The England cricketer Ben Stokes will take on five Formula One drivers, including Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, in the sport’s second virtual grand prix this weekend.
Stokes, the World Cup winning all-rounder and BBC sports personality of the year, will team up with Thailand’s Alexander Albon in the Red Bull lineup. McLaren’s Lando Norris and the Williams pairing of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi will also be competing, along with the retired racer and TV pundit Johnny Herbert.
The virtual race is the second in a new series designed to provide some light entertainment with the F1 season on hold amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Norris and Latifi were the only current F1 drivers to compete in the first race.
A virtual version of Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit will feature in the 28-lap race on Sunday. The inaugural Vietnam GP would have been staged his weekend, with the Hanoi street circuit not available on the official F1 2019 video game.
The first race of the new series was held two weeks ago on a virtual Bahrain circuit and was won by Renault’s Chinese test driver Guanyu Zhou. Norris and Latifi were the only senior F1 drivers to take part, with the six-time Olympic cycling gold medallist Chris Hoy taking part for Red Bull.
“Cannot wait for this,” Stokes tweeted before giving his Twitter followers an insight into his preparations. “Three days of practice so now going to do my first custom GP with five races in Australia. This is incredibly hard btw, so need a little assistance!”
McLaren furloughs staff as shutdown continues
Formula One is attempting to keep fans entertained during the sport’s prolonged shutdown, which is beginning to have a financial impact on teams.
McLaren have become the first F1 team to furlough staff during the shutdown with remaining employees, including the drivers Norris and Carlos Sainz, taking a wage cut.
“The McLaren Group is temporarily furloughing a number of employees as part of wider cost-cutting measures, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its business,” a statement said. “These measures are focused on protecting jobs in the short-term to ensure our employees return to full-time work as the economy recovers.”
Earlier on Thursday, Moody’s changed Formula One’s outlook to negative from positive, reflecting the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis on the sport. The credit agency added that F1 should be able to withstand the impact of a cancelled season.
“Formula One has strong liquidity and a sufficiently flexible cost base to manage through a severely curtailed 2020 season, which Moody’s consider would likely be able to support a full cancellation,” it said in a statement.
Eight grands prix have been put on hold so far, with a decision yet to be made on the British GP in July. Liberty Media, the owner of F1, is hoping to resume racing in the summer and run a reduced schedule of between 15 and 18 races.