A new era is dawning at the McLaren F1 Team as it prepares to welcome Lando Norris to its driver line-up for the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship. The 18-year-old is considered one of motorsport’s most prodigious talents following a spectacular rise through the junior ranks – but not only has Lando forged his burgeoning career out on track, he has honed his skills at the highest levels of esports.
With the Atyaf e-Racing project set to give a GCC national the opportunity to start along their own path through esports and The McLaren Shadow Project, Lando explains why the initiative has the power to change motorsport in the GCC region and how the platform has played an integral role in his meteoric motorsport rise.
Lando, many congratulations on your promotion to a McLaren F1 race seat for 2019, how does it feel to be representing such an iconic brand at the highest level of motorsport?
It feels awesome to achieve my dream of reaching F1 and to be making my debut with McLaren just makes it feel even more rewarding. I was a big supporter of McLaren as a kid growing up, so it is a true honour to be competing with one of the most iconic names in the sport and following in the footsteps of numerous legendary racing superstars. To now be part of this prestigious category is has always been my objective so to now be officially signed and preparing for my F1 debut in Australia next season, is an incredible feeling.
As an avid gamer yourself, to what extent has participating in esports benefitted your progression all the way to F1?
Without a doubt, gaming has played a significant role on my journey to F1 and it is an area I put a lot of effort into perfecting alongside my racing duties. Not only do I use gaming and simulations to hone my skills in the cockpit, I do it for fun and really enjoy competing against friends and professionals. I had a sim at home when I was younger and it proved invaluable in developing my race craft so although it isn’t “reality”, esports has nonetheless made a huge contribution to the reality of me reaching the highest levels of motorsport.
Beyond the physics of racing, what other skills can would-be racers develop in esports to reflect real-world competition?
Esports isn’t just simply about the racing; the platform can go much deeper into the technical side of the sport, which is half of the battle. Beyond perfecting your driving ability, it is a great way to learn skills in setting up the car, working as a team player and understanding data to improve your performance. It’s a two-way process too in that I can use simulators to improve performance on the track, but then we use the track testing to ensure our sims are more accurate. Unlike any other sport or gaming genre, the transference of skills between virtual and real racing are direct and is why McLaren launched the McLaren Shadow virtual racing programme this year. It shadows our on-track activity, in that the winner will win a seat in our new esports team that will go on to race against the best race teams around the world online, which will shadow our on-track efforts.
You’re one of the few people in the world that can draw a direct comparison between esports and on-track racing, so just how closely-matched are they becoming?
They are very closely matched and as the technology between virtual and reality improves it will only get closer. We believe that esports and real world racing have a lot to learn from each other and that is one reason why McLaren is investing heavily in the pioneering McLaren Shadow virtual racing programme. You only have to look at the data between the real F1 car and the results we are getting through the simulators to see just how evenly-matched, if not identical they are now. It is hugely beneficial for myself and the team to always be using one when preparing for a weekend. It is getting better and while there are a couple of key differences that are harder to overcome, such as G force and risk factor, that’s not to say they can’t find a way to incorporate it in the future somehow.
How important a role can esports play in providing a platform for gamers in the GCC region to progress to the highest levels of motorsport?
A potentially game-changing one. For anyone that doesn’t have the opportunities or budgets readily available to them to forge a motorsport career at a young age, esports is a fantastic way for juniors and adults in the GCC region to develop and hone a vast number of versatile skills at a fraction of the cost. McLaren really believes in this and launched the McLaren Shadow virtual racing programme this year to uncover the most talented, virtual racers from all countries and backgrounds. A lot of gamers-turned-racers have proven to be extremely good in a real car, so I do believe there is a fantastic opportunity for anyone following this path to believe they can one day make it to the top of the sport.
To those competing in the McLaren Shadow and Atyaf e-Racing GCC Qualifier, what words of advice can you offer?
Race, race and race. The amount of testing you can do will make the difference. Eventually everything will feel natural – whether it’s driving fast or on the limit – which is a key thing for all racing drivers. Most of all though, enjoy yourself. If you aren’t having fun then don’t do it. When it comes to finding those tenths, hundredths or thousandths, you find the gains come more easily when you are relaxed and having fun.
Full details of the competition rules, online qualification and how to participate can be found at the dedicated Atyaf e-Racing Battlefy page.