Sim racing is huge right now, and so is Formula 1. Naturally, you’d think that F1 cars would be ripe for inclusion in games like iRacing and Assetto Corsa, but F1's stringent licensing terms and teams’ general unwillingness to share secrets tend to stand in the way. This is why iRacing’s announcement on Wednesday of a close partnership with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team comes as such a surprise to the sim racing world.
The simulator service will add Mercedes’ current chassis for 2021, the W12 E Performance, in the “near future,” according to iRacing exec Steve Myers, per the company’s press release. The two parties have apparently worked hard together to replicate the car in the PC sim, which is only otherwise playable in the less-realistic official F1 2021 game. Mercedes’ mastermind of strategy James Vowles can attest to that:
“We have been working closely with iRacing since the start of 2021 to bring the W12 life in iRacing’s virtual environment,” said James Vowles, Motorsport Strategy Director, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team. “The intent was to create as accurate a representation of W12 as possible from a performance and driving perspective. Throughout the process we have held a unique and close relationship with the developers, which has generated a model we hope everyone enjoys driving as much as our drivers have.”
I know a lot of that comes off as PR babble, but it really is unexpected for a team in Mercedes’ position, experiencing all the success it has and locked in a ruthless title fight with Red Bull, to let the iRacing crew get a peek behind the curtain of its existing machine. It’s not the sort of hospitality the F1 paddock is known for.
Before this, iRacing had the 2015 McLaren-Honda MP4-30, but that was back when McLaren was a punchline, plus the car was a year obsolete by the time it was immortalized in the game. The only case comparable is when Assetto Corsa landed Ferrari’s 2017 title contender, the SF70H, in the waning weeks of that season.
What’s even cooler about this news is that the learnings gleaned from Mercedes’ input are already now informing the physics model for other open wheelers in iRacing, like IndyCars:
Work on bringing the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team vehicles to iRacing has been an extended process. As part of the development work, the team performed extensive testing within iRacing and provided feedback and data to improve iRacing’s overall open-wheel physics model. Many of these adjustments to the physics model have already been deployed to the iRacing user base.
One could argue it’s not a great risk for Mercedes to involve itself with iRacing or any game, seeing as how aero regulations will change dramatically starting in 2022, and next year’s cars will look and move very differently from today’s due to the addition of ground effects. That’d be a fair point to make, if iRacing didn’t also get the green light to bring next year’s Merc over, too:
In addition to the W12, iRacing will work in the coming year to bring the team’s 2022 challenger to the sim as well. The 2022 vehicle is being developed to a revised set of championship regulations. New technical regulations will include the reintroduction of ground effects for the first time since the 1980s, simplified power units, certain standardized components, and larger, 18-inch wheels, among many other changes.
This is just the cherry on top. Considering how huge both F1 and sim racing have become, a hyper-serious sim like iRacing needed a get like Mercedes, to provide a more accurate representation of a modern F1 car for the players who have longed for it. The official F1 titles are great at what they strive for: an accessible experience for fans that captures the spirit of the sport. But total driving authenticity has never been their bag, and actual F1 drivers will tell you as much.
Over the past year and change we’ve witnessed this genre fall victim to consolidation, through exclusivity deals with series promoters and the like. It’s worth pointing out that the word “exclusive” doesn’t appear once in iRacing’s press release, which is always welcome to see.