Fans of motorsport, like those that follow other sports, have benefited from a lot of advancements in technology in recent years. These innovations have made it possible to get closer to major motorsport championships than ever before thanks to improved TV broadcasting, video streaming services, and social media. 

On top of that, sports betting for major racing championships like Formula 1 and NASCAR has become easier and more engaging. Firstly, sites like OddsChecker have made it easier for petrolheads to find a sportsbook in their state or country and compare the free bet promotions that are available to them. 

Secondly, partnerships between the sports themselves and data companies have allowed bookies to create new markets, such as in-race wagers on events like whether there’ll be a safety card, who will get the fastest pit stop, and whether any drivers will be awarded a penalty. 

Video games have been another area of advancement for fans of motorsports. While the sports genre is popular in general, there are some serious limitations to the realism that a soccer or basketball game can offer. In contrast, driving video games have been slowly closing the gap between the virtual and real worlds. 

There have been schemes that have provided some of the most talented video game racers to earn a seat in a real race team, including the GT Academy, which ran from 2008 to 2016. 

But just how realistic are these racing simulator games. Do they truly recreate the real world of motorsports and teach players the tricks needed to be successful on a racetrack? Let’s take a look. 

Early Games – Arcade Anarchy

If you’re old enough to have played on the likes of the original PlayStation, then you’ll remember racing games where wheels were more like octagons than cylindrical tubes of rubber. Many early racing titles in the world of 3D video games fell into the arcade category. This essentially means that it’s easy to pick up and play and little regard is given to real-world physics. 

Prime examples of arcade games include Mario Kart, Ridge Racer, and Burnout. While they were (and still are) very fun to play, they are not a recreation of real-world racing, but something entirely different. In the 1990s, hardware limitations made it difficult to really create true simulators, so these arcade games were the best on offer at the time. 

Progress

Things began to improve as the generations of console moved on. The PlayStation 2’s beefier internals meant the Gran Turismo series could push the boundaries of how much realism could be crammed into a game. The PS3/Xbox 360 stepped things up a gear again. Forza Motorsport stole the lead from Gran Turismo during this era, with the second release becoming a firm favorite among petrolheads looking for realism. 

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash

New Hardware

In more recent years, improvements in graphics and physics have continued to help racing games push boundaries but, arguably, the biggest steps forward have been in the tools players use to interact with the games. 

Gran Turismo 3 for PS2 included support for force feedback steering wheels, which offered a form of physical indication to the car’s behavior. This was then included in Forza Motorsport 2 and many other titles from the mid-2000s onwards. 

Today, the market for this sort of hardware is huge, and the most dedicated players can spend hundreds or thousands to create a gaming rig that replicates the inside of a car. These can include everything from realistic pedals, to replica steering wheels, and even seatbelts. 

Some games have begun to include support for virtual reality headsets to take this to another level, though uptake of this is so far limited because of issues with motion sickness. 

Realistic?

It is clear, just from looking at the hardware that is available to use with these games, that there is a much greater degree of realism for racing games than any other sports genre. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean they are truly realistic when compared to sitting in a physical race car and driving it around a track. 

That said, many modern Formula 1 drivers have their own racing rigs at home, including two-time world champion Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver actually credits his racing simulator with improving his abilities on the track and there is, arguably, no better endorsement than that.