McLaren's F1 Team Using Video Games to Choose a New Simulator Driver

McLaren is launching a contest that will use video games to choose a new simulator driver.

2017 Formula One Russian Grand Prix in Sochi
Alexander Demianchuk—Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

If you want to prove to your friends and family that those countless hours spent on the couch playing Gran Turismo weren't a waste of time, now might be your chance. The McLaren Formula One team is using video games to choose its next simulator driver.

McLaren and Logitech are launching a contest called "World's Fastest Gamer," according to The Verge. The prize? A one-year contract with the team as a simulator driver. The winner won't be lining up on the grid in a real F1 car, but they will be a bona fide member of the team working in an area that's become quite important in the modern world of data-driven racing.

To run the contest, McLaren brought in Darren Cox, the man behind Nissan's GT Academy program. GT Academy pits Gran Turismo players against each other for the chance to win a seat with a Nissan factory race program. Its alumni have competed in a variety of professional series, as well as Nissan's ill-fated attempt to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015.

Virtual racing has evolved well beyond mere video games. Top programs like iRacing can render cars in vivid detail and feature realistic physics, and the gamers that play them build elaborate setups with wraparound screens, steering wheels, pedals, and even VR capability. Professional drivers have been known to use these programs to sharpen their skills.

Simulators have also become an important tool for race teams. In addition to being used for driver training and practice, they help teams make sense of the vast amounts of data collected from the real race cars during practice sessions. That data is fed into simulators at the team's headquarters, and simulator drivers test potential setup changes based on it. That's what the winner of McLaren's "World's Fastest Gamer" contest will do.

This fall, 10 contestants will duke it out at the McLaren Technology Centre in the U.K. in multiple virtual races on different platforms. Four of those contestants will come from online qualifying races to be run this summer; the remaining six will be picked from the online virtual-racer community by "experts," according to McLaren. Contestants will also have to demonstrate some form of engineering knowledge, and generally prove that they are well suited for the job.

McLaren can use all of the help it can get. The team continues to suffer from underperforming Honda hybrid powertrains, and hasn't scored any points in the 2017 season so far.