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McLaren's F1 team is using video games to hire its next sim driver

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A one-year contract is on the line

The McLaren Formula One team is looking to hire a new dedicated simulator driver, and it’s turning to video games for help. McLaren and Logitech announced a contest today called “World’s Fastest Gamer,” the winner of which will be offered a one-year contract to work with the F1 team.

It’s the kind of idea that sounds too good to be true, but McLaren created the contest with help from Darren Cox — the man behind Nissan’s GT Academy, a similar video game-to-track program that’s been putting virtual racing champions into real top flight motorsports series for years. “[GT Academy] was massively successful, and we proved the point that there’s a huge amount of talent in the virtual world, and that those skills can be transferred to the real world,” Cox tells The Verge.

Simulators play a big behind-the-scenes role in most motorsports these days, but they’re especially crucial to F1. During a race weekend, data from practice sessions gets sent back to a team’s headquarters so sim drivers can help improve on the performance of a team’s two cars before qualifying. That loop repeats right up until the race.

“You’ve effectively got a 3rd car, it’s just that car’s in the virtual world being driven by a driver that’s not known to the general public,” Cox says. “Traditionally [McLaren has] found people from the racing world who are also good at engineering. We’re just trying to turn that on its head and find them in the virtual world.”

This is why McLaren says the winner will also have to “demonstrate their engineering know-how, ability to work as part of a team, and display the mental and physical strengths required for such a unique position.”

The contest will pit 10 people against each other this fall at McLaren’s Technology Center in a number of virtual races on different platforms. Just four of those will be winners of separate qualifying online racing events scheduled for this summer. The other six will be picked from established online racing communities by “experts.”

Cox says there will be a heavier emphasis on the qualifying competitions in the future. But McLaren is dead last in the current season of F1, so it’s not surprising that they’re trying to exert some control over who winds up in the simulator role.