F1 Esports: McLaren's mission to encourage more female sim racers

McLaren Esports Lindsey Eckhouse

Esports is an ever-growing community of casual gamers and competitive professionals, and the level of female involvement is higher than ever.

Formula 1 recently launched the second instalment of its Esports Women’s Wildcard, giving women and girls the opportunity to showcase their skills on the virtual racing track.

Speaking to GiveMeSport Women, McLaren’s Director of Licensing, Ecommerce & Esports Lindsey Eckhouse discussed the astonishing growth of the competitive virtual world.

“As an overall industry, Esports has been exploding, it’s part of why I was initially so intrigued when I was offered an opportunity to work at G2 Esports, which is a big multi-team Esports club out of Berlin. And even since then it’s continued to grow.

“I think the big thing to think about is Esports is like the sports industry. So it’s one big industry that’s divided into different facets, like League of Legends, Esports, or sim racing esports, which is really where we compete. But even within the Formula 1 scene, we’ve seen huge growth, both from the pandemic, but we’ve seen that momentum carry on even after.”

Breaking down gender barriers in Esports

As well as on-track racing, there are still gender barriers to challenge when it comes to Esports.

For many years, motorsport has been a heavily male-dominated industry. The last time a woman appeared on the grid of a Formula 1 race was more than 40 years ago.

Since then, women have continued to chip away at the glass ceiling and now the W Series, the all-female racing championship, is taking the world by storm.

Similarly, more women are getting involved in virtual racing and McLaren is helping to create equal opportunities for everyone.

W Series Miami Grand Prix
Jamie Chadwick of Great Britain and Jenner Racing (55) leads the field into turn one at the start during race 2 of W Series Round 1 at Miami International Autodrome on May 08, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The incredible set up at the McLaren Shadow Studio plays a huge part in encouraging more women to try their hand at sim racing. Growing the exposure and helping women and girls get involved is something McLaren is extremely passionate about.

“The more that we can break down barriers for underrepresented communities more broadly — certainly, gender being one of them — to get into the sport, the better,” Eckhouse said.

“Within gaming, there’s a huge opportunity to bring more women into it and encourage more women to try their hand. And that’s where the McLaren Shadow Academy plays a really big role in terms of going out and trying to encourage underrepresented communities to test their hand at racing.

“The other piece of what we do is the Logitech McLaren G Challenge, which is in partnership with the peripherals company, Logitech. And ultimately, that’s aimed at getting more people to just try racing.

“And there’s a variety of games that we go out with. But it’s really there to encourage different people, women certainly is one of them to sort of lean into the space. And we’ve seen success with that.”

F1 Esports Women's Wildcard

F1 Esports Women’s Wildcard

The McLaren Technology Centre recently held an experience day to promote the F1 Esports Women’s Wildcard. A number of social media influencers and journalists, including GiveMeSport Women, attended the event to try out the famous simulator rigs for themselves.

Applications for only the second ever F1 Esports Women’s Wildcard recently closed. Women and girls from all over the world submitted their best lap times around Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, competing for a place at Silverstone to challenge for a spot at the F1 Esports Series Pro Exhibition.

There is currently just one F1 Esports Women’s Wildcard champion in history. Rebecca, who won in 2021, laughed that she loves to “take the boys on” and show that women can compete at the highest level when it comes to virtual racing.

“What people don’t realise is when someone says ‘you shouldn’t be racing’, it just spurs me on even more,” she told GiveMeSport Women last year.

F1 Esports Women's Wildcard

Eckhouse discussed the importance of showing women that their participation in Esports is important and also heavily encouraged.

“It comes down to seeing other women, gaming, or racing in the space and seeing people embrace a new challenge, a new passion point. And the backdrop being so engaging, and so cool, allows people to think, ‘hey, you know, I’d love to go there, I’d love to try my hand at that and see if I can get involved.’

“So the more that we can use that facility to encourage people to come test it out, come see it, or put big creators or influencers inside the facility so that you can watch them on Twitch or on YouTube, racing and in one of our rigs, I think the easier it is for a woman to say, ‘Okay, I could do this, I could get involved in the space.'”

Eckhouse also hopes that one day, sim racing will bridge a pathway to on-track careers for female drivers.

“I would love to see that. But that’s tough. It’s certainly something that we see more than you’d expect in sim racing from a gaming standpoint, actually is very much like racing in real life. 

“I think it was a couple of years ago where a sim racer beat a Formula 2 driver on the actual track in real life. So, it demonstrates — and it was his first time in a real life car — so it shows you that there’s a lot of transferable skills in going from a sim rig to a race track and understanding where to corner, what line to take, some of the telemetry required.

“So there’s a lot of transferability in that, and that accessible mechanism that I think gaming offers into racing from a competitive standpoint is untested, and something that we’re definitely trying to see if it can develop real life racers.”

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