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.

Seven Formula One teams have joined forces to oppose the FIA's decision to reach a private settlement with Ferrari over an investigation into their 2019 engine.

Last week, motorsport's governing body said an agreement was reached with the Scuderia over a long-running analysis into the outfit's power unit amid questions raised by the car's impressive straight-line speed.

Ferrari always denied any wrongdoing but a collection of rival teams released a joint statement to voice a "strong objection".

Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, Racing Point, Alpha Tauri and Williams co-signed the letter. Haas and Alfa Romeo – who both use Ferrari engines – did not sign.

The teams say they are exploring the next steps, which could involve legal action to ensure "full and proper disclosure" from the FIA. 

"We, the undersigned teams, were surprised and shocked by the FIA's statement of Friday 28 February regarding the conclusion of its investigation into the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit," the statement read.

"An international sporting regulator has the responsibility to act with the highest standards of governance, integrity and transparency.

"After months of investigations that were undertaken by the FIA only following queries raised by other teams, we strongly object to the FIA reaching a confidential settlement agreement with Ferrari to conclude this matter.

"Therefore, we hereby state publicly our shared commitment to pursue full and proper disclosure in this matter, to ensure that our sport treats all competitors fairly and equally. We do so on behalf of the fans, the participants and the stakeholders of Formula One.

"In addition, we reserve our rights to seek legal redress, within the FIA's due process and before the competent courts."

Robert Kubica says his difficult year back in Formula One was, on balance, worthwhile despite the lack of competitiveness from his Williams car.

After eight years away from the top level of motorsport having suffered a massive rallying crash in 2011 that left him with a partially severed arm, the Pole partnered George Russell in the 2019 season.

Kubica leaves F1 once more having recorded Williams' only point of the season, but was outqualified by Russell at all 21 races, with the two men largely battling amongst themselves at the back.

"I'm a person who is living for challenges, which is living for trying to achieve the targets and trying to achieve what your path is," Kubica, whose seat will be filled by Nicholas Latifi in 2020 said, per Autosport.

"If I arrive after many years being away from the sport to try to be back in F1, it means that this was my objective.

"I did want to try to see if I was able to drive and I am able to be back, although I have been away for a long time and I have limitations.

"If I have to answer if it was worth it, I say yes.

"I was kind of split, honestly, and I think by coming back to Formula One I closed a chapter, which was probably the most important one from my life, looking at the period I went through with the circumstances and consequences of the accident in 2011."

Kubica acknowledged Williams' struggles during the season meant he had lost out on an opportunity to enjoy the thrill of hard racing against rivals.

The 35-year-old added: "You live for achieving and, coming back to Formula One, you want to do good in races and want to deliver. 

"You want to be racing and this is something which I think I missed most this year."

Robert Kubica is hoping to balance a Formula One support role with a seat in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) after leaving Williams.

Kubica, who suffered a career-threatening injury in a crash in 2011, restarted his F1 career in 2019 by joining up with Williams, but announced his decision to leave the team after one season back in September.

The Pole has taken just one point this season and sits 19th, with only his Williams team-mate George Russell below him in the F1 standings.

Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mean a farewell to F1 in a racing capacity for Kubica – temporarily at least – though the 34-year-old has confirmed he is keen to stay in the competition, with talks underway with both Racing Point and Haas over a development role. 

However, a sponsorship arrangement with his backers PKN Orlen also has to be factored into negotiations.

"The decision from my side has been taken," Kubica said of his future. "I don't want to go too much into the details now. It's a bit more complicated stuff and we have to make sure we make it work from different perspectives and different points.

"I'm pretty optimistic and, although not everything depends from my side and it has been more complicated because I would like to combine different programmes, it requires a bit more work and [further] compromises.

"My racing programme is 100 per cent up to me. My F1 role, of course there is a second part, which is Orlen. They would like to stay in Formula 1 and we want to see if we can match everything together as it would be beneficial for everyone. 

"I'm looking for a big challenge, and definitely DTM, which is the [series which has the] highest probability that I will be racing in, it's probably the toughest championship apart from Formula One in Europe.

"Let's put it this way, if I manage to race there, I would be happy with it. If we manage to combine a few things to make everybody happy, I'm open to this."

Kubica's Williams seat will be taken by current Formula Two driver Nicholas Latifi, who has been promoted from the team's reserve.

The Formula One grid for next season is complete after Williams confirmed their reserve driver Nicholas Latifi will replace Robert Kubica.

Latifi is to step up from Formula Two to make his F1 debut in 2020 after Kubica decided to vacate his seat following the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend. 

Canadian Latifi, who has also been a test driver for Renault and Force India, is second in the F2 championship with one round to go.

The 24-year-old had been expected to partner George Russell next year and his promotion was announced by the British team on Friday.

"I am thrilled to be stepping up as Race Driver for 2020,” said Latifi.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the team this year, supporting them with the development of the car, and assisting wherever I can trackside and at the factory.

"I look forward to the journey ahead with the team, and I am excited to make my Formula One debut at the Australian Grand Prix in 2020."

Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams said: "I am delighted to announce that Nicholas will be stepping up to the role of race driver to partner George in 2020.

"All of us at Williams have been immensely impressed at what he has achieved this year in FIA Formula Two, along with his commitment to the team, and the work that he has put in behind the scenes.

"Nicholas has become an established and well-respected member of Williams, and we look forward to him stepping up into this new role, as we look to fight our way back to the midfield."

 

Robert Kubica's time at Williams is set to come to an end, but his incredible story will no doubt continue beyond the Formula One season.

Polish driver Kubica this year returned to the sport for the first time since 2010, a promising career that was set to move to new heights at Ferrari in 2012 having been derailed by a horrific crash at the Ronde di Andora rally that resulted in life-altering injuries.

Ahead of the 2011 season, Kubica's Skoda Fabia slammed into a crash barrier and he suffered fractures to his arm and leg. After hours were spent extricating him from the wreckage as he slipped in and out of consciousness, he was flown to hospital for an operation to save the full functionality of his right hand.

"Usually crashes happen very often, it's not something strange that you crash in rally," his co-driver that fateful day Jakub Gerber told Omnisport. "Even the biggest stars, even [Lewis] Hamilton and [Sebastian] Vettel had some problems in Singapore.

"It was quite cold but the road was a little bit damp, so the tyre choice was tricky.

"The car slid and we thought everything would be alright, but you know the outcome. If there was nobody or there was a tree or a ditch or something else, you would walk out the car laughing that we had an accident, because we never had one before in 13 or 14 rallies together.

"We had some small off-roads or we hit the curb or something like this. If there was no barrier, we would've had a big laugh. But because of the barrier, the world knows the story."

Kubica announced his decision to leave Williams at a news conference to preview this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix, but his fairy-tale return has proved anything but that. The 34-year-old has spent much of the season at the back of the grid driving for a team that were unable to get their car ready in time for testing at the start of the campaign.

However, the performances he has been restricted to putting in do nothing to take away from a return that Romain Grosjean, who had been hoping to team up with Kubica at Lotus prior to the incident, justifiably described as "inspirational".

"His recovery was quite tricky for him. There were days where we were exchanging like 100 messages, but there were days or weeks or months where there was no contact," said Gerber, who first raced with Kubica at the 2004 Rally Barborka – a Polish event that finishes with a night stage in the centre of Warsaw.

"We must understand that mentally it was quite tough for him to recover. It wasn't only the problem to physically recover, because he knew he had problems with the arm and he broke his leg a few months after leaving the hospital, so it was tricky for him to recover not only physically but mentally."

The serious injuries Kubica sustained were not going to stop him returning to motorsport, though.

A road accident while a passenger in 2003 left him with screws in his right arm and delayed him from making his Formula Three debut that year. After sitting out the first three events of the campaign, he won his first race back.

That strength of character, that need to race, was again on display when he and Gerber reunited in a rally car for the first time since that day in Italy.

"I'm sure he was thinking about motorsport all the time. I was with him in his first attempt to come back to a rally car because we did it together … we met on some stage in France and tested a Subaru WRC," said Gerber.

"He was a completely different guy and except the hand you couldn't say he had some problems. He has a strong mentally for sure and you couldn't notice he'd had some problems.

"He said it's the biggest and best rehabilitation for him to drive all the time and not stay at home. As soon as he was able to do it, he did it."

Despite reaching his goal of returning to F1, Kubica admitted he has lost the "joy in racing" at Williams.

Kubica still expects to be competing in 2020, and Gerber has no doubt he will prove invaluable to any team that signs him up.

"He won once in Canada. He was always one of the fastest drivers, and now he's slowest. We can imagine how he feels about this," said Gerber.

"I think it's a good call he quit Williams. Maybe he will go to DTM or, I don't know, to Le Mans. Anything will be better for him than driving in last position the whole season in F1, which they promised him they were going to do something about and they didn't.

"He has a lot of experience, he knows how the car works. He's a very good driver and very helpful to the team from the technical point. He will be very helpful for any team he gets after this."

Robert Kubica is one of the most talented drivers Lewis Hamilton has competed against and the reigning Formula One champion hopes to still see him on the grid next season.

Veteran driver Kubica on Thursday announced his decision to leave Williams at the end of the year, revealing his exit at a news conference ahead of this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix.

The 34-year-old Pole returned to F1 racing this season for the first time since 2010, having sustained life-altering injuries, most notably to his right arm, in a rally crash in February 2011.

Hamilton was in awe of Kubica's determination to make a comeback and believes he has the ability to warrant a seat at another team, despite picking up just one point in a dismal campaign for Williams.

"We started racing in go karts together in 1997, I think. For me, Robert is one of the most talented drivers I've competed against. I already saw the talent that he had and it's been a long time and it's still there," said Hamilton.

"I think what's really remarkable is the strength and determination he's shown, particularly through the incident he had. Not a lot of people can come from those circumstances and come back and make it back into the sport and deliver against others who don't have the same situation he's been in.

"It's been great to have him back. It's definitely not the same scenario as when he was in a more competitive team back in the day, but I think he's done great this year.

"We need the best talent in the sport and we obviously need them to be as high up as possible, creating part of the show, so I hope he stays.

"I understand his position and I don't know what's given him the reason to make the decision, but I hope there's a position for him next year."

Romain Grosjean, who on Thursday was confirmed to again be racing with Haas next season, rued not being able to team up with Kubica earlier in his career.

"I think he's an inspiration for anyone that had a bad experience," said Grosjean.

"The first time I spoke to him was in 2009 and we were supposed to be team-mates [at Renault] in 2010 and I was looking forward to it but it didn't happen, then I followed him as the third driver in Lotus when he had his accident.

"The way he came back, in motorsport there is other examples but also in life generally, to come back to the highest level and to have fought the way he fought back is very impressive."

Kubica intends to explore his options for 2020 and said he "will be very surprised" if he does not continue racing.

Robert Kubica will leave Williams at the end of the Formula One season.

Polish driver Kubica this year featured in F1 for the first time since 2010, his career having been interrupted by life-altering injuries he sustained in a rally crash.

The 34-year-old has endured a dismal campaign with Williams, who failed to get their car ready for the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

However, Kubica scored the team's only point via a 10th-place finish at the German Grand Prix.

"I have taken the decision I will not continue with Williams after the end of the year," Kubica told a news conference ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.

"It's a decision I took and this opens a bit opportunities for me in the future in different situations and now I will evaluate what is possible."

Team principal Claire Williams added in a statement: "I would like to thank Robert for his hard work and respect his decision to leave the team at the end of the 2019 season.

"Robert has been an important member of the team in both his role as reserve and development driver, and subsequently as one of our race drivers in 2019.

"We thank him for his continued efforts throughout what has been a challenging couple of seasons and wish him well in his future endeavours."

Kubica will evaluate all the opportunities available to him before making a decision on his future, but he hopes to remain in F1.

"I always said that it took a lot of energy, a lot of time for me to recover and come back to the sport. Since I came back to Formula One I would like to stay, I said this year it was a goal to remain in Formula One," he said.

"I think I have to bring back a bit of joy of racing for myself. This season has been very tough from a performance point of view but it has also been very demanding - being back in Formula One after a long time is not easy, especially in a difficult situation like we are.

"Still, I thank the team for the opportunity and I will see what the future will bring."

George Russell has suggested a move from Williams to Formula One champions Mercedes is unlikely to happen ahead of the 2020 season.

Russell, who is a Mercedes junior, won Formula Two in 2018, though is yet to get on the board in his debut F1 campaign.

Mercedes currently occupy the top two places in the driver standings, but they are yet to decide on who will partner Lewis Hamilton next season.

Valtteri Bottas has impressed this season, with team boss Toto Wolff having stated prior to the German Grand Prix that Mercedes were holding off on a decision over the Finnish driver and Esteban Ocon in regards to their second seat for 2020.

However, reports that emerged in the build up to the Hungarian Grand Prix claimed Russell was also being considered for a place on the team.

But the 21-year-old is not getting carried away, insisting he is happy to remain with Williams at least for the time being.

"Personally I'd say very, very unlikely, but everything is always possible. This sport changes by the day," Russell told reporters when asked about the rumours.

"I think any driver would love the opportunity to drive in the championship-winning car. That would be absolutely stupid to go against that.

"I am fully focused on the job, and I will leave the political stuff to Mercedes and Williams to discuss. I'm just focused on my job here at Williams. But if I want to be in a championship-winning car, all I need to focus on is doing the job at hand.

"The fact is I'm contracted to Williams, and the fact is that I'm a Mercedes junior driver. I don't really get into the contractual nitty-gritty things.

"From my side, I'm learning so much here at Williams. I am still thoroughly enjoying being an F1 driver and the development process. But the fact is every driver wants to win races and wants the opportunity to win championships."

Should Russell move to Mercedes, he would have five-time champion Hamilton to compete with.

"I obviously really and truly believe in myself," Russell said. "If I ever were to get that opportunity, it would be stupid to think I could go in there and beat Lewis at the first race. 

"I feel like the potential is there. You always learn with every single race, every single year with the experience.

"If the opportunity were to come, I’d feel absolutely confident I could take it with both hands, and quickly learn as much as possible, and be there ready to really deliver after a couple of races."

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