By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Ferrari followed two wins in a row on the real racetrack with a virtual double on Wednesday, with Italian gamer David Tonizza triumphant on the team's Formula One esports series debut while Mercedes struggled.
Tonizza, first pick in the July Pro Draft after being overlooked last year, won on the Bahrain and China layouts and then finished third around the virtual Azerbaijan GP street circuit.
Ferrari were absentees last year, the only F1 team to shun the series, with Formula One's oldest and most glamorous brand reserving judgement.
They made up for lost time at London's Gfinity Arena, however.
Tonizza, dubbed 'Tonzilla' by his team, ended the evening with 65 points and 22 clear of closest rival Frederik Rasmussen, the Danish teenager who won the Baku race for Red Bull.
"It's just unbelievable. Two out of two in the first event, at my first experience, just unbelievable," said the 17-year-old Italian. "It was very hard but I managed to take the pressure."
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc won the team's home Italian Grand Prix at Monza for the first time since 2010 in the real world last weekend, eight days after the 21-year-old Monegasque also triumphed in Belgium.
Reigning esports champion Brendon Leigh, who won the inaugural title in 2017 and then retained his crown with Mercedes last season, made a slow start to his bid for a third successive championship.
The Briton had a best result of fourth in the Baku race and lies sixth overall on 22 points.
"It's not going 100% to plan but I'm confident with the work behind the scenes that we do that we'll come back much stronger for event two," the former kitchen worker, who now trains at the Mercedes factory in Brackley, told Reuters.
Leigh has made his debut in the real world of single seater racing since last year's title and he said that has helped him also in esports.
"Since doing it I've learned a lot and overtaking has been a lot easier," he said.
"It's basically opened up a new world to me really because before I only had one way of thinking, and that was esports. Now because I know a lot more about real life racing, it's given me two ways of thinking about stuff."
Three more live events will be held, with the next round on Oct. 2, to determine the 2019 F1 esports champion and the winning team.
The prize fund has more than doubled from 2018 to a total of $500,000.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)