Sim racing: the phenomenon gripping Formula 1 during coronavirus lockdown

When the Formula 1 season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, F1 fans were left wondering when they would next see their favourite drivers battling it out on track. Thanks to sim racing, it turns out they didn’t have to wait very long.

Thanks to sim racing, it turns out they didn’t have to wait very long.

What is sim racing?

Sim racing, short for simulation racing, is virtual car racing that takes place on software, either on a games console or PC, that aims to accurately emulate real-life racing and all of its variables.

This includes but is not limited to tyre wear, car damage, track evolution, and fuel usage.

Often, drivers participating in sim racing events will use a racing wheel and pedals, as opposed to the traditional gaming pad, making the experience even more immersive. See Red Bull F1 driver Max Verstappen’s set up below.

Virtual Grand Prix

In the absence of real-life racing, Formula 1 launched the Virtual Grand Prix series on the 22nd of March, with participants racing at the Bahrain International Circuit on Codemasters F1 2019 game.

This was the track that the real Formula 1 cars were due to be racing around that weekend.

Formula 1 has continued to emulate its real-life racing calendar with sim racing ever since, with Virtual Grand Prix taking place to mimic the Vietnamese, Chinese and Dutch Grand Prix.

Highlights from the most recent Virtual Grand Prix can be seen here

Crucial to the success of the series has been the participation of real Formula 1 drivers, with Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Alex Albon, George Russell, Antonio Giovinazzi, Nicholas Latifi and Carlos Sainz all lining up on the grid so far.


The rest of the field has been made up of a mixture of former F1 drivers, such as Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenburg, and stars from other sports such as England cricketer Ben Stokes and Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Sim racer and Formula 1 fan Stephen Bennett says he has been impressed by the standard of racing in the series.

“I think the standard of racing has been good given the mix of abilities of the drivers”, said Bennett.

“It’s been a lot more casual than some of the other series on at the minute so it’s been really good entertainment”, Bennett added.

The other series he is referring to are ones being held for other motorsport series such as the virtual IndyCar events taking place on iRacing.

How realistic is sim racing?

Of course, driving a virtual Formula 1 car isn’t the same as driving a real F1 car. Sim racing is exactly what its name tells you – a simulation.

That doesn’t mean though, that real Formula 1 drivers can’t get a buzz out of the virtual races.

After an intense battle with Charles Leclerc to win this weekend’s Virtual Grand Prix, Red Bull’s Alex gave an insight in to the thrill sim racing can provide the drivers.

“I was shaking afterwards, I had so much adrenaline in my body”, said the Thai-British driver.

“I feel more scared driving a simulator than I do the real thing, the pressure was unbelievable”, explained Albon.

See a virtual lap on the F1 2019 game below.

In a recent interview with the Formula 1 website, McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris expressed similar thoughts.

“We get the same buzz for that (sim racing) and trying to perfect a lap, trying to be P1 in a very competitive field”, the Brit said.

“You still get just as much of a buzz and enjoy it as much as we do from doing it for real”, Norris added.

A new audience?

With the races free to air, Stephen Bennett adds it could bring a new audience to both Formula 1 and sim racing with the virtual races free to air.

“I think there’ll be people who have seen the online racing on YouTube or twitch that might not be able to watch F1 normally with it being on paid channels like Sky”, he said.

Bennett continued, “just being on YouTube means it’s accessible, and people have the chance to try it out and see if they get a bug for it”.

With Formula 1 not set to return to real-life racing until at least July, sim racing looks set to continue its trajectory into the mainstream.

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