The shutdown of motorsport is hardly the most serious consequence of the coronavirus outbreak – but it has denied people of a welcome dose of escapism and distraction at a time they need it most.

Vast swathes of my weekends are often spent watching all varieties of racing and rallying. Now, its absence has left a big void, particularly while we should all be following advice and staying at home. 

But there is something to fill that void: virtual motorsport. Leading e-sports companies and major motorsport promoters have been rapidly organising online events, featuring a fascinating mix of ‘real-world’ racing drivers and e-sports stars. So can simulated racing replace the real thing?

To find out, I gave it a try last weekend. My viewing included the official Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix, shown live on Sky Sports F1 in the UK and, like the regular F1 e-sports championship, using the Codemasters F1 2019 game. I also watched action from the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event (shown on TV channel Fox Sports 1 in the US), and Veloce Esports The Race All-Star E-Sports Battle (streamed live on YouTube). 

The first takeaway is that watching professional e-sports racing isn’t like watching your friends play console games. The graphics are amazingly realistic, and the production values high. At times you could easily mistake it for the real thing. Better yet, there were no annoying cutaways to random celebrities standing in the pits.