The opening round of PSGL’s 31st season produced a dramatic finish as Bari Boroumand took victory on the final lap at Bahrain.
The Iranian has taken three wins in the four opening races since the inaugural PSGL season, with the S29 opening race winner and four-time champion Jarno Opmeer, only managing ninth.
PSGL Round 1: Qualifying
There were several shocks in Q1 as the PC Challengers champion Tomek Poradzisz, multiple F1 Esports race-winner Marcel Kiefer and the reigning champion Opmeer joined Jake Benham and Louis Welch in the Q1 drop zone.
Into Q2 and there were no big shocks as the leading contenders all successfully navigated into the final part of qualifying. Rasmussen squeezed through in tenth with the returning Nicolas Longuet moving to the top for the first time.
Heading into the final runs in Q3, Rasmussen set the benchmark, becoming the first driver to break into the 1:26s followed by the two McLarens of Boroumand and Blakeley.
Brendon Leigh split the McLarens on his final run before Boroumand went to the top of the times by just under a tenth of a second.
The Scottish duo were up next with Blakeley moving onto provisional pole with a 1:26.846 and Hughes moving ahead of Leigh onto the second row in fourth.
Longuet initially moved onto the third row behind the two-time F1 Esports champion, but his former Alpine teammate Fabrizio Donoso slotted ahead of his new teammate into fifth.
Matthijs Van Erven jumped ahead of Dani Moreno and Thomas Ronhaar split the two Ferrari’s in sixth.
With positions constantly changing, it was a McLaren front-row lockout with Blakeley ahead of Boroumand with Rasmussen, who failed to improve in third.
Two-time PSGL PS champion impressed in fourth with Donoso and Ronhaar behind the McLaren Shadow academy driver.
Leigh and Longuet qualified on the fourth row with Van Erven and Moreno completing the top 10 in what was a disappointing qualifying for the Silver Arrows.
PSGL Round 1: Race
With the Q3 tyre rule scrapped, every driver opted to start on the medium tyres other than the Veloce trio of Longuet, Poradzisz, and Dani Bereznay – who started on the red-walled soft tyres.
It was an even start at the front, but Rasmussen managed to get alongside Boroumand after getting in the slipstream of Blakeley. The Dane went around the outside at Turn 1 and managed to get the place after the Esports Invitational winner half spun and dropped to third.
It was a relatively clean start, apart from those towards the back end of the top 10. Moreno was squeezed between Longuet and Josh Idowu before the apex of Turn 2, sending himself and the Frenchman towards the rear of the field. Idowu managed to escape and was up two places from 11th.
Bereznay made use of his fresh soft tyres and gained four places in the first couple of laps, including a lunge on Van Erven on lap two. The Hungarian could not make any further progress from eighth and pitted on lap eight for the mediums.
Opmeer and Benham were struggling to make progress languishing down in 16th and 17th, with overtaking and battery usage more difficult on this game compared to its predecessors.
There were limited passes throughout the field, and often when the car ahead fell out of the DRS range: the reigning F1 Esports champion eventually passed the Aston Martin duo of John Evans and Thijmen Schutte.
The race began to spice up at the midway point with tension at Ferrari. Leigh sent it on his former 2017 title rival Donoso at the penultimate corner, forcing the Chilean off the road.
Donoso re-joined ahead, but Leigh got into the slipstream, making a clinical move down the inside of Turn 1 and progressed into the top five. Or so he thought.
The Chilean was back challenging into the same corner on the next lap, but Leigh saw it early and covered the inside. Unfortunately, the two-time champion did not see the braking zone and tapped the helpless Hughes into a spin, dropping the Scotsman to eighth place.
The inter-team Ferrari battle continued to dominate the viewers’ attention as Donoso made a super late lunge into Turn 1 on the next lap. It forced his teammate off the track, dropping him down the order ahead of Hughes – the Ferrari driver letting the Scotsman through after their incident the lap before.
The incidents created a gap between Rasmussen and the two McLarens from the rest of the pack as the pit stops started to occur.
Kiefer and Joni Tormula, who were lower down, started the chain reaction and pitted Lap 19, with the leader Rasmussen, Boroumand, Ronhaar, Van Erven, Donoso and Idowu following them into the pits on the next lap.
Crucially for the leading pair, they came out ahead of the two Alfa Romeos, who were still a factor in the race for good points.
Blakeley and Hughes opted for the overcut as the leaders struggled for tyre temperature, initially working for the Scot in the McLaren. Blakeley regained the lead but fell to third before Turn 4 as Rasmussen and Boroumand had considerably more temperature in their soft tyres.
With the two Alfa’s causing a train, the two Mercedes went long on their first stints hoping for a Safety Car. Longuet was picking up the DRS from his teammate, but he was under pressure from Ronhaar and Tormula in the first sector.
After withstanding pressure from the Dutchman on lap 24, Longuet was under pressure from Ronhaar once again into Turn 1 two laps later but was unfortunately tapped around by his Veloce teammate and out of the points places.
Despite further battles, all eyes were on the top three heading onto the final lap. Boroumand went for the car-sized gap left by Rasmussen at the first corner, and the McLaren driver took it, executing a stunning move to take the race lead.
The Dane tried to fight back but could not get close enough to overtake, and the Iranian took victory under the lights in Bahrain. Blakeley could not get close enough to challenge the front two but claimed 10 points in third.
Donoso fought back to take fourth ahead of Bereznay, with Leigh and Ronhaar provisionally finishing sixth and seventh but dropped down the order and out of the points after causing incidents with Hughes and Longuet, meaning Kiefer finished sixth on his PSGL debut.
Van Erven moved into seventh, followed by Benham, Opmeer, who started his PSGL title defence with two points, and Joni Tormula scoring a solitary point in tenth.
Make sure to tune into the second race of Season 31 at the Circuit of the Americas on Wednesday 13th July at 7pm BST on the PSGL YouTube Channel.