Any Formula One fan who has ever spent hours thrashing out laps on their Xbox or Playstation gaming console has allowed themselves to dream, however briefly, about what it must be like to actually be an F1 driver.
Of course, that brief daydream bubble of actually being Fernando Alonso or Jenson Button taking the chequered flag is often burst by the flatmate walking in or the cat jumping in front of the screen. Yet for one brilliant gamer, that dream now may become reality thanks to a very unique opportunity.
Gaming has now become so realistic and eSports such a huge multi-billion dollar industry that McLaren has decided to tap into the market to launch a competition to turn that dream into reality, after the team launched its 'World's Fastest Gamer' competition at its stunning technology centre in Woking on Monday.
In one of the most lavish and elaborate launches the gaming world has recently seen, the world's most important gaming, motorsport and news press corps were treated to a tour of the most technically advanced of all F1 bases, charting the team's historic success story of eight constructors' wins and 12 drivers' championships spanning 34 years.
The highlight and the reason for being there ended in a unique - and breathtaking - insight. Walking into a darkened room behind banks of computer telemetry and engineers hard at work was a jaw-dropping sight. In front of those engineers, Jenson Button was lapping Monaco in preparation for this weekend's grand prix in a simulator that costs more than a Chelsea apartment.
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Button has been out of action since 'retiring' from F1 to take on an ambassadorial role at the team. But with Alonso heading to Indianapolis to compete in the Indy 500, Button once again found himself in the box seat and preparing for Monaco in the most accurate way possible without actually being on the track.
With no photography or filming allowed for reasons of confidentiality, believe me when I tell you, it's the closest thing I will ever experience to being in a car with the 2009 world champion. Every detail of the circuit is meticulously mapped out to the last blade of grass.
So realistic is the machine that the chassis, that sits on a pneumatic rig, can also mimic g-force. Dusting off the cobwebs and pushing the MCL32 to its limit, Button did something he had never previously done - he rolled it into the water.
"It's realistic enough that when you drive around Monaco and you hit a wall, you take your hands off the steering wheel and brace for impact," said Button after jumping out of the car. "I also fell in the port twice today so hopefully that's not going to happen!
"I fell off on the right hand side after turn one where you go up the hill and rolled. I've never rolled in the simulator before! Lucky enough the impact isn't as bad as in reality but you still get a jolt and a few g-forces."
And that is the awesome prize that awaits the winner. In collaboration with partners Logitech G, Sparco and GiveMeSport, this ultimate gaming competition pits the best virtual drivers in the world across multiple racing platforms as they battle each other to discover the ultimate 'champion of champions'.
It's been dubbed by McLaren as 'the greatest job in eSports' and is open to absolutely anybody. But how on earth could a teenager, locked away for hours in his bedroom surrounded by discarded pizza boxes, possibly possess the skills to be an official simulator driver, you may well ask?
Well, the simple fact is that this has already happened. Many of today's drivers, including young Red Bull sensation Max Verstappen and McLaren's own Stoffel Vandoorne grew up on a healthy diet of video gaming, if not pizza!
"I grew up pretty much with Sim racing," Vandoorne told The Average Gamer. Alonso himself has made up a stunning 29 places on the opening lap of the last five grands prix. What did he put that down to? "Probably doing a lot of Playstation also, starting last!" he told Autosport.
Perhaps more tellingly, Darren Cox, founder of virtual motorsport's famous GT academy and present at the launch, has seen gamers actually develop into fully-fledged racing drivers - the likes of Jann Mardenborough gaining a podium place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP2 class as well as winning races in the British GT Championship, GP3 and Toyota series.
"I've seen many drivers progress from the GT academy to become successful race car drivers in many different formulae, so there's proof it can be done," said Cox. "But perhaps my proudest achievement was seeing Jann on the podium at Le Mans. Can a gamer progress to becoming a Formula One driver? It's difficult to say. But this is certainly a step in that direction and it's extremely exciting."
Although the competition is aimed at finding the team's official simulator driver, who knows where the future may lie. The ultimate winner will work with engineers at the McLaren Technology Centre and at grand prix circuits across the world to develop and improve the machinery driven in the real world by the team's drivers, Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne and Jenson Button.
Sound like the job for you? Well it isn't going to be easy. Although anyone with an affinity to online gaming and a solid grasp of GT or Forza Motorsport will have an advantage, there are a few simple caveats. Candidates will have to be of the age to hold down a salaried job and most importantly, be extremely fast.
But it's not only about speed. McLaren will test finalists for general health and fitness, reaction speed, engineering know-how, car set-up ability, PR skills, and aptitude. Over the following days, they will be trained and re-tested regularly with the final decision down to the McLaren management team.
Six of the 10 qualifying spots will be pre-selected, and those choices will be made by a panel of gaming and motorsport experts, including specialists from our gaming partners Logitech G and Sparco Gaming.
The final four qualifiers will be selected through their results from four events planned across the summer and the winner will be offered a one-year contract with McLaren to work in an official capacity as a simulator driver.
The greatest job in eSports? It's certainly the most important - just ask Button. "It's a pretty awesome opportunity," he added. "We use the simulator a lot and I'm glad that whoever wins is going to be doing the simulator work because it's in a dark room and sometimes gets very lonely! But it's a great and does help us so much and they play a really important role.
"Hopefully they don't feel the pressure too much because we do really listen to the simulator feedback. As soon as I get out, another driver gets in so it's non-stop being used. And the engineers running the simulator are also fantastic."
And the 2009 world champion had a little extra advice for the successful candidate for the role of World's Fastest Gamer. "Hopefully they have a good understanding of the car and what a certain change does, understanding what a rear geometry change will do or a bar change. That's the most important thing for us."
The opening round of four official qualifying events for the World's Fastest Gamer will be held at Silverstone on July 16 with further information about how to enter to be announced soon.
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