Premier Sim Gaming Leagues has been the home of the F1 esports elite for several seasons now, and a milestone in PSGLs history was marked with the commencement of Season 30. The pre-season invitational race at China was a thrilling appetiser for the season to come, with a lights-to-flag victory for McLaren Shadows Bari Boroumand from Iran. With expectations set ever higher than before, the 15 race season began at Portimao in Portugal, the circuit added to the Formula 1 calendar in 2020 following the 1st covid lockdown.
As is customary for the top tier of F1 leagues at PSGL, the 3 phase qualifying is used as opposed to a single quick qualifying format. The early pace was set by Aston Martins Shanaka Clay, but with the session seeing mixed conditions initially, this pace was easily beaten as the track dried out and the softer tyres came into play. The 4.6km circuit continued to prove tricky for everyone, particularly when the margin from the top time to 16th was only 0.300 of a second, making any minor error far more costly, but these being the very best drivers currently in the F1 esports world, these margins are almost to be expected. Rounding off Q1 in the top spot was McLaren Shadows Dani Bereznay from Hungary (racing in Ferrari colours as fellow Mclaren drivers Boroumand and Josh Idowu had already taken the papaya colours) with 1:15.666, Chinas Invitational winner Boroumand in 7th separated by less than 0.100 from Bereznay. The bottom 5 are eliminated from qualifying, and that consisted of Aston Martins Daniele Haddad, Alpha Tauris Dario Iemmulo, Matthijs van Erven of Haas, Dylan Warren in Alpines colours, and Ruben Pedreno in the Red Bull.
Bereznay was first to break cover in Q2, but even the pacesetter from Q1 was not immune to mistakes, and invalidated his first flying lap, as several drivers did behind the Hungarian. It was Clay again setting the early pace, leaving much less on the table than at the beginning of Q1, starting off with a 1:15.820, less than 0.200 behind Bereznays Q1 pace. Jake Benham in the Alfa Romeo opted to run the Medium tyres by the halfway stage of Q2 and set an impressive 1:16.118, considering that there is usually at least half a second difference between the tyre compounds. Most drivers kept their cards close to their chest for the first half of the session, but Bereznay again reclaimed the top spot with 1:15.672. Clay was not content with being outdone by the singing Hungarian by setting 1:15.651. A new name to the PC side of PSGL is Thomas Ronhaar, and in the final 4 minutes of Q2, he set the new pace of 1:15.598 in the Haas. As the flag was close to being readied to close the session, Benham went for a flying lap on the softs, still not having bettered his earlier lap on the mediums, but an early off saw his lap invalidated.
F1 esports veteran and Alpha Tauris Joni Tormalla had yet to post a time, and in the penultimate corner of his final lap, the tail tried to get away from him, but in recovering his car, he lost too much time so he returned to the pits and accepted Q2 elimination. Double F1 esports champion Brendon Leigh, the first-ever champion of F1 esports, now representing the prancing horse of Ferrari, left his flying lap to the very last opportunity. The top spot even changed hands whilst the Brit was completing his lap, Germanys Simon Weigang of Alfa Romeo taking that spot with 1:15.572. Whilst Leigh didn’t quite take the top spot, it was enough to see him through to Q3 with 1:15.650. A late flurry of laps ensued as the scramble to avoid Q2 elimination drew near, Williams esports’ Alvaro Carreton moving from 11th to 2nd with a time just 0.002 behind Weigang. Fellow Williams driver Alessio Di Capua moved from 10th to 6th, Benham claimed 7th pushing Alfa Romeos Thijman Schutte into the drop zone which he couldn’t recover from in time. Double PSGL champion Jarno Opmeer of Mercedes was knocked out of Q2 at the last minute by teammate Louis Welch, but Welch was also relegated to the bottom 5 by the final timed lap claiming the top spot, which belonged to Boroumand of 1:15.537, sealing the fate for Welch, Opmeer, Schutte, McLaren Shadows Josh Idowu and Tormala.
10 minutes of a final qualifying showdown awaited an eager audience. 1st on the board was Di Capua with 1:15.800, but all 10 remaining cars were all out to set the standard and again, it was Boroumand set a stunning pole time of 1:15.367, which was 0.200 faster than anything that had been seen leading up to that point, easily the biggest gap between times in all of the qualifying sessions. As the drivers recovered from the huge body blow set by the McLaren star, they all returned to the pits for 1 final tyre change, to gather their final thoughts for their final run. With less than 2 minutes to go, Weigang started his final flying lap, and yet again, turn 1 claimed another invalidated time, putting pressure on the German to get around on his light fuel load and remaining tyre life in the time remaining to redo his flying lap. As the flag fell, all 10 drivers had managed to start a flying lap, eyes still on the Iranians provisional pole time, and the changing hands of positions was frantic, but top honours remained in the hands of McLaren Shadow, with Boroumand improving on his previous time to 1:15.293, Clay joining him on the front row.
The weather gods had smiled upon the virtual Portimao for the opening race of Season 30 at PSGL, with clear blue skies raising the temperature to match the anticipation for the race ahead. With the top 10 of course locked into their soft tyre choice, most of the rest of the field opted for the medium tyre, but interestingly it was the dutch pair of Opmeer and van Erven breaking the mould, with Opmeer choosing the hard compound tyre, and van Erven going for the softs. With the completion of the formation lap, nerves and revs rise as the lights proceed through their customary sequence to start the race. The mighty Boroumand was not to be outdone into turn 1, maintaining the lead from Clay. Ronhaar was eager to prove his worth alongside the esports greats around him and hustled Carreton for 3rd, the Haas driver relieving the Williams of the spot by turn 6. Opmeer had moved up to 9th from starting 12th on the hard tyres, van Erven up to 12th from 18th whilst the entire field continued to scrap and argue for their claim to the tarmac. Weigang was the lap 1 victim this time, picking up some front wing damage in the melee, Leigh Bereznay may well have had the same colour car for this race but teammates they certainly are not, as Leigh went for an outside move on Bereznay at the Portimao turn, but to no avail as the former esports teammate of the former double champion would not yield and maintained 6th.
The end of lap 1 saw Weigang and Liam Parnell into the pits, changing front wings and tyres, both opting for hard tyres. McLarens Idowu had also fallen about 4 seconds behind the field, and whilst Borourmand had begun to build his lead up front, Bereznay had Benham in his sights, and the Hungarian committed to a bold move on the outside of Torre Vip, and using every available pixel of track space, managed to muscle his way past and into 5th. Action and battles were everywhere, the DRS train containing everyone down to Iemmulo in 14th. Warren had a spin that dropped him to 17th, Idowus day got no better, falling behind the early pitters of Parnell and Weigang. The lap count was quick to rise, and on lap 5, Leigh made a dive on the inside of Torre Vip for 6th, but in doing so, he came perilously close to losing the all crucial DRS from Bereznay. Boroumands progress had seemingly stalled, unable to break away by more than half a second from Clay, but Idowu opted to retire the car, has continued to fall behind Weigang at the back of the pack. Start of lap 6, the initial melee is sorted and the pecking order was formed, Leigh set the fastest lap in order to remain in DRS range of Bereznay, Opmeer had been relegated back to 11th but was still very much in the hunt on his alternate strategy.
An early mistake from Haddad dropped him out of DRS in 15th place, and with Pedreno for company, it was going to be a big task for the Aston Martin to close the gap. Clay still kept his eye on the lead, but at the start of lap 7, newcomer Ronhaar came alive, taking the fastest lap and putting the pressure on Clay for 2nd, but no change in the top order as yet. Lead medium runner Welch was also doing well in 8th, Clay had a go for the lead on the inside of Pimeira, but Boroumand was not phased and kept hold of the lead. Next to retire was Warren from 17th, he was 1st to pick up a 3-second track limits penalty, but he chose to park in the pit lane and end his race early. The penalty board added another name soon after Warren, that being Di Capua on lap 8 as he continued to try to find a way past the medium shod Welch in 8th.
As the thoughts towards pit-stops started to creep in for the soft starters, disaster struck for van Erven, making a mistake on the exit of Primeira and thus making a date with the outside wall, causing the Haas to retire from 10th place. With the lap counter hitting double digits, the field is still all poised waiting for the right time to make a move on their respective pray. The only midfield gap is between Di Capua and Opmeer for 9th, which is where the medium runners (bar Opmeer on his hard tyres) are lingering. Leigh chose lap 11 to go for the inside at Primeira of Bereznay, the Brit reclaiming 5th position.
The 1st driver going for the pitlane was Carreton, the only man at the end of lap 11 to pit. Medium tyres on the Williams and he is sent on his way, returning in 15th position and clean air fore and aft. A lap later, 3 of the top 4 followed Carretons example, those being Boroumand, Clay and Leigh. Leigh chose to go for the hard tyres, the rest going for mediums. Carretons early pit saw him in between Boroumand and Clay, the undercut working very well to the favour of the Williams. Ronhaar and Bereznay came in at the end of lap 12 for their stops, leaving the only soft starters not to pit being Benham and Di Capua. Welch is still the leading medium starter, now in 2nd with the soft tyres still to use, and Opmeer in 4th but nearly 3 seconds down the round from Di Capua. Ronhaar rejoined the race behind Clay, Bereznay behind Leigh, but the Ferrari sensed an opportunity on the outside of Premeira, however, the youngster managed to fend off the advances of the Ferrari.
Benham came in at the end of lap14, dropping him behind Bereznay and handing the lead over to Welch. Di Capua managed to stretch his stint on the soft tyres another lap but was losing a considerable amount of time in the process, rejoining with medium tyres behind Benham. Leigh lost out to Bereznay for 12th in the course of lap 15, the harder tyres not yet doing the Brit any favours. The fresh tyres now beginning to come good for Borourmand and his pursuers, fastest lap swapping hands lap after lap, and the gap between Boroumand and Pudreno for 7th place at lap 17 disappearing at a vast rate of knots. Pudreno didn’t fancy being involved in a battle with Boroumand and pitted at the end of lap 17, returning 9 seconds behind Leigh in 15th place with nice new soft tyres, Shutte following suit a lap later. Louis “The Pad Man” Welch continued to lead the way in the Mercedes, choosing to pit at the end of lap 19 with Tormalaa, returning in 11th and 14th respectively, and the remaining medium starters of Iemullo and Haddad came in at the end of lap 20. Boroumand was finally overtaken for 2nd by Carreton, Opmeer had lasted until the end of lap 21 on the hard tyres, reappearing in 12th on soft tyres.
The pit stops now concluded, Carreton now lead the way, with Boroumand, Clay, Ronhaar, Bereznay and the hard shod Leigh in hot pursuit. Still, half an eye was being kept on Welch, in 8th place again but this time on soft tyres and 2.4 seconds to find before he joins the lead train. Despite the strategy being a usual one and not yet yielding an advantage, Opmeer claimed the fastest lap with 10 laps to go and flew past Shutte for 11th. By lap 25, Tormala had got past Di Capua with a straightforward move at Primeira, but Opmeer had more of a battle ahead of him.
The Williams defended as best he kept from the Dutchman, but on the outside of Torre Vip, Opmeer got himself into the top 10. The lead pack condensed quite considerably, and by the end of lap 26, Boroumand had forced a mistake from Carreton, and a side by side drag race followed between the McLaren and the Williams along the start-finish straight, but benefiting from the slipstream of both cars was Clay, claiming both of them before arriving at Primeira and the lead goes to the Aston Martin, leaving Carreton in 3rd. Everyone in the top 8 was poised for action as the lap count continued its march to the chequered flag. Boroumand had the momentum to attack Clay for the lead at Primeria on lap 28, but opted to save his strike until later. Leigh and Welch, on hard and soft tyres respectively were getting fidgety in 7th & 8th, Opmeer continued to remind the viewers he was still in the race by overtaking Tormala for 9th and getting close to DRS range from Welch. 4 laps to go, Boroumand again nearly introduces his nose to Clays diffuser, Welch made a big move on Leigh for 7th at Lagos, the Ferrari ace fighting the Mercedes every pixel of the way down the straight and into Torre Vip, forcing Welch to the outside. Welch wasn’t giving up, as Leigh was compromised on his exit from Torre Vip, Welch made a charge on the outside for the next few turns, and still, the Ferrari remains in 7th. Opmeer caught the back of Welch during that exchange, and as the field start lap 31, Boroumand had decided he was not going to stay behind the Aston Martin anymore and reclaimed the lead on the inside of Primeria. 2 laps to go, and the McLaren had found a few more revs in the Papaya car and got enough of a lead to prevent Clay from attacking him again. Even Tormala in 10th had caught the train as the final lap began, Boroumand again had done enough to keep Clay behind, Welch and Opmeer recreating the headphone destroying moment from Toto Wolff as the Mercedes pair fought through Torre Vip, with the Dutchman winning 8th position for his efforts, but the Iranian was not going to be denied and claims the win from pole position, 1st blood belonging to McLaren Shadow for season 30 in PSGL. Silverstone will be the home for round 2 of a season that looks set to live up to the hype and excitement surrounding these drivers.