps to go to move back into the podium positions, and sparred with second-placed Ewan La Naour as they crossed the line, separated by just six thousandths of a second in La Naourâ€™s favour. Parry ahead took his first win of the Challengers, and made it five winners out of five.
La Naourâ€™s momentum carried on into the second race at Spa, with the French driver taking pole position in one-shot qualifying. He held his nerve at the start too, keeping the lead of the race. However he was overpowered by Lutt on Lap eight, with a DRS move too powerful to resist. Instead he had to watch his back, with Parry chasing him to the line. Though they duelled hard on the final lap, La Naour finished second for the second successive race behind Lutt, with Parry third ensuring a complete reversal to the Silverstone podium.
Third time lucky, the PC racers set off on Thursday for their races at Silverstone and Spa, and it was Italyâ€™s Alessio di Capua who put it on pole at the first venue. He got off the line and held the lead well, and continued to do so after the pit stop phase, but began trading places with Patrik Sipos on Lap eight. For several corners, the pair debated the lead, giving the chasing pack a chance to close up behind.
Nicolas Mateo, Josh Idowu and Ruben Vallejo all tucked up behind, with the quintet separated by barely half a second from one another. Lap 11 saw the battle come to boiling point, and di Capua once more got back into the lead past Sipos. His second place then came under threat, and on the very last lap, Matteo made his move, powering round the outside at the Vale to take second from Sipos.
Spa heralded another strong race for di Capua, as he lined up on pole and led the race unchallenged for the most part. The same formation of five cars formed at the front behind him, although Bence Szabo-Konyi lined up in second, followed by Mateo, Sipos, and Idowu. But with just two laps, the heavens opened, and chaos ensued! Julian Naumann and stand-in racer Tom Martinez stayed out, opting not to pit with just two laps to go. Both stayed out on their medium tyres, while everyone else fitted intermediates.
Content creator Martinez took the lead part-way through the penultimate lap, but it quickly became clear that the inters were the way to go. Martinez pitted ahead of the final lap, but Naumann stayed out and was disqualified for not using two tyre compounds. One-time leader di Capua didnâ€™t fare much better, selecting mediums instead of inters during his stop, and nosediving through the field. Mateo then took victory, ahead of Szabo-Konyi, and Idowu completed the podium. Martinez recovered to an impressive P7 on his debut, and the gutted di Capua crossed the line in eighth.
Thatâ€™s your lot for Challengers action for another few weeks! The championship will return on Tuesday March 30 for the start of Round 4, where weâ€™ll get a clearer picture of whoâ€™s making it through to the Pro Exhibition. Join us for all the streaming fun then!
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