But for Rudy van Buren, at least, advances in simulator technology have provided a low-cost route into a high-cost sport.
Virtual racing has reignited his professional motorsport career, which appeared dead a decade ago.
He had been a promising junior karting star, winning a Dutch junior championship in 2003, but he ran out of money for his racing career while still in his midteens. Racing in online competitions and on consoles became a hobby.
Then he won the McLaren F1 team’s World’s Fastest Gamer competition last year. His prize was becoming a simulator driver for the McLaren F1 team, testing their technology, a job he started last November.
“About 10 years ago, I got my first introduction to sim racing,” van Buren said. “At first it was only a little bit of joy, nothing serious behind it. But that’s also the period where the online sim racing took off. So it’s like I grew up with it.”
As a simulator driver, van Buren helps McLaren test new components, establishing which designs merit testing on a real track. During race weekends, he often works in the team’s Woking base in England, simulating different race strategies to help the team establish where to focus its on-track efforts.