Almost every sim racer started their journey with a controller, but with such an array of racing wheels available, all promising to enhance your performance, it can leave many sim racers wondering whether switching to a wheel will be easier than sticking with their controller.
Sim racing can be easier with a controller for beginners, as it can often be easier to get used to than a sim racing wheel. However, with the power of force feedback and a much more immersive experience, a wheel can make it easier for you to reach a higher level of sim racing performance.
This of course remains a big topic of discussion with a multitude of factors to consider. In this article we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using a wheel for sim racing, whether racing with a wheel makes you faster, as well as the prices of wheels themselves.
Controller vs Wheel For Sim Racing
The topic of controller vs wheel is constantly discussed within the sim racing community, with arguments over performance and usability often leading the debate. The truth is, there is no clear-cut answer to the question, as it depends on what sort of racer you are, and what you want to get out of your sim racing experience.
Casual drivers may feel more comfortable using a controller than a wheel. The portability of modern controllers with their wireless capabilities means that players can enjoy a race without having to leave their sofa. Racing wheels aren’t typically the easiest and quickest things to setup, and if you only intend on having a short session, you may well be tempted just to use a controller.
More serious racers may lean towards using a wheel due to its immersion and realism. There is no doubt that a wheel offers levels of realism that a controller cannot, due to force feedback reacting to every turn that you make. Wheels also have a much larger degree of rotation, meaning you will have to turn the wheel multiple times to get round a corner, mimicking that of a real car.
In addition to its realism, a wheel offers greater advantages in race performance. Force feedback offers the driver more information regarding inconsistencies in the track, the angles of corners, and other aspects of races that a controller doesn’t. We will look deeper into this later in the article.
So, while there may be no clear answer as to which is better out of the two options, it can be said that racing with a wheel adds greatly to the overall experience of sim racing, bringing the player even closer to real-life motorsport.
Is It Easier To Play Racing Games With A Wheel?
It’s often not easier to play racing games with a wheel for beginners. However, with some practice, racing with a wheel can actually be easier than with a controller. It just takes some time to get used to it, but eventually you can have no problems sim racing with a controller or a wheel.
Most players are introduced to the world of sim racing with a controller, usually via arcade and simcade games, and therefore learn fundamental racing skills without a wheel. This can make the switch to wheel racing tricky and difficult to adjust to, almost feeling like you are playing a completely different game.
However, once you have adapted to using a wheel, it can make it easier to reach peak performance levels and start clocking better lap times. This is because of the heightened precision of a racing wheel, allowing for smoother and more accurate steering.
All in all, sim racing with a controller when you are first starting out will appear easier because hand placements feel so much more natural, but as you progress through the ranks, you’ll likely find that a steering wheel makes the finer intricacies of sim racing easier to manage, and better performances easier to achieve.
Different Games, Different Results
A major factor to consider in this debate is the types of games that you want to play and whether they are optimized for racing wheels. Hardcore sim racing titles like iRacing and rFactor 2 are better optimized for wheel users, due to their desire to create as close to a real-life driving experience as they can.
iRacing requires the sort of precise inputs from your steering that only good quality racing wheels will offer you, so while it may not make controllers obsolete, racing with a wheel will be easier and more efficient.
Console based franchises such as Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo and Need for Speed are aimed at a larger, less niche player base, and are therefore optimized for controller usage. Forza’s preference towards controllers was evident in their Esports program, the Forza Racing Championship, which unlike the F1 series and the Gran Turismo series, made controllers mandatory for competitors.
Are F1 Games Easier With A Wheel?
F1 games may be easier with a controller than with a wheel for beginners. Because of Formula 1’s mass global appeal, the player base for the official F1 game is huge, and the game lends itself just as much to casual gamers as it does to serious sim racers, so both controllers and wheels are viable.
Controllers Are Often Easier For Beginners
There will be many players who play the F1 game with no prior knowledge of the intricacies of sim racing or the range of hardware that accompanies it. In this case, a controller is likely an easier option, as casual players may be more focused on the enjoyment of racing against friends on F1 tracks rather than the accuracy of their racing line.
Game physics are adjusted for controllers on the F1 game to give beginners more control of their cars, reducing their chances of spinning out or crashing into the barriers. This can work for or against controller users, depending on individual skill level.
Controllers are also less polluted with buttons than most sim racing wheels, especially wheels that are optimized for F1 racing. This means that controller users won’t have to worry about the multitude of buttons and switches that appear on F1 wheels and can race on a more pick-up-and-go system.
Getting The Best Out Of The Game
For more serious sim racers, a wheel could prove to be essential when trying to reach peak performance levels. Specialized F1 wheels offer much greater precision when it comes to steering than a controller. Controllers offer a very minimal degree of rotation due to their physical design, whereas a good quality wheel can offer up to 900 degrees or more.
This precision in steering will make it easier for players with a wheel to navigate more accurate racing lines and produce faster lap times, especially on narrower circuits such as Monaco, where the margins for overtaking are finer, and precise and tight steering is essential.
Is Sim Racing Faster With A Wheel Or Controller?
Sim racing can be just as fast with a wheel or a controller, as it all comes down to individual driver ability. An absolute beginner with no wheel experience will undoubtedly be faster with their controller, but two pro sim racers, one with a wheel and one with a controller, may be equally fast.
This is perhaps the most important question for those deciding whether they will opt for a controller or wheel. Individual driver ability aside, there are some advantages and disadvantages that come with each setup. Let’s start with the advantages of racing with a wheel.
Using a wheel offers racers a much larger degree of control around the track. For a start, a wheel eliminates the risk of your thumb slipping and sending you hurtling into the barriers. Force feedback in decent quality sim racing wheels allows you to make decisions based on variables that are individual to the race.
For example, you will soon be able to work out how your car is responding to a wet track based on information that your wheel is feeding you. This offers you the chance to become a more adaptable driver, able to respond to different situations that occur in races. It also allows you to learn the nuances of individual tracks to a much higher degree than you would be able to with a controller.
Wheel inputs are also much greater than those of a controller, offering more steering precision as well as more throttle and braking precision with accompanying pedals. The small inputs on a controller may be beneficial in certain circumstances, such as when you need super-fast reaction times, but they don’t offer the same level of accuracy as a wheel.
Degrees Of Rotation
Good quality wheels will have a rotation of around 900-degrees, with some wheels able to turn 1080-degrees or more. This is similar to that of a real car, and greatly superior to a controller. Having this amount of rotation broadens the range of maneuvers a driver will be able to pull off as well as helping with precision around corners and turns.
This, along with force feedback, means wheel users can manage a racetrack with greater control and precision, helping them to produce faster race times. But if you practice hard enough with a controller, you can definitely produce similar lap times as those on a wheel.
How Much Do Sim Racing Wheels Cost?
Sim racing wheels can vary in price depending on their performance capabilities and the materials and technology involved in manufacturing them. Prices range from around $50 to $1,500 or more, so your budget and requirements need to be taken into consideration when choosing the right wheel for you.
Wheels Below $100
When choosing a sim racing wheel, it is really recommended that you buy based on quality and performance rather than price. Wheels that fall underneath the $100 price bracket may seem like a nice introduction into sim racing wheels, but they will often lack the fundamental factors that make a wheel worth purchasing in the first place.
Cheaper wheels will lack force feedback, taking away realism and immersion. They are also likely to have a maximum of 270-degrees of rotation, which, compared to the recommended 900-degrees, will severely limit your cars steering performance. In addition to these points, the low price will mean the wheel is made from cheaper materials and will not be as long-lasting as a more expensive option.
The most popular wheel for new sim racers is the Logitech G29/G920 Driving Force wheel. Both of these models are compatible with PC, but if you are a console player, the G29 is only compatible with PlayStation, and the G920 is an Xbox exclusive.
A brand new G29/920 will set you back around $250. This may not seem cheap, but for what it offers in terms of performance, it has gained a reputation in the sim racing community for being one of the best starter wheels on the market. It also looks and feels great, with leather wrapping around the wheel for optimized comfort and realism.
The G29/920 has 900-degree rotation, which instantly separates it from the minimal wiggle room you are afforded with console sticks. It also has dual motor force feedback, which is imperative if you want an immersive sim racing experience. This also allows for smoother and more controllable steering, with this responsiveness helping in corners with more precision and less risk of oversteer.
For those looking for a slightly higher spec setup, the Thrustmaster T300RS is a perfect mid-level sim racing wheel. The T300RS uses powerful dual belt motors which fight against your turns, offering one of the most immersive and realistic force feedback systems on the market at a reasonable price.
It comes with a two-pedal board, and can also be upgraded with a shifter, handbrake, LED system and more, making it a truly versatile sim racing wheel.
The T300 RS is made of high-quality materials, which makes it incredibly durable, meaning you won’t need to think about replacing it for a very long time. You can pick up a brand new T300RS for around $430 depending on your retailer of choice. The T300RS is currently not compatible with Xbox, although Xbox do have the slightly lower-spec TX available to them.
Direct Drive Wheels
There is no real limit to the amount that you can spend on your sim racing wheel. The Fanatec DD1 and DD2 models are notable high-end racing wheels and are priced at around $1,200 and $1,500 respectively. This may seem like a lot to pay for a wheel, but they’re not just any wheel, they are direct drive wheels.
In short, this means that the wheel is directly mounted to a motor, offering users an unbeatable force feedback experience. Direct drive wheels also offer good degrees of rotation. There are only a few direct drive wheels that are compatible with consoles, such as Fanatec’s Podium Formula wheel, and so these are really suited for PC users.
Whether sim racing is easier on a wheel or controller firmly depends on the user and what stage of their sim racing journey they are at. With enough practice, sim racing on a controller can be just as fast as on a wheel, but there is no doubt that wheels offer a more immersive experience.