Sim racing saw a massive explosion in interest in 2020, but it has been going and growing for some time.
One of the biggest names in the sim scene is Turkish driver Cem Bolukbasi, who is leaping out of his home rig and into the F3 Asian Championship.
You would be hard pressed to find a virtual racing series that Cem Bolukbasi has not taken part in over the years.
From the iRacing World Championship to F1 Esports, the V10 R-League, and Formula Renault Esports, Bolukbasi has done it all. He even crossed wheels with F1 drivers during Veloce's Not The... series in the first half of 2020.
However, none of those things were an end unto themselves.
They were a means to show off his talent and get a drive in real racing.
A true stepping stone
The seat in Formula 3 Asian Championship is not Cem's first drive. He competed in the European GT4 Series in 2020, finishing second in the Pro-Am Cup.
However, the F3 Asian Series is fast becoming a pipeline for talent to the very top of motorsport.
Since starting in 2018, more and more talented drivers have been competing in it.
From Jamie Chadwick to Pietro Fittipaldi, who competed in two F1 races for Haas in 2020, to Haas' newest driver Nikita Mazepin, there have been some serious names that compete in this series.
The same goes for the 2021 series, set to start at the end of January in the Middle East only due to covid restrictions.
Formula 2 drivers Jehan Daruvala and Guanyu Zhou will be competing alongside Bolukbasi, giving him some truly impressive benchmarks to measure himself against.
A new pipeline of talent
Getting to the top in motorsport takes a lot of talent and desire, but it also takes a lot of money, luck, and parental sacrifice. Not everyone can have the combination of talent and parental fortune that has seen the likes of Lance Stroll and Nikita Mazepin make it to F1.
Others, like Sergio Perez and Yuki Tsunoda, have substantial backing from companies in their country, while more are simply discovered at a young age and groomed for success by the big teams.
However, there are more and more talented racers than ever before thanks in part to the ability to race at home.
Current F1 Esports champion Jarno Opmeer shared podiums with Mick Schumacher in his junior racing days and is a former Formula Renault driver.
Porsche Esports Supercup champion Sebastian Job has talked openly about how sim racing is opening up the talent pool and could raise the bar for teams when it comes to drivers.
His fellow Red Bull esports driver Marcel Kiefer, in the wake of Bolukbasi's news, took to Twitter to confirm that it is his dream to make the transition too.
As the viewership, interest, and talent grows within esports and sim racing, more and more racing teams are devoting resources to developing driver talent in the virtual world.
Bolukbasi may not make it all the way to Formula 1, but he is blazing a trail that others will look to follow. It won't be long before an F1 champion got their start in the virtual world rather than karting.