A day in the life of an F1 superstar: Our man takes on David Coulthard, Nico Rosberg, Robert Doornbos and Roberto Carlos in Heineken Legends Race… from the comfort of his home!
- With no real races to go to, Sportsmail took on some greats with an F1 simulator
- Our man took on David Coulthard and 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg
- Brazil legend Roberto Carlos also raced, but will not be keen to watch highlights
- Race was live-streamed to millions and saw plenty of spills and thrills on track
Sitting in the seat of my Racing Point car on the grid at the US Grand Prix, it was easy to forget that this was not real life.
My hands, slightly clammy from nerves, gripped the steering wheel tight as I looked up at the lights counting down to the start of the race. The sound of my rivals’ engines reverberated in my ears.
Red, red, red… the lights, one by one, went out until it was time to push down on the throttle and attack the cars in front.
Sportsmail’s Ben Nagle took on some F1 legends at home, and there was carnage on the track
David Coulthard (left) and Nico Rosberg (right) also had simulators at their own homes
It was only at the first corner, when my front wing clipped the rear end of David Coulthard’s Red Bull and I felt no jolt in my seat, that I was reminded of the circumstances.
Indeed, this was not real life. I wasn’t heading round the first bend of the Circuit of the Americas in Houston, Texas, but instead was in my living room in Surrey, England.
I was not a famous Formula One star, but instead a driver more attuned to the 2011 Vauxhall Astra sitting on the driveway outside my house.
But, for one night only, I could forget all that and really mix it with the big boys. With no F1 races to go to in my role as a journalist, Heineken had sent the race to me, and a state-of-the-art simulator sat dominating the downstairs of my home.
In front of me on the grid were three F1 legends in Coulthard, Nico Rosberg and Robert Doornbos, as well as a Brazilian footballing hero in the form of Roberto Carlos. Behind me, seven YouTube stars gunning for glory and desperate to pass me as soon as possible.
This was the Heineken Legends Race, being live streamed to millions around the world, and I was right in the thick of it.
Our man puts in the practice ahead of the race, in which he took on some F1 greats
Heading into the first corner, Nagle was fighting for the lead with Coulthard and Rosberg
So, back to that first corner. Having started fifth on the grid, I had somehow managed to work my way up to a fight for the lead in just seconds.
I say ‘somehow’. A computer malfunction on the start-line from Doornbos had taken Rosberg out with him and cleared my route through. But no questions asked, I was taking it.
I clipped Coulthard’s rear wheel but kept my car steady and attacked him into the next corner. It took a couple of turns but suddenly I saw the gap, squeezing past a man with 246 Formula One race starts under his belt.
This wasn’t real life, but it was serious stuff. Simulators had been delivered to all of the drivers in the days leading up to the race, and I was under no illusions that there had been some serious practising going on among my rivals.
This piece of kit regularly assists some of the top modern-day F1 drivers, and I was told earlier in the week that Max Verstappen uses it to practise the same track for up to eight hours a day while preparing for a race weekend.
Rosberg reacts (bottom left) as he gets tangled with Coulthard and the pair crash into the wall
Coulthard had his simulator delivered to his apartment in Monaco during the lockdown
Clearly, I hadn’t been putting in that level of dedication, but after a couple of days of flying through the streets of Monaco and the Senna S bend in Sao Paolo, I felt ready to give it a go.
Coulthard, on the other hand, had been very keen to downplay his chances when I spoke to him about the race on a midweek Zoom call.
‘I’m currently getting comfortable in the seat,’ he said. ‘My 11-year-old son walked away in embarrassment when I had a little practice earlier, so I’ve now got no family support.
‘If you’re looking to me for advice, you’re in deep s***.’
YouTubers and other influencers made up the rest of the grid in Heineken’s Legends Race
Rosberg won the F1 drivers’ title back in 2016 but could only finish mid-table on his simulator
Despite the self-deprecation, there’s surely only so bad you can be at a racing simulator when your entire career was spent driving cars at breakneck speed around Formula One circuits.
But somehow, against all the odds, I had overtaken Coulthard and – incredibly – was now ahead of all the Heineken Legends with four laps of the 14 completed.
If it had ended there, I would have reserved myself a spot on the podium but, alas, life comes at you fast and before I knew it a rival had clipped my rear wheel and sent me spinning into the gravel.
Immediately, I could see my phone lighting up beside me, the inevitable group chat ribbing coming before I could even direct the nose of my car back on the tarmac.
But I got back on, now 10th of 12, and prepared for a battle back to the midfield. Taking advantage of yet more slips and spins from the pros, I fought past Coulthard and Rosberg again to restore some pride and climb to seventh.
Nagle catches up with Rosberg ahead of the race while on his simulator during lockdown
Roberto Carlos was a pass master on the pitch, but he got passed by plenty on the race track
F1 legend Coulthard reacts to the race, which saw him spin out on multiple occasions
With 11 laps down, and just three to go, the nerves were still jangling amid the prospect of finishing ahead of Coulthard, Rosberg and Carlos – the latter dawdling at the rear of the field quite happily being lapped by the leaders.
A pass master on the pitch during a remarkable playing career, he was a master at getting passed on the virtual F1 track, it seems.
A quick look in my rearview mirror confirmed the worst possible news with just two laps to go. While I sat seventh, Rosberg was in eighth and bearing down on me.
At this point in the race, my sole aim was to hold my position until the chequered flag and then quickly update my CV to note: ‘Beat an F1 world champion at his own game’.
Nagle was second heading round the first lap, but later spun off and dropped back to 10th
Carlos is hugged by David Beckham during his playing heydays at Real Madrid in 2005
Unfortunately, that very same F1 champion was just seconds behind me. He may not have cared as much as I did – ‘beating a Sportsmail journalist’ hardly likely to make his life highlights – but he was a better driver and I had a job on my hands to hold him off.
But hold him off I did, with no slips in the remaining two laps. Hands raised aloft as I crossed the finish line, it was done. My F1 simulator debut had ended with a seventh-placed finish.
Alas, no champagne spraying on the podium, but my name just above Rosberg, Coulthard and Carlos on the final standings made it a job well done in my books.
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