The next generation of race car drivers started out as gamers
James Baldwin’s confidence overtakes his ability midway through his fourth lap of Silverstone Circuit. The track, home to the British Grand Prix and among the most famous in racing, features a tricky series of sweeping curves best approached with a delicate balance of gas and brakes. Baldwin, however, attacks them at 110 miles per hour, risky given the damp morning’s freezing cold. His tires skate across the slick pavement and he careens onto the grass. After hitting the brakes, he cranks the shuddering steering wheel to the left, turning into the skid. The car skitters for several seconds and just misses a wall, but the move arrests his slide and gets him pointed the right way. Baldwin exhales, downshifts, and roars back onto the track. Within moments he reaches 110 again for the sprint down a short straight, then heads into the next turn. Chastened, he takes this one at a more prudent velocity.
The 22-year-old Brit watches this drama not through the visor of a helmet, but on the screen of a racing simulator. Baldwin is among the best esports drivers in the world, one of several dozen who earn a living competing in the digital domain. Now he’s preparing for his professional motor-sports debut on a bona fide road course.