From dressing gown to race suit: How sim racing gave current championship leader a unique start

Sam Cooper
Deagen Fairclough

Deagen Fairclough leads the British F4 Championship after three rounds.

You do not need to have driven competitively to contemplate just how expensive it can be for the next generation to break into motorsport.

The traditional route of karting will set you back a huge significant amount and even then, it is no guarantee you will get anywhere near the F1 grid.

It is these kinds of roadblocks why the current crop are largely made up of those from wealth or with big sponsors behind them. Lewis Hamilton, a man who dubbed the sport a “billionaire boys club”, and Esteban Ocon represent a rare few with a more humble background whose families’ sacrifices allowed them a route into F1.

There have been efforts to change this of course but in the modern world, a new path in has begun to produce some dazzling talents: sim racing.

The current leader of the British F4 Championship is a 17-year-old by the name of Deagen Fairclough.

Deagen’s route into motorsport did begin with karting but his big break came at the wheel of a computer. The Briton competed in the 2022 edition of ROKiT Racing Star eSports competition where the prize on offer was a fully-funded British F4 seat for 2023.

“I’m very fortunate and sim racing has helped me get to the position I am in now,” Fairclough told media including in the prestigious Royal Automobile Club in Central London.

“It’s [a step] on the way up the motorsport ladder that everyone wants to achieve and [has] dreams of getting to F1.

“You can push your limits on the simulators because obviously there’s no damage fees, you don’t injure yourself. You’re just sat at home, in the warmth and in a dressing gown. I spend many hours on the simulator to help me in preparations for my race weekends.”

Starting from his bedroom in said dressing gown, Deagen came out on top in the competition but in 2023 he has proved his talent was not just confined to inside four walls.

In his debut British F4 season, he recorded three race wins, seven podiums and several fastest laps to finish third in the standings. That performance earned him a second season in the sport with Hitech and after three rounds, he leads the championship.

The equipment he is currently using has certainly improved since his first foray into sim racing and now, with the help of Asetek SimSports who made his rig, he continues to use the machine to hone his skills.

“I’m very fortunate and have recently been given the new equipment by Asetek,” the Crawley-born driver said. “It’s as realistic as you can really get, very similar to my car.

“I spent quite a long while setting it up, to fine tune it, because there’s so much adjustability to the rig and the equipment.

“I’ve got it pretty much identical and it’s really helped me get that practice, say at a circuit I’ve never been to. I’m able to practice at home for many hours and then when we arrive, we’re fully prepared and ready to go and try to get that win.”

The rig Deagan is now using is a far step away from the kind Asetek were first building and CEO Andre Eriksen said his desire to start up the sim racing division of his company in 2020 was fuelled by his own son’s racing ambition.

“My son was racing in the MRF Challenge (an open-wheel series in India) and MRF is an Indian tyre brand,” Eriksen said.

“So we were going to race in India and we were not fortunate enough to be able to afford to go there to test. So instead, we found a laser scan of the track and then based on that I had a guide to create a sim track.

“And then based on that same track, he could actually test at home and so he was up to speed when he came to race.”

Ease of access is one positive to sim racing but as Eriksen explained, there are more cost savings both financially and environmentally to be had.

“As we all know, we measure everything in tyres and to find the real braking point, you need to push it and it can cost you a lot of tyres.

“That’s where I think that the sim is really helpful, that in my experience, you can really dial it in within a few metres of the actual braking spot on the track. So from the opening lap, you’re on it.

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“It’s a great tool but also keep in mind where I lived in California, it was just 20 minutes north of Laguna Seca, that’s an environmentally protected area. So no matter how rich you are, you just can’t go and test as much as you want.

“Without going completely into tree hugger mode, I think that’s also where motorsports is going. I think testing is going to be more and more limited and even if you look at something else, Formula E, even there it’s street circuits, most of it. So there you can also not test and that’s where I think sim is playing a bigger and bigger role.”

The benefits of sim racing are not lost on current drivers either. Max Verstappen takes a rig with him to every race and a few hours before his victory at Imola, he was competing – and winning – a virtual 24 hours event. Lando Norris has a rig in his Monaco home. Even Kevin Magnussen, who has publicly raised his issues with sim racing, helped Asetek to calibrate their setup.

The question of how good sim racers are to their rubber-burning counterparts will always be there.

2020 and 2021 Formula 1 Esports Champion Jarno Opmeer and reigning champion Lucas Blakeley knocked out Mika Hakkinen and Valtteri Bottas in the 2023 Race of Champions. Deagan recalls beating Fernando Alonso online as one of his highlights to date but he does concede there is still a big difference between the virtual world and the real thing.

“There’s very good ability in sim racing, there’s some very good drivers who are in the game and to beat them is so difficult,” he said.

“But you see the training aspect and the G-force that you actually get through a car physically is one side that you really need to keep training. It only gets harder each step you go up.

“You could be very, very, very quick on a sim because it’s got no motions, just feeling for a little bit of force feedback in your pedals.

“But when you actually get into the real thing, finding those thousands, half a tenth is so hard and difficult.

“It’s how people race against each other. In the real life thing, there’s no room left between each other and it can be a little bit more aggressive in real life as well.

“Just pushing your limit as well, it’s so difficult to find that limit because when you go to a race circuit, say Brands GP, the back section is so abrasive and you hold your breath in for that whole sector.

“Whereas if you come into it and you’ve got no confidence and trust in yourself, then you end up being about a second off.”

Deagen, then, can be seen as the litmus test for how good someone from the sim racing world can be in the real world but with Matt Bishop, former McLaren and Aston Martin head of communications who has spent plenty of time with the best of the best when it comes to drivers, describing the 17-year-old as the “real deal”, there is every reason to suggest British F4 will not be his ceiling.

Asetek SimSports produces world-leading sim-racing hardware for a realistic racing experience. For more information, visit

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