Three weeks after he had hoped to be starring in Formula One's Australian Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc saw the chequered flag confirm a virtual victory in Melbourne.

In the second event of F1's Virtual Grand Prix Series - an Esports tournament filling the gap while the real thing is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic - FDA Hublot Esports driver Leclerc delivered a dominant performance.

Leclerc, who won back-to-back races in Belgium and Italy during his debut season with Ferrari in 2019, was on pole and never looked troubled around Albert Park, winning after 29 laps.

Renault's Christian Lundgaard was second, with Williams' George Russell finishing third, denying Arthur Leclerc a place on the podium alongside his brother.

"It was unbelievably hard," Charles Leclerc said.

"We are sitting on a chair so there's not even the g-force we have in a real car.

"But I'm sweating like crazy. The muscles are not hurting but [with] the concentration and everything I've been sweating a lot."

Having seen singer Liam Payne, once of One Direction, struggle during the first race of the series, an early crash left England all-rounder Ben Stokes playing catch-up.

Stokes would finish 18th out of 18 drivers, one spot behind three-time F1 race winner Johnny Herbert.

"It's the taking part that counts...it's what I always tell my kids," Stokes wrote on Twitter.

Former F1 world champion Jenson Button finished 12th and had a better time of it than Lando Norris, who was unable to take his place on the grid due to technical difficulties.

"I pressed to join the race and it just said, 'Sorry, you're not allowed to join the race'," Norris revealed on Twitch in a chat with Max Verstappen.

Upon learning of Norris' struggles, Red Bull's Verstappen replied: "Yeah, I will never join that."

Bernie Ecclestone believes the 2020 Formula One season should be abandoned.

The former head of the motor racing series says the coronavirus pandemic is likely to make it too complicated to allow a world championship to go ahead.

Races in Australia, Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands, Spain and Azerbaijan have already been postponed, while the flagship Monaco race has been cancelled, with no prospect of that race being run this year.

The Australian Grand Prix was due to be the opening race but was cancelled hours before first practice, and there has been no action since.

Long-standing former F1 chief executive Ecclestone, who passed control to the Liberty Media group in 2017, fears the sport's current bosses may struggle to piece together a credible championship.

Asked what the sport could do, Ecclestone said: "There's a million different things. I said we should stop the championship this year and start again next year hopefully.

"It's impossible to get the right amount of races in that would count for a championship. It needs to be eight races from memory and I can't see them getting that in.

"Even... let's assume that you could do a deal with the promoters and they'd say, 'Okay, we'll run basically behind closed doors', and come to some sort of financial arrangement with them to do that, you've then got to worry about will all the teams be able to participate.

"They might say, 'Let's see'. So, it's no good somebody putting on a race and spending all the money to put that on and then the teams say, 'Well, we did tell you we couldn't confirm, and we'd have to tell you later'. It's too late then, so it's a difficult situation."

The year began with all the talk centring on whether Lewis Hamilton could win his seventh title, which would move him level with Michael Schumacher's record haul.

Ecclestone says Hamilton would not mind how he wins that seventh title, even if it comes in a severely truncated year of racing.

"I don't think it'd make a lot of difference to Lewis," Ecclestone told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He would win whatever it takes to win that championship, whether it's eight races, 16 or 20. If it's a world championship and he wins it, it goes on the record as he's won a world championship.

"The terrible thing is, he'd win all eight races so it wouldn't be a super championship."

Ecclestone, 89, stressed he does not see himself having another spell in charge of Formula One, because he cannot see Liberty Media's Chase Carey wanting to offload the asset.

"No, I don't think so. I don't think Liberty want to sell so it's no good - a lot of people have said they'd like to buy, or could they buy or should they buy, or whatever.

"I think in the end you'd have to get Liberty to agree. They've never come forward and said to anybody, 'We want to sell', so I'm assuming they don't want to."

McLaren drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris have both taken voluntary pay cuts after their team became the first in Formula One to put some staff on furlough.

The 2020 F1 season is yet to begin and all grands prix have either been cancelled or postponed up until mid-June due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The financial impact on such a suspension has led to British-based team McLaren furloughing some employees for the next three months under a scheme offered by the government in the United Kingdom.

A statement from McLaren, published on F1's website, read: "The McLaren Group is temporarily furloughing a number of employees as part of wider cost-cutting measures due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business.

"These measures are focused on protecting jobs in the short term to ensure our employees return to full-time work as the economy recovers."

It was also confirmed that Sainz and Norris had volunteered to have their salaries reduced.

Sainz wrote on Twitter: "Due to the impact of COVID19, the McLaren Group has adopted difficult temporary measures regarding its staff to hopefully protect jobs in the long term.

"I fully understand these tough decisions and I have obviously decided to take a pay cut. We are all in this together."

It was a McLaren crew member who tested positive for coronavirus on the eve of last month's Australian Grand Prix, the season-opening race.

The team pulled out as a result, with the grand prix called off altogether shortly after.

England cricketer Ben Stokes is in for a test of an altogether different kind after he was confirmed as one of the celebrity racers in the second virtual Formula One grand prix.

Stokes is one of cricket's biggest names but will now be pushing his boundaries against F1 pros Charles Leclerc, Alexander Albon, George Russell, Lando Norris and Nicholas Latifi.

The inaugural race in Formula One's Virtual Grand Prix Series, an Esports tournament filling the void in the absence of the usual race calendar amid the coronavirus pandemic, took place on March 22, with cyclist Chris Hoy, golfer Ian Poulter and ex-One Direction star Liam Payne taking part – the latter showing no control as he finished 17th.

Former driver Johnny Herbert – who finished in 13th – returns for a second shot.

Sunday's race, which will be broadcast live at 19:00 UTC on F1's official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels, is scheduled to last 90 minutes and will be held at the virtual Albert Park track, the venue often used for the Australian Grand Prix.

A qualifying period will determine grid positions, followed by a 28-lap race.

A decision over whether the British Grand Prix can go ahead this year will be made by the end of April.

Formula One, like the rest of the global sporting calendar, has been severely impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19.

The first eight scheduled races in 2020 have either been cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

F1 still hopes to stage at least a revised season of between 15 and 18 races, which could finish as late as January 2021.

The British Grand Prix, slated to take place at Silverstone on July 19, had been earmarked as a potential opener for a shortened campaign and race organisers have set out their timeline for making a call.

"Silverstone and Formula 1 remain in close dialogue regarding the ongoing situation and are assessing the feasibility of holding the British Grand Prix on 17th-19th July," a widely reported statement read.

"We fully appreciate that other UK sporting events in July have taken decisions regarding their events, but it is important to highlight that their logistics and sporting arrangements differ from Silverstone's and, therefore, our timeline gives us until the end of April to make a final decision.

"The safety of our fans, colleagues and the F1 community will be our priority and we will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities."

 

 

Daniel Ricciardo admits there is still huge uncertainty over the 2020 Formula One season but hopes to be racing again by July.

The first eight scheduled grands prix of the year were either cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

F1 organisers hope to stage at least a revised season of 15 to 18 races, which could finish as late as January 2021, as Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto suggested at the weekend.

However, it appears unlikely that the sport will return for several weeks and Ricciardo, whose Renault team officially entered a three-week shutdown on Monday, told talkSPORT: "I've kept in contact with the team and we're just trying to figure out what is going on.

"I'm also aware that no one really has a hold of this virus yet. We are predicting maybe July we will get going, but, really, who knows?"

Ricciardo would relish the chance to start the season with the Canadian Grand Prix, which on June 14 is the next race on the initial calendar that has not yet been rearranged.

"I'd love for it to get started at home [in Melbourne] but knowing what I know for now, I don't think Montreal has been cancelled yet and that is the next one on the list," he said.

"I love Montreal as a city and a circuit; it's one of my favourite grands prix. So, if we could start there, that would make my day."

There was huge confusion around the planned curtain-raiser in Melbourne this month, with the race only called off when McLaren withdrew three days before after a crew member tested positive for coronavirus.

"It was weird being there, and even on Thursday I was preparing myself to compete that weekend," Ricciardo remembers.

"But I was never certain it was going to happen; I knew there was a slight risk it could all get pulled last minute.

"The bombshell for me was really when I went to bed on Thursday night, and just before I went to sleep I saw McLaren had pulled out of the race, because of the case within their team.

"I then stayed up for probably another three hours trying to fish out a bit more information, but I knew then we weren’t going to race without a full grid.

"To be honest, I was no longer comfortable with it either; I was like, 'Look, this is the first race of the season, either we are all in it or we're not, that's just how it is'."

Red Bull's drivers would have been intentionally exposed to coronavirus under a bizarre plan hatched by team advisor Helmut Marko. 

With the Formula One season on hold amid the spread of COVID-19, Marko was keen to create a kind of 'corona camp', suggesting it would be "the ideal time for the infection to come".

The 76-year-old outlined his controversial proposal, which was rejected by team management, in an interview with Austrian television station ORF.

"We have four Formula 1 drivers [Max Verstappen, Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly, Daniil Kvyat] and eight or 10 juniors," he said.

"The idea was to organise a camp where we could bridge this - mentally and physically - somewhat dead time.

"And that would be the ideal time for the infection to come.

"These are all strong young men in really good health.

"That way they would be prepared whenever the action starts, and you can be ready for what will probably be a very tough championship once it starts."

The opening eight races of the 2020 campaign have already been called off, with F1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey suggesting a revised schedule involving between 15 and 18 races could be included.

Mercedes F1 engineers have helped to create a breathing aid to keep patients suffering from COVID-19 out of intensive care that has received approval for use by the NHS.

Working with University College London engineers and clinicians at UCLH, the device – which delivers oxygen to the brain without the need for a ventilator – was created in less than a week.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has given its approval for its use.

A Mercedes statement explained: "The breathing aid, known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help Covid-19 patients with serious lung infections to breathe more easily, when oxygen alone is insufficient.

"This breathing aid was produced within a rapid timeframe - it took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device. 

"One hundred devices are to be delivered to UCLH for clinical trials, with rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country ahead of the predicted surge in COVID-19 hospital admissions."

The statement added approximately 50 per cent of patients who use CPAP in Italy "avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation".

"The Formula 1 community has shown an impressive response to the call for support, coming together in the 'Project Pitlane' collective to support the national need at this time across a number of different projects," said Mercedes HPP chief Andy Cowell.

"We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe."

There have been 19,522 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom, with 1,228 having died.

Formula One teams are discussing the prospect of holding two-day grands prix and extending the 2020 season until January 2021.

Chase Carey, the CEO of F1, is still hoping to hold 15 to 18 races this season once normality has returned after the coronavirus pandemic.

The first eight races of the campaign are either postponed or cancelled with more likely to follow as lockdown restrictions remain widespread.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto thinks teams will be as flexible as possible to find a solution, including two-day race weekends with practice held on a Saturday.

"We are engaged in constant dialogue," Binotto told Sky Italia. "I have felt, along with the other team principals, that these are crucial moments. 

"With regards to the timetable, we have given Carey and the FIA the freedom to define the calendar as they need to under these conditions.

"We can also have two-day weekends, with free practice moved to Saturday morning, so that we can meet the logistical needs in case of grands prix being close together.

"In addition, the current shutdown leaves room for the possibility of being able to compete in August if there are conditions to be able to do so."

Binotto would be willing to race into 2021 if it meant something closer to a full championship could take place.

He, his drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, as well as the whole Ferrari team, are working remotely.

"These are all places where we, as a team, need to ensure maximum availability," Binotto said about extending the season.

"If this [move] allows us to guarantee a more complete 2020 world championship, with the following season not starting until March, there is great availability for that.

"We started [remote] smart-working right after Australia. Now we're in FIA shutdown, which continues the period that in our case started early.

"With Seb and Charles, we speak almost daily. They are both at home and they are training as always. They are undoubtedly fit."

McLaren have confirmed all team personnel who were in self-isolation in Australia have returned home.

The Formula One team withdrew ahead of what was scheduled to be the season-opening race in Melbourne after a member of staff tested positive for coronavirus.

The Australian Grand Prix was eventually cancelled and the F1 campaign is still yet to begin due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

McLaren, who are based in Surrey, England, revealed on Twitter that all those who had isolated - as well as the management who remained with them - were all now back home.

"We are pleased to confirm that as of yesterday [Wednesday] evening, all team personnel who were in self-isolation in Melbourne, as well as management who had stayed with them, have now safely returned home," the team said.

"Thanks once again on behalf of the team for all the support and well wishes."

F1 chairman and CEO Chase Carey has said the plan is to stage between 15 and 18 races in a 2020 calendar that could extend into December.

Azerbaijan became the latest race to be postponed on Monday. The next on the original schedule is the Canadian Grand Prix, which is due to take place on June 14.

 

The 2020 Formula One season could include between 15 and 18 races in a revised calendar that will likely run into December, according to Chase Carey.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, F1 has been forced to delay the start to the new campaign, Azerbaijan becoming the latest Grand Prix to be postponed on Monday.

The season-opener in Australia, due to take place on March 15, and the Monaco event have both been cancelled, with the next race on the original schedule due to take place in Canada on June 14. 

In a statement, F1 chairman and CEO Carey did not reveal an update over a potential start date but made clear the 10 teams and the FIA remain "committed" to delivering a championship, aided by the usual mid-season break being shifted forward to March and April.

As well as Azerbaijan, postponed races in Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands and Spain could get new dates, though much depends on developments with the ongoing global pandemic.

"We recognise there is significant potential for additional postponements in currently scheduled events, nonetheless we and our partners fully expect the season to start at some point this summer, with a revised calendar of between 15-18 races, Carey said.

"As previously announced, we will utilise the summer break being brought forward to March/April, to race during the normal summer break period and anticipate the season end date will extend beyond our original end date of 27-29 November, with the actual sequence and schedule dates for races differing significantly from our original 2020 calendar.

"It is not possible to provide a more specific calendar now due to the fluidity of the current situation but we expect to gain clearer insights to the situation in each of our host countries, as well as the issues related to travel to these countries, in the coming month."

In the absence of the usual racing calendar, F1 launched the Virtual Grand Prix Series on Sunday.

Former One Direction singer Liam Payne represented Williams but finished last among the drivers to complete the Bahrain leg - won by Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou - of the Esports tournament.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been postponed in a further delay to the start of the 2020 Formula One season.

It had been anticipated the June 7 event in Baku would be pushed back as the F1 calendar continues to be disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Races in Australia and Monaco have been cancelled altogether, while the Bahrain, Vietnamese, Chinese, Dutch and Spanish grands prix have also been postponed.

With the announcement on Monday from organisers that the Azerbaijan GP would not go ahead as scheduled, the first race of the campaign is now set to be in Montreal, Canada, on June 14.

A Baku City Circuit (BCC) statement read: "The postponement was agreed upon after extensive discussions with F1, as well as the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and the government of the Azerbaijan Republic.

"This comes as a direct result of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and has been based entirely on the expert guidance provided to us by the relevant authorities.

"In coming to this conclusion, BCC's primary concern throughout has been the health and well-being of the Azerbaijani people, as well as all visiting F1 fans, staff and championship participants.

"BCC shares its fans' disappointment at not being able to experience the pinnacle of motorsport racing through the streets of Baku this June.

"To that end, we will continue to work closely with F1, the FIA and the government of the Azerbaijan Republic to monitor the situation with a view to announcing a new race date later in the 2020 season."

The season-opening Australian race was called off after McLaren had pulled out of the grand prix when a member of their crew tested positive for coronavirus.

World champion Lewis Hamilton has since self-isolated after he was at an event where he came into contact with actor Idris Elba and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the wife of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, both of whom have contracted the virus.

Hamilton said he has not developed any symptoms, though he was not tested due to the shortage of tests.

In the absence of the usual racing calendar, F1 launched the Virtual Grand Prix Series on Sunday.

Former One Direction singer Liam Payne represented Williams but finished comfortably last among the drivers to complete the Bahrain leg - won by Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou - of the Esports tournament.

Haas team principal Gunther Steiner is confident his outfit's owner remains committed to Formula One.

Gene Haas suggested ahead of the Australian Grand Prix that a poor start to the season would not be favourable as he assesses whether to stay in the sport beyond the 2020 season.

It came after a disappointing year last season saw Haas finish ninth in the constructors’ championship with just 28 points, having been as high as fifth in 2018.

But Steiner believes the comments may have been overblown, having spoken to Haas on raceweek in Melbourne, an event which was ultimately postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I spoke with him, he phoned me up seeing if everything was okay [in Australia]," Steiner told reporters.

"I think he's committed. He wants to see how we are doing, what is going on with the team. I had 50 minutes with him on the phone. I think he's still committed."

Steiner insists his team's mentality will not change, adding: "I approach every race as a make or break.

"Every race, you do your best, you cannot do more than the maximum. That's what we always do, wherever we go.

"I wasn't there when he said that, so I don't know what's make and break. I think it was taken a little bit out of context."

One Direction's Liam Payne finished comfortably last among the drivers to complete a Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix won by Guanyu Zhou.

Payne represented Williams in the first event of Formula One's Virtual Grand Prix Series, an Esports tournament filling the void in the absence of the usual race calendar amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the race's biggest name endured a painful F1 debut.

Payne posted a single plodding qualifying time and was soon facing the wrong way in the race after a series of early crashes had initially allowed him to climb the standings.

The former X-Factor star was steadily caught and came in 17th, only ahead of gamer Aamir Thacker and Formula 2's Robert Shwartzman, who each crashed out.

Payne was a lap behind cyclist Chris Hoy, in 16th, while Ian Poulter came in 15th as the celebrities struggled.

Technical difficulties dogged the event, with Lando Norris unable to compete in qualifying and then seeing much of his race simulated after a lengthy delay that appeared to amuse and frustrate his rivals in equal measure.

The issues meant there were just 14 chaotic laps, but Renault test driver Zhou – Poulter's one-off team-mate – ultimately dominated.

Meanwhile, ex-F1 ace Nico Hulkenberg could only recover to finish in the midfield after a tricky start put paid to his hopes of a belated first podium of his career.

Hulkenberg had acknowledged pre-race he had little chance of success, though, describing rivals as "a lot of geeks on there that are really, really good" as he waited on Norris.

The series is set to continue until the F1 season is able to start, although Payne will do well to get a second invite before racing resumes.

One Direction star Liam Payne is in the line-up for the first race in Formula One's Virtual Grand Prix Series on Sunday.

The F1 calendar has been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic, with the season - which should have started last week in Australia - not set to get under way until June at the earliest.

In its stead, the competition has launched an exhibition Esports tournament to be played out on Codemasters' F1 2019.

The first event is the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix and, alongside a number of F1 drivers, Payne will race for Williams.

The 26-year-old, who shot to fame on The X-Factor, will join F1 debutant Nicholas Latifi, last season's Formula 2 runner-up.

Payne is not the only celebrity entrant, with six-time Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy turning out for Red Bull.

Max Verstappen this week declined the opportunity to race for Red Bull as he did not feel he could be competitive.

"I never play that game," he told Ziggo TV. "It will take days to understand the game just a little bit better. And I don't want to get into it right now.

"Also [it is] because I'm very busy with the other racing games, so switching between all those games just doesn't work for me.

"And on top of that, I always race to win. I'm not going to drive around somewhere at the back. Then I'd rather not participate at all."

F1 assured "game settings will be configured in such a way to encourage competitive and entertaining racing", acknowledging a "wide variety of gaming skill levels". 

Golfer Ian Poulter will represent Renault, meanwhile, with each participant entering remotely from 2000 GMT.

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