McLaren on a mission

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The race is on to join one of the world’s most famous teams… as a simulator specialist

The wide net cast by McLaren to find its next development driver is closing in, and there’s still not a race track in sight.

McLaren’s World’s Fastest Gamer search is nearing its sharp end, with just a couple of seats left vacant at the interview table. Once the finalists have been selected, they’ll go head to head in the race to win the prize of a simulator driver contract at Woking. Two Brits so far occupy final spots, as McLaren continues to whittle down the best gamers in the world to just 10, four from head-to-head competition, six selected on form and reputation.

As you’d expect, the new more liberal McLaren regime signed the project off – within a week – but even before that Ron Dennis was engaged. “We’d been in talks,” reveals creator Darren Cox, “but when Zak [Brown] came in it was sorted quickly.”

No surprise, given that Brown’s protégé is keen gamer and McLaren junior Lando Norris.

Once the 10 are finalised, a week of racing, interviews and tests in November at the MTC will cut the figure to one, McLaren will have a new employee and Oliver Turvey, the firm’s test driver, will have a lighter workload.

The Le Mans class winner and Formula E racer translates the work done on the sim and considers its effect on the race track, something the World’s Faster Gamer won’t be able to do. But McLaren development engineer Michael Rackstraw, who will be working day to day with the victor, believes it could still give the team an edge.

“You’re always looking for innovation in Formula 1,” he says on the evening of one of the finals hosted at Silverstone. “Other teams will certainly be taking an interest in what we’re doing, and if it works then you’ll see the other teams copying and finding their own.

“The problem with finding a traditional development driver is they want to be a racing driver. So if they could spend a race weekend at the track or a weekend in the simulator, they’re obviously going to choose the track. But if simulator driving is what they’re interested in, then it has a different perspective. We could be the first to do something that takes off.”

This run of the World’s Fastest Gamer is secured for five seasons, according to Cox, and only with McLaren. His links with the Ojjeh family ensured that, so other teams will have to do it their own way.

McLaren is also a good fit for the project, believes Rackstraw, such is its simulator history. “We’ve been doing it for a long time but haven’t advertised as much. We were one of the first to adopt it, back in the Häkkinen and Coulthard days. It was in place before the MTC, where we moved in 2003.”

With the changes coming at McLaren, not least in the back of the car, the simulator driver is going to have a tough job this winter. And pressure is not something that can be simulated.