The young Scot, Blakeley, took a second victory in a row for McLaren Shadow racing at Imola, in a tense battle with two Red Bull Racing drivers.
Lucas Blakeley’s 2022 F1 Esports Pro Championship campaign has started as well as it really could have.
Sakhir International Circuit, the home of his first-ever victory, was the site of another as pole position was converted into an exhausting win during the first round. A slow burner, the race hit fever pitch halfway through its new 50 per cent grand prix distance and reminded any doubters that the change in rules and regulations could be a positive one.
The second day of the first event brought the field to the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari – better known as Imola. It was here where Blakeley arguably lost the 2021 title as a messy race unfurled his hopes and dreams.
Now placed near the beginning of the calendar, the Scot was looking for redemption from the Emilia Romagna Esports Grand Prix.
Thomas Ronhaar made a splash in Bahrain with a blistering qualifying performance undone by a brutal battle with Frederick Rasmussen.
His one-lap pace was on full show once more as a sensational maiden pole position was his by just three-hundredths of a second. Marcel Kiefer was the man joining him on the front row; the German enduring a challenging opening round and looking to bounce back.
Third position would belong to Blakeley whilst Matthijs van Erven set up, potentially, one of Haas’ best results ever starting from fourth. Jarno Opmeer was a disappointing10th; his 2021 Achilles heel rearing its unwelcome head for the first time this season.
Rasmussen began the round one place ahead of his title rival from last year.
His launch in the season opener had lacked conviction and for the second time in two races, Ronhaar found himself losing a position into the first corner.
Kiefer swept around the outside of Tamburello whilst Nicolas Longuet, enjoying a much more competitive evening thus far, dispatched the other Haas.
By far the biggest news of the first lap was contact between the two most successful F1 Esports drivers of all time. Brendon Leigh clipped the back of Jarno Opmeer through Villeneuve, seriously jeopardising the Dutchman’s potential points haul. All music to the ears of Blakeley who further punished Ronhaar’s nervy demeanour.
The Scotsman bided his time for a few laps before unleashing some battery, combined with DRS assistance, to pass Kiefer and take the lead. Rasmussen, up to seventh by this stage, was the first front-runner to call a pitstop; taking new tyres onto Lap 14.
Kiefer, Dani Moreno and van Erven were next in to test the predicted powerful undercut.
Red Bull’s German was the only on the trio to remain ahead of the Dane on pitlane exit. More joy was to come the pair’s way as, upon realising how much time was to be gained, the remaining leaders dived in. Blakeley was fortunate to retain first place whilst Ronhaar and Longuet found themselves behind Moreno.
A major issue for Longuet forced the Frenchman into another pitstop, compounding the misery for his first two races with Alfa Romeo.
Opmeer, meanwhile, was the last to pit and cruising through any opposition that stood in his way. By the final lap, he lay on the periphery of the points but would score thanks to a penalty for Simon Weigang in ninth.
As the Dutchman desperately clutched for more damage limitation, Ronhaar displayed great character to move back past Moreno for fourth
No more character was shown than through Lucas Blakeley however. He had held off both Red Bulls to take a second consecutive victory and revelled in his fantastic start to 2022.
- Lucas Blakeley – McLaren Shadow – 42:00.537
- Marcel Kiefer – Oracle Red Bull Racing F1 Esports – +0.469
- Frederik Rasmussen – Oracle Red Bull Racing F1 Esports – +1.132
- Thomas Ronhaar – Haas F1 Team Esports – +3.216
- Daniel Moreno – Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Esports – +4.027
- Matthijs van Erven – Haas F1 Team Esports – +4.453
- Bardia Boroumandgohar – McLaren Shadow – +4.804
- David Tonizza – Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports – +10.127
- Alvaro Carreton – Williams Esports – +11.702
- Jarno Opmeer – Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Esports – +11.829