Battling a former F1 driver in iRacing

'I'm on the grid directly behind Rubens Barrichello. The actual one.'

NOW PLAYING

In Now Playing articles PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today Craig faces the race of his life.

The worst and most impossible thing has happened. My hands are actually sweating into my Halfords racing gloves. I know it’s absurd to be this worked up over an online race, and to have to wear gloves while sitting at my computer. The thing is, I’m on the grid directly behind Rubens Barrichello. The actual one. The actual F1 driver Rubens Barrichello. 

I feel pressure in every iRacing race as it is. It’s a serious business where realism, clean racing and respect are key. Now I’m going to be battling someone everyone is excited to have on the server. It cannot be me who crashes into him. It must not. 

“Oh great I’m behind Rubens. I’m not worried at all,” I drop into chat. 

“Haha good luck” he replies. I’m instantly star struck, not so much dazzled by his celebrity status but rather by the amount of genuine respect I have for him. Rubens’ F1 career spanned nearly 20 years. He’s raced with the absolute best in actual motorsport and here we are on the grid. A racing legend, 18 other iRacers, and me sweating buckets into a pair of £10 mountain biking gloves—all waiting for the signal to go. 

We’re racing Formula Renault cars at Mosport. It’s a track I love and the cars suit it well. They have characteristics of Formula One cars—single seat, big aerodynamic features, open wheel—but operate at a much lower speed. 

The lights are red. Engines rev up. A final “good luck all” comes over the chat. Lights out—away we go.

“The race can’t be won in the first corner, but it can be lost”. Sage advice that I try to remember as everyone ploughs towards the fast and aggressive turn one. We enter it side by side: me on the left, Rubens on the right. It’s too dangerous. I edge away, open a gap between us—immediately some hothead wedges himself in. All three of us side by side for the run to turn two. We’re seven seconds in.

They say Formula One drivers sweat 3kg a race—in this department at least, I am their equal.

This race is going to last roughly half an hour. On lap one the tyres are cold, the brakes are cold, there are cars everywhere. Better to back off now and live to fight later in the race than risk it all now. I tail Rubens and Hothead. We fly downhill through turn two and I try to calm my buzzing nerves for the laps to come. They say Formula One drivers sweat 3kg a race—in this department at least, I am their equal.

Eventually I throw the car into turn eight, approaching the start finish line for lap two, and then… cue the marshals... The car in front has gone in too hard. His tail jerks right, then left. Smoke plumes from his tyres as Hothead spins. He clips Barrichello, crunching them both into the barriers. I accelerate around the carcasses, picking up two places for the price of none. 

As the checkered flag falls, I’m gutted. Technically I’ve beaten Rubens Barrichello: F1 driver, but it feels hollow. I didn’t fight him for it, someone clumsily assassinated him. But, that’s racing. It’s par for the course in the real world. “To finish first you have to finish,” as the saying goes, and this time luck just wasn’t on his side. I remain hopeful for a proper tussle another day. I’m coming for you, Rubens.