After a hectic finish at Bahrain in the very first race of the season that ended with very familiar faces striking the top spots, you would be forgiven for calling it a formality.
However, as the Premier Sim Gaming Leagues F1 2021 championship headed for southern France for the second round of the PC World Championship, it was everything but a formality.
Qualifying got off to a hot start with two-time pre-season PSGL Esports Invitational winner and pole-sitter Lucas Blakeley, who would take the top spot once again for Aston Martin.
He would be joined on the front row of the grid by Danish Red Bull Racing Esports driver Frede Rasmussen, who was looking for redemption after a tricky outing at Sakhir. Last season’s PSGL French Grand Prix winner and reigning PSGL Champion Jarno Opmeer took third on the grid, sitting alongside Fabrizio Donoso on the second row for Mercedes.
As the drivers prepared for the start of the race, it was crucial that Rasmussen got off the line quickly. Every driver in the top 10 started on the medium tyres apart from Red Bull’s Rasmussen and Alfa Romeo’s Filip Presjnader, who both started on the soft tyres.
Immediately, as the lights went out Rasmussen did exactly that. He flew around the outside of Blakeley out of the first corner to execute a critical strategy that would require effective use of the softer compound but at the same time, he would need to nurture them to make the soft-to-medium strategy work.
Initially, he controlled the lead. However, he could not break the DRS zone to the cars behind. On the fifth lap, Lucas Blakeley in the Aston Martin picked his spot heading into the chicane midway down the Mistral Straight to take up the top spot.
It was at this point, as highly speculated, that it seemed that the medium-to-soft strategy was confirmed as the optimal setup. The initial stint certainly seemed to favour those on the medium rubber.
Rasmussen picked his moment to pit on lap 10 after heavy pressure from Jarno Opmeer. Opmeer would take second in the process and then focus his efforts on chasing down Lucas Blakeley, who remained in the race lead.
Opmeer would have his consistency rewarded on lap 12, with a comfortable move on Blakeley heading into the chicane midway through the Mistral Straight. As the pit window phase moved closer to those on the initial medium stint, it seemed on the cards that Opmeer had planned to be the first to pit, hence his move on Blakeley. It was Blakeley though, who had other ideas.
On the 17th lap, Blakeley performed a simply dazzling move down the inside of Opmeer at Turn 11 and would box the same lap, looking for that pit bay advantage.
Opmeer would then pit the following lap, with Moreno pitting the previous lap. In a stroke of genius though, Rasmussen would then take the lead of the race with a massive undercut on lap 19, with young Jake Benham, driving the Haas pitting a lap before Opmeer moving into second.
Upon exiting the pits, not only would he lose out to his teammate, but Opmeer would get stuck behind AlphaTauri driver Joni Törmälä in 11th and would face a mighty challenge of climbing the classification.
This placed immense pressure on both Mercedes to catch up and fight their way through a stacked field. The benefit of the soft tyres would prove useful in this endeavour with them making consecutive overtakes through the field.
Lucas Blakeley who pitted one lap prior to Dani Moreno would face heavy pressure from the Spaniard and eventually would succumb second on lap 23.
Jarno Opmeer would eventually catch the pair, again revisiting a similar scenario that we saw the week previous in Bahrain.
It became apparent during this period that the gap separating Rasmussen from the drivers behind had become too difficult to draw closer. Due to the amount of tyre wear that Moreno, Blakeley and Opmeer had sustained while fighting through the field, it meant that they didn’t have enough left to catch the Red Bull.
It all came down to the final lap where Opmeer, who currently holds a 100 per cent podium record in PSGL, knew that he had to raise the intensity in the battle with Blakeley for the podium successes to continue.
With Blakeley sandwiched between Moreno in second and Opmeer in fourth, Blakeley saw a gap heading into the chicane on the Mistral Straight and sent it down the inside only to graze the curb on the entry, causing the Aston Martin to spin.
That meant Opmeer would move into third and ensuring a dog fight between him and his Mercedes teammate Dani Moreno. A clever switchback manoeuvre from Opmeer out of Turn 14 into the final corner at Turn 15 gave him the momentum to take a mighty second position result, Moreno in third.
However, all eyes would be on what seems to be re-vitalised reigning Formula E: Accelerate champion Frede Rasmussen who outwitted an entire opposing grid of 19 fellow F1 Esports top-level professionals, with an intelligent strategy that would give the Dane his first-ever win in PSGL.