Formula 1’s power units have fallen silent and their virtual equivalent has taken over. The 2020 season will be remembered as a year of unprecedented disruption when motorsport’s biggest names turned to their sim rigs to keep fans – and themselves – entertained.
Whatever you make of the quality of the racing on display, it’s certainly been entertaining if not always for the intended reasons – just ask Lando Norris, who has kept his huge following amused despite repeated problems with his internet connection preventing him from participating.
But with Formula 1 now competing for views alongside a plethora of virtual racing events from the biggest series in world motorsport – IndyCar, MotoGP, NASCAR, Australian Supercars and even Formula E – it’s inevitable that F1’s virtual product will be held up against its peers.
Formula 1 licenses Codemasters to produce its official video game series, so the idea they’re going to race on anything other than F1 2019 is unrealistic, at least until F1 2020 arrives in July.
The game franchise is pitched at the mainstream, offering a decent mix between authenticity and accessibility when it comes to the on-track action. But the first three Virtual Grands Prix have also highlighted the areas where the F1 series has room to improve as an esports platform. Not just in comparison to the major sim platforms like iRacing and rFactor, but also to console games like Gran Turismo Sport.
In fairness to Codemasters – who in F1 2019 have given us the most feature-packed official F1 racing game we’ve ever seen – a lot of these areas of improvement are easier said than done. You can’t always compare a PC-based title like rFactor 2, designed with online competition at its core, to a multi-platform title like the F1 series where Codemasters’ game engine was built with heavy emphasis on offline, single-player play.
While some criticisms of the game by real-world drivers have focused on its authenticity, F1’s official esports competition shows it is possible to have great races in F1 2019. Where F1 2019 is found wanting is more in terms of how races are presented.
With a new console generation due to arrive soon, and the official F1 game suddenly thrust into the limelight as real-world racing cannot take place, there are some important areas where improvement is needed and, hopefully, can be made. Here are the key areas we’d like Codemasters to address to help take its esports spectating experience to the next level.
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One thing is true for any spectator sport, whether real or virtual. If you can’t see what’s going on, you’re not going to have a fun time watching.
That makes camera work and TV direction so important. This is especially so in sim racing, which tends to be more action-packed than real-world racing, meaning fewer natural breaks in the action and therefore not as many opportunities for replays.
In a race, the most critical time for being able to see all the action is at the start. This is where the F1 series has its first major shortcoming.
The virtual television cameras in F1 2019 focus on a single driver at a time. In Spectator Mode, if you choose to follow the leading car, they are going to be the only car followed by the track-side cameras.
During a race start, this means that whether you’re focusing on the leader, a driver in the pack or even at the very back, you’re almost guaranteed to miss some of the inevitable chaos and action over those crucial opening 30 seconds of a race.
To illustrate this, here’s how F1 2019 follows the beginning of a race, focusing on a car starting at the back of the grid. Compare it with footage from the iRacing World Championship series:
It’s clear how much more you can see with a passive camera that offers a wider shot of the action, instead of one centred on a single car.
This was even more striking at the start of the first Virtual Grand Prix around Bahrain, where the cameras were so focused on Nico Hulkenberg spinning out before even reaching the braking zone for turn one that commentator Alex Jacques completely missed that Johnny Herbert had opted to skip the first two turns entirely to sneak into the lead.
One of the improvements Codemasters has made to its F1 series in recent years has been positioning its in-game cameras to recreate the look and feel of real-world broadcasts. This has undoubtedly helped newcomers to esports bring the gap between actual and virtual racing.
But as the virtual world is uninhibited by reality’s physical restrictions, viewers should be able to see more of the action compared to the real world, not less.
However Codemasters choose to do it, future versions of the F1 series need to give us a better way of viewing all the drama during the most action-packed part of the race.
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Like FOM’s live coverage of the real thing, F1 2019 offers spectators a permanent leaderboard graphic on the left of the screen, giving driver names, position, gaps and tyre information.
It’s certainly helpful to have during a race, but during qualifying, it’s nigh on impossible to tell who is on a potential pole-setting lap and who is even unlikely to improve on their personal best.
While the game does tell you quite clearly whether a driver is in the pits or on an out-lap, there’s nothing to tell spectators how a driver is doing in each sector around a hot lap until they reach the starting line. Commentators therefore have to guess which drivers might be in contention for a fast lap until they eventually cross the line.
And it’s not just timing. With all manner of settings available for virtual drivers to adjust in the car even in real time on the track, having visual information to tell viewers what fuel mix setting a driver is on, what ERS setting they’re using, their differential, brake balance or even their current wing levels would offer a fascinating look behind the curtain that we just cannot get in the real life sport.
We all use these same options ourselves when we’re playing F1 2019, so it would be insightful to see what the talented few who have the skills to drive the real thing do when they are racing using the very same game available to us mere mortals.
Whether it’s lag, sheer competitiveness or knowing in the back of their minds that if anything goes wrong, they won’t have team managers and sponsors to answer to, there’s something about racing virtually that leads to contact and carnage galore.
The Virtual Grands Prix have been run using reduced damage models. While this does detract from the challenge, it is probably for the best. We might only have seen a handful of drivers have finish the opening race around Bahrain had the damage settings been more strict.
But with the current limitations on Spectator Mode in F1 2019, it’s hard to keep track of anything that’s happening outside of whatever the camera is focused on at a time.
With so many drivers streaming their own races live on Twitch, there are plenty of ways to see an incident or a great move from a driver’s perspective. However, other simracing platforms like iRacing take advantage of specialist broadcast services like RaceSpot, which enable instant replays of incidents and overtakes during live race broadcasts.
If FOM is serious about growing its own esports platform having a way to introduce instant replays into live broadcasts is going to be key. As nothing matches the energy of a live event with viewers reacting in real time in live chat, having the opportunity to have a look at controversial incidents from alternative angles is an important way to keep viewers engaged as well as the live commentators fully informed.
Over to you
What areas do you think Formula 1 and Codemasters should look at improving to make F1 esports more accessible and entertaining?
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36 comments on “The most-needed F1 2019 changes to improve the Virtual Grands Prix”
20th April 2020, 12:55
Presentation is one thing that needs to improve. But honestly I find myself completely uninterested in seeing a bunch of kids mess around. Everyone’s all over the place, they deliberately run into each other, track limits don’t exist at all, this is just a bunch of people playing a video game. I get that F1 2019 isn’t the most simlike experience, but that doesn’t mean the supposed best drivers in the world with $10k worth of Fanatec simkits can’t drive a lap properly, I would think.
And while that is all good and well if you enjoy it just because Lando and Charles are funny on Twitch, if you compare it with the other official esports initiatives, it’s absolutely possible to hold an event with a semblance of official rules that are exciting and fun to watch. Take Australian Supercars for example, the driving is fun and professional, the presentation is excellent, commentary is great. Compared to FOM it feels more like the pinnacle of motorsport than what F1 is doing.
Alianora La Canta (@alianora-la-canta)
20th April 2020, 13:28
@aiii They can drive a lap properly. However, when the ruleset is set to “Standard” instead of “Strict” (some of the other F1 2019 races I’ve seen insist on the latter for exactly the reasons you cite), what “driving a lap properly” looks like doesn’t resemble reality – assuming by “properly”, you mean “as quickly as the rules permit”.
Mr M J
20th April 2020, 13:13
A damage model which actually works. It’s a case of won’t, not can’t. Having an invisible collision detection cage around the cars just doesn’t cut it.
Interaction with cars and ground, still we see weird sliding behaviour during collisions and spins. Sort it out!
Lose the clunky menus. Adopt a Geoff Crammond menu style which doesn’t take time to load on its own.
20th April 2020, 13:23
I don’t use the leaderboard-graphic on the top-left of the screen when doing races on F1 2019. I only use the one on the top-right that shows my current PB-lap time and lap-count, as well as, static full-track map on the bottom-left, which I find an easier way to follow where the AIs are than the leaderboard-graphic, and lastly, I keep on the graphic that shows which fuel-mixture is on, selected brake balance-figure and other stuff. I avoid using any other OSD to limit the number of potential unnecessary distractions while driving.
Steven Robertson (@emu55)
20th April 2020, 13:23
I agree with everything suggested in the article. Additionally, I would like to see variable weather to mix up races, track limits enforced and driver penalties shown on the screen, safety cars would be nice to give drivers who got spun out a chance to catch up. I also don’t know why they don’t do normal F1 qualifying as that might be quite exciting to watch.
20th April 2020, 20:37
Variable weather is in the game, depends on lobby settings and luck. I don’t know why they don’t play with strict corner cutting rules, even the wooden spoon league I participate in has it set to strict rules. Driver penalties are shown on screen when they get them, but they disappear pretty quickly and can be easy to miss. The spectator (commentator) needs to go to the race director to see them afterwards. Safety cars are a mixed bag in this game. Each game since I started playing, in F1 2017, has had issues with Safety cars. I don’t think normal qualifying would add anything over short quali.
Alianora La Canta (@alianora-la-canta)
20th April 2020, 13:27
Cameras have workarounds, though I think there may also be some hard-coded limits.
RaceSpot equivalent is definitely a hard-coded limitation, though I believe there is scope for improvement even with the product as is.
Onboards can definitely show most, if not all, of the requested information – if the boxes these are in are switched on. Driver Twitch views routinely have these displayed.
20th April 2020, 13:28
Doesn’t help Codies haven’t really done much with the game over this generation of consoles. It’s not a massive leap over the PS3 and 360 game.
It’s a problem when your releasing a game every year. Your development time is spent more on re skinning the game and doing minor tweaks oppose to giving the game a proper overhaul. Yes Forza is arcady but at least they actually do a proper leap with the game each generation. Well bar Forza 5 which was more of a tech demo.
The F1 game won’t ever compete with iRacing when it’s core focus is always going to be on the hard core racer playing online with proper car physics and setup. And quite good laser scanned tracks.
20th April 2020, 13:57
The first thing to change to give more credibility to the F1 20xx virtual racing is to forbid the drivers to use the T-Cam view when racing. Why is it permited ? Real racing drivers are sitting in their cars and not on the top of them.
Codemasters should make the qualif and race camera to be Cockpit Cam only like the real life and iRacing also. Racing with T-Cam view is not real racing, it is arcade. Why does Codemasters still encouraging this is quite difficult to understand.
21st April 2020, 17:34
The use of the T-Cam is useful for the less experienced sim racer (me included) I find the restricted view of the Halo very distracting as it is a fixed blind spot. In the real cars the drivers are able to move their heads a little to be able to see more.
If anything it would be good if Codemasters would give an option to ghost the centre bar or reduce the size to allow a little more vision. I know the purists would not agree, but we are not all expert sim racers and enjoy it for the entertainment rather than the serious competition.
21st April 2020, 22:06
The option to hide center bar is already available ;)
I think is not bad even for purists, because the binocular view we have in real life basically makes the central halo bar “transparent” for real drivers:)
22nd April 2020, 4:31
There is an option to ghost the halo – but I definitely agree with making everyone use the cockpit view… The T-cam is great for replays but when actually driving the cockpit cam is much better because of how significantly harder it is to pick out your braking/turn-in points because of the restricted view!
20th April 2020, 14:05
Good article @willwood
One thing I think is also needed though, is to find a way to steward things – I found the blatant ignoring of track limits, as well as causing accidents etc. pretty jarring when looking. Sure, it is about having fun, but there should be some logic and paralells to real world racing.
Maybe the automated system would need an option for an override and real life steward input to go with that replay function for the broadcast organisers!
20th April 2020, 14:11
I can put you in contact with one of the guys at racespot if you like Keith, they’ve been a pretty much fully professional broadcaster in one iteration or other for nearly ten years now. They have one guy at least running a rig looking at pulling in replay angles, one or two commentators looking at broadcast incidents and usually a couple people assisting with talking to teams and drivers about strategy doing ‘virtual pit lane’ work. It’s exhausting, mentally challenging work but also enormous fun. Regrettably I stopped doing it a couple years ago as I couldnt balance the time commitments, but right now the work being done with NBCSN by iRacing and racespot (who are basically one entity now) really shows off how far you can take things if you put time and effort into esports from the outset as a concept instead of tagging it on as F1 are now trying to do.
20th April 2020, 14:13
I can’t seem to be bothered with watching this, I rather game myself. Even if every F1 driver participated, I still wouldn’t watch.
20th April 2020, 14:27
I always wonder why people who are not interested at all, still make the effort of reading the articles and commenting on them.
Have to ask Freud ;)
21st April 2020, 22:10
:D :D Exactly the same I thought !!!
John H (@john-h)
20th April 2020, 17:10
Replays would help, but it’s the whole physics engine that needs a complete rewrite.
Adding more features is just lipstick on a pig.
GT Racer (@gt-racer)
20th April 2020, 17:37
@john-h The physics are as they are because that is what both Codemasters & F1 want the game to be. It’s a game aimed at the wider audience & given the sales as well as it reviewing generally well each year neither F1 or Codemasters see much reason to switch direction that radically. If sales were to drop or if reviews were to be negative they likely would switch gears based on whatever feedback they were seeing, But the wider audience they are aiming it at seems happy with it so why change.
Also remember that it was never intended to be used the way it’s been used currently with actual F1 drivers racing it in broadcast’s aimed at filling the gap left because actual F1 can’t run. It was always meant to be a game for the wider/more casual market & for that purpose it works well.
John H (@john-h)
20th April 2020, 18:16
Indeed. I understand it’s for the wider audience, but the question is as per the article, how to make it better for the Virtual Grand Prix? Some improvements to the underlying physics engine would be my suggestion to improve realism, and thus enable the drivers to take it more seriously.
I also don’t completely buy this argument. The GP4 series was both pretty accurate for its time and also was very successful commercially. I feel the audience can be patronised. No one is asking for Richard Burns rally like levels of inaccessibility, but neither should they be subject to poor car physics just because it was easy to adapt from another game.
21st April 2020, 22:20
I agree. Especially about the needs to improve virtual challenges. Also some physics improvements should be good. Just note that the official eSport drivers don’t use driving aids and run with strict rules: the experience is a little bit closer to sim. IMHO physics engine is far from perfection but not to be completely put in the trash ;)
GT Racer (@gt-racer)
20th April 2020, 17:28
Something I heard over the past month was that they are running a different mode of the game & to a different set of rules to what they would usually use for the official eSport series & that the eSport mode would help with a lot of the issues people seem to have with the ‘Virtual GP’ stuff of the past month.
I think the eSport mode has some better spectator mode setups & that the physics, handling & overall rule-set are a lot more sim like. I think even turbulent air is simulated to a more accurate level than it is in the base single/multiplayer modes.
You can watch one of the esport championship races from last year to compare-
With regards to the more relaxed ruleset, Something I heard was that it was down to how much lag they were seeing trying to bring in people from several different countries. Normally for the eSport stuff everyone is in the same room on the same network & usually for online Multiplayer the matchmaking tries to match you up against people with similar network stats to minimize the lag. I believe even iRacing works like this & that it isn’t uncommon to see issues when you are racing against people from elsewhere around the world or if somebody has a spotty connection etc..
And as to why they are using the Codemaster game, It’s down to licensing as it’s the official product on top of been the only thing available that (Officially) has all of the F1 cars/circuits. iRacing only has 4 F1 cars with the newest been the 2015 McLaren.
John H (@john-h)
20th April 2020, 18:23
But why do they have to race modern cars, or even F1 cars? Who wouldn’t want to see the current crop of F1 drivers race 1960s F1 cars for example?
I posted some positive thoughts on the second F1 2019 race but I think it’s run its course now. Sorry to be the voice of doom!!! I’d rather see Max racing in place of Ian Poulter though.
21st April 2020, 0:11
@john-h if it was an official event, there might still be some issues with establishing who was the official owner of some of those marques and getting permission to use them.
That is something that might be a bit difficult for some marques – for example, David Brabham’s decision to revive the Brabham marque in sportscar racing could come into conflict with F1. You also have the mess that surrounds the “Team Lotus” marque – does Tony Fernandes still own the rights to that marque – and it’s hard to tell who still owns BRM (I think that might still belong to the Owen family).
You also have the fact that there aren’t really many games which have a full grid of classic Formula 1 cars. Apart from Grand Prix Legends, I can’t think of any other game which has a full grid of classic F1 cars as first party content – some games have the odd car here or there, but nothing comprehensive.
Sloppy Shades (@sloppysmusic)
20th April 2020, 18:26
F1 2010 was indeed a great game. I really do hope they re-release it in July!
20th April 2020, 18:36
But I don’t think the question is so much “is F1 2019 a good game / simulator”, rather the questions are 1/ it the “right tool” for this “eracing lockdown period” and 2/ Even using that tool, is F1 doing it properly ?
In my opinion, the answer for question 1/ is: there are better tool on the market, i.e. iRacing. Is F1 really locked with Codemaster ? Could they not spawn a virtual serie based on another platform than codemaster (maybe compensating a bit codemaster for it) ?
More importantly, for question 2: compared with indycar, nascar and supercars, we are lacking the god damn pilots, and the realism of a real tv broadcast production. This is the main issue and frankly it makes me have doubt about the answer to question 1.
I really don’t have the impression (and yes it is only that) that F1 is not taking this seriously. There’s a few guys somewhere trying to make it work, but no real push from the “F1 community” and that’s what missing.
21st April 2020, 7:56
This is exactly the problem – lack of proper drivers. I’ve been watching the Indycar and NASCAR races, because they include the actual drivers. OK, there are a few guest slots, but these are filled by actual drivers – usually retired starts like Dale Earnhardt. The mix of actual drivers, esports racers and celebrities just doesn’t work, not as a replacement for the GPs. If I wanted to watch esports F1, I would. It might be a psychological thing, but o want to pretend I’m still watching the F1 season. I want to see the drivers I’ve been watching for the last 40 odd years battling it out.
I’ve heard excuses from some of the drivers that they aren’t doing it because they’re not used to this type of game or set up or whatever. So? Look at Indycar. Each of the drivers has put the effort in and learned. I think it shows the different commitment of the various series to putting on a show. To really promoting their sponsors. If I was sponsoring an F1 driver, I’d want to see them out there, promoting their product. Even if there’s not much exposure, they’re in the public eye.
F1 needs to put some proper commitment into this and quick.
21st April 2020, 22:38
I agree: drivers should be heavily engaged and exposed to F1 fans in this part of the year, in a normal season. So I think they could do something more than refusing invitations to join the others who are already racing (and that are great for their commitment). Just to avoid going OT, ok about the missing / weak features listed in the article, especially for the spectator point of view, I completely agree. But with the official eDrivers (who participated before the top drivers session) , the experience has been a little bit more realistic. Anyway, the battles seen between Leclerc and friends has been interesting too
20th April 2020, 21:59
Much of the improvements mentioned require serious work on the software. F1 2020 is set to release early July, so it likely is way past the design phase and has been so when the lockdown and the e-sports hype began; It will probably not contain any good answers to these problems, though maybe at least a wider camera angle can be added as an after-thought.
They have turned damage off completely at least in yesterdays race. And while I agree this was probably helpful in Bahrain, they could change it at least to “reduced” (mostly just front wing damage) now that the quality of the field has improved and the drivers have gotten used to the game a bit. Same goes for any setup, as until now they are all racing the same fixed setup everywhere.
Aussie Rod (@aussierod)
20th April 2020, 23:33
I think the F1-series by Codemasters is exactly the right product for F1 fans and has done a great job over the years of reaching a wide audience and being accessible and fun.
Personally I don’t play it, as I am more interested in proper sim-racing and there-in lies the problem in that whilst it is great for the masses it is a terrible platform for esports. You simply can’t have a single product that does these two quite different tasks and hopefully Liberty might just realise this and separate the fun from the serious, because there is definitely a market for both.
I would also add that it is wonderful to see iRacing get the coverage and recognition it deserves, after 12 years of steady but modest growth with a relatively small but dedicated fan-base.
It was ahead of it’s time launching an online-only e-sports series way back in 2008. Games like GT Sport were so far behind and yet received way more coverage than they deserved, yet iRacing stuck to their guns with regards to the slow production of officially licensed content and the quest for authenticity. It hasn’t been a smooth road as any iRacer will know, but the fruits are well and truly paying off now the spotlight is on them.
The Indycar and V8 series have been a huge success and the service is exploding with new members and recognition from drivers from every form of motorsport across the glove. As a fan it is great to see.
21st April 2020, 11:03
The thing with sim racing is, I don’t need to watch it because I can play it. We watch motorsport because we cannot afford to do it.
22nd April 2020, 10:14
@kringle. Yes, exactly!
21st April 2020, 12:27
Supercars is killing it, great camera work in iRacing and replay modes are important.
But f1 can really up their game
Get each racer live streaming on twitch. I mean pedal cams, sponsorship signage, interviews, live crosses.
Get FOM to aggregate their feeds, add thirty machines at FOM, running spectator mode with onboard / trackside for each car too. Get every player feeding telemetry using those plugins that we use for dash boards back to FOM. Basically get FOM tv to run this. Those guys need the work too!
Compared to supercars, the f1 offering is a) not using the best tools, b) doesn’t have all the drivers and C) is just not packaged that well. It’s a novelty at best.
22nd April 2020, 10:21
That would all be great! Remember that all those people will be working at home though….a nightmare to get set up and high probability of network issues. Massive audiences/advertising income would need to come first to make it happen imo.
21st April 2020, 12:34
Still enjoyable, but the camera direction left a lot to be desired. A lot of battles seemed to be missed, even near the front. I was watching Jimmy Broadbent’s stream when he took the lead, a cool moment in itself, and then he had a solid battle with Liam Lawson over P1. Not one second of it was shown on F1 feed…they were busy yapping with Ian Poulter at the back!
Plus, while I think the issue is on his end, they desperately need to fix Lando’s problems before he properly gives up. He adds a lot to those events I feel.
I’ll still be watching, but definitely some untapped potential.
21st April 2020, 12:41
To clarify for those unaware, Lando’s game/server/something keeps crashing and preventing him from competing…think it’s been three races in a row. Those are the problems I’m referring too; nothing with him personally.
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