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Virtual GP: Charles Leclerc on sim racing, gaming, & taking on Vettel

With the sporting world on lockdown just like the rest of us, there has been a huge gap in the weekly rituals of millions. Filling that space for F1 fans has been the Virtual Grand Prix Series.

In partnership with Gfinity, Formula 1 has bought racing action to fans and seen a huge investment of time and energy from its young generation of drivers to help push sim racing to the fore.

The winner of the last two VirtualGP races, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc recently gave an interview in which he explains just what makes sim racing and the Virtual Grands Prix Series so crucial in the current climate.

Staying connected through virtual racing

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LIGHTS OUT AND AWAY WE GO: The Virtual GPs have been action-packed

While names like Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, and Kimi Raikkonen still loom large over the sport of Formula 1, a fresh generation of incredibly talented drivers is pushing F1 in a new direction. Charles Leclerc is at the front of that pack.

Along with Red Bull's Alex Albon, McLaren's Lando Norris, and Williams' George Russell, F1 has a fresh face that understands just how crucial gaming can be, and how tough sim racing is.

"I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, especially with Lando, George, Nicholas, Alex, having us on the same chat channel during racing, being able to discuss, it’s great," he says.

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"We’re laughing quite a lot. We are just having fun doing this altogether. It is great to be all together in these times"

Having grown up in racing with these people, the Virtual Grand Prix Series has been more than a way of practicing and staying sharp. It has kept Leclerc connected to his friends during lockdown.

"With George and Alex since we arrived in F1, we’re so busy, we lose a bit the time to speak to each other. The time like this, we found it again." This will be a familiar story to millions around the world in lockdown who have been using games to socialse.

The closest you can get to real racing

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GO GET 'IM: George Russell & F2's Louis Deletraz go wheel-to-wheel

While many racing fans are waiting for the return of F1, the regularity of F1 drivers streaming their virtual races, along with the continued growth of the F1 esports scene, is turning a lot of heads.

When it comes to training at home, there is nothing better than the VirtualGP.

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"There’s a lot of fun, but then there are some races where we take it quite seriously," says Leclerc.

"The official [virtual] F1 races are quite serious – and we all want to win." He adds: "This is good way to stay sharp and practice with pressure. Even on a virtual game like this, I have pressure. When Alex was second and very close to me [in the fight for the lead in China], I absolutely wanted to finish first."

Renewed battle with Vettel?

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POLE MAN: Two races, two poles, two wins for Leclerc in the Virtual GPs

It looks like the older generation of F1 stars could start to get involved though. While Kimi Raikkonen remains as enigmatic as ever, Sebastian Vettel recently took delivery of a sim rig.

Whether the four-time World Drivers' Champion will be joining the VirtualGP line-up soon is unknown, but he is likely to start jumping into some races with Leclerc.

"I’m not racing against Seb yet," says Leclerc, "but I will definitely send him a text very soon, when he has finished his installation, to try and race a bit with him which will be fun."

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For more articles like this, take a look at our F1 and Motorsport page.