McLaren explain how they will turn F1 esports players into real-life Formula One drivers

Racing giant McLaren is set to offer talented esports competitors the chance to fill real-life Formula One positions in the future, an opportunity they believe doesn’t exist for professional Call of Duty and FIFA players. 

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The company’s director of esports Ben Payne has stressed the importance of preparing the next generation of top racers with driving simulation technology. 

McLaren held their Shadow Projects championship in January, with the winner being recruited to their esports team to continue their development as a potential driver. During an interview with, he explained what the car manufacturer will be doing to develop its esports team in the future and how racing – as an esport – can perhaps offer more than other types. 

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McLaren say simulators can help develop the best drivers of tomorrow.

McLaren’s winner of the World’s Fastest Gamer competition Rudy van Buren has been identified as a great example of how “dozens of days” in a simulator can give people the upper hand behind the wheel. 

“It’s not the first rodeo for gamer to racing driver,” he told “GT Academy has done that in the past, so it’s happened, but it’s the first time it’s happened under an F1 brand. 

“When we launched Shadow Projects in July 2018, it was an iteration of that program from our perspective. We wanted to try and find athletes for our esports team.”

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Unlike other growing popular esports such as Call of Duty, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite and others, the McLaren gaming chief says they’re “proud” that driving is a niche in the market. He also sees clear differences in not only the opportunities, but the talent it would seem. 

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 “It’s not like they’ll break their fingers if they crash, but it is an endurance test” Payne continued. “If you and I played FIFA for a few hours, we could stop, have a beer and then pick it up again. 

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“But, our guys are more athletes than in a number of esports spaces. I know the big esports teams have nutritionists and all that, but I think simulation racing is different.”

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Could McLaren’s developments in esports help them compete against Red Bull and other Formula One teams?

A former member of McLaren Shadow, Enzo Bonito, recently beat ex-Formula One racing driver Lucas di Grassi around a track in Mexico – which is another example of how racing esports simulations can put people on a trajectory towards the very top of the actual sport, too. 

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Whether or not more and more Formula One drivers will be developed through McLaren’s esports team remains to be seen. But, they are certainly determined to give it a shot.