Esports and the real-life sport it replicates are often two entirely different entities. After all you wouldn't expect to see Tekkz sign for a Championship club or Jwall sign on the practice squad of the Detroit Lions.
When it comes to racing though, the crossover from virtual to real world is a lot smaller than you might expect.
We've seen James Baldwin step out of his sim rig and win races in British GT, but Cem Bolukbasi's rise from F1 Esports driver to real-world contender has been truly remarkable, and is undoubtedly a path others will look to follow.
From sim rig to cockpit
Bolukbasi's rise has been something of a fairy tale journey.
After a karting career in Turkey, Europe, and the UK, he took to sim racing in 2015 and was highly successful. He entered F1 Esports in its inaugural 2017 season. He came runner-up in the VRS GT iRacing World Championship in 2018 while again racing in F1 Esports.
In 2019 the opportunity to race in the real world would again come calling. Bolukbasi had two races in the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup, sharing the race track with current F2 champion Oscar Piastri as well as Victor Martins, Lorenzo Colombo, and Caio Collet.
He went back and forth from the real to the virtual world, winning the Formula Renault Esports Series in 2020 against the likes of Fabrizio Donoso and Nicolas Longuet as well as Martins, Colombo, and our lord and saviour Mahaveer Raghunathan. He also competed in the inaugural season of the V10 R-League for BMW.
In 2021 Cem went fully into the real world racing. Competing in the GT4 European Series, Euroformula Open, European Le Mans Series, and the F3 Asian Championship. The latter was won by new F1 driver Guanyu Zhou.
Bolukbasi's best performances would come in Euroformula Open, where he won two races and finished 5th overall in a field that included F3 racer Jak Crawford and Enzo Trulli, son of former F1 driver Jarno.
Now he is confirmed in a Formula 2 seat for 2022 with Charouz Racing. Putting the young Turk one step away from Formula 1.
Blazing a trail
Real-life motorsport is a notoriously expensive world to get into, something that has seen talented drivers like Jarno Opmeer turn to sim racing to create a living from their abilities.
Bolukbasi's path from F1 Esports to Formula 2 is surely one that other sim racers will want to follow.
Speaking in an interview with F1.com Bolukbasi said: “If I was never in F1 Esports, I would never have had the chance to get into a real car – I would not be where I am now,“
“I think it’s also very important to be the first gamer to do this, because it can give people hope. If people see that one person can do it, they will believe they can do it as well… If I can go from F1 Esports to FIA Formula 2, I think anyone can.”
Red Bull Racing Esports driver Marcel Kiefer has already spoken of his desire to turn his esports career into a real-world drive. His teammate Frede Rasmussen's reward for winning the Formula E Accelerate title in 2021 was a real-life test in a Formula E car.
With F1 teams spending millions developing simulators to test the cars (and drivers), it only makes sense that teams would also start looking to the ranks of sim racing for future driving talent.
The world of sim racing will surely be fully behind Cem in his 2022 campaign, and we are certain he won't be the last sim racer to get real-world opportunities at elite levels of motorsport!
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