The obvious obstacle to creating an F1 simulator game

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Formula 1’s successful association with Codemasters, producers of its official racing game, has been running for over a decade. The latest title in the series, F1 2020, is due to arrive early in July.

The series has to appeal to a broad demographic, including not only long-term fans with decades of experience playing driving games, but also new and first-time players who are still learning the basics about every facet of motorsport.

Nonetheless Codemasters are acutely aware of the need to satisfy both groups. F1 2020 includes both finely detailed refinements to car physics which hardcore players will appreciate, and a new ‘casual’ driving mode to make the game more accessible for rookies.

Nonetheless some players believe F1 would be better off splitting the two into separate games: A light, accessible ‘arcade’ game for joypad-wielding newcomers and casual gamers, and an uncompromisingly realistic simulation for dedicated players who’ve splashed cash on wheels, pedals and even simracing rigs.

IndyCar’s iRacing series was widely praised
Those fans were given hope earlier this week when F1 admitted it has taken notice of the rise of the growing popularity of “hardcore simulation” games and was considering whether such a title could belong in its growing roster of official games.

They could hardly afford to overlook it. IndyCar, NASCAR and Australian Supercars have demonstrated the value of licensing their cars for iRacing, where their real-world drivers have flocked to while the championships have been on hiatus due to the pandemic.

In contrast it has taken two months to get as many as eight of its regulars onto F1 2019 for its Virtual Grand Prix. Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean have both said they’re prioritising iRacing for their simracing activities.

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Lando Norris, who raced in the IndyCar and Supercars series in addition to F1’s Virtual Grands Prix, said the current edition of the sport’s official game, F1 2019, is “too much like an arcade game” for real-world drivers.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Codemasters had no prior knowledge about DAS
But a crucial difference means creating an F1 simulator is a more challenging proposition than it is for IndyCar and others. The specification of the cars is far more tightly controlled in these championships than it is in F1.

The core mechanics of IndyCar’s current DW12 chassis, for instance, have been essentially unchanged for nine years. Occasional aerodynamic changes have been made, and the car has different trim levels for superspeedways compared to road and street courses, but otherwise the game makers have had the luxury of time to produce a single car.

In F1 that complexity is multiplied several times over. First, each team creates its own car. Second, those cars change every year. Third, further changes are introduced during seasons. Fourth, some components are rotated between similar tracks.

None of this makes creating an F1 simulator an insurmountable challenge. But there is another significant obstacle: Teams want as little information as possible about their cars getting into the public domain, because once it’s out there they’ve surrendered a potential competitive advantage to their rivals.

Codemasters get the essential details they need to build their models, but that’s it. Teams will protect their valuable design secrets and intellectual property as carefully as they can.

Mercedes technical director James Allison did not sign off the W11, put down his pencil then call up Codemasters’ F1 game director Lee Mather and say “right, we’ve got this thing called DAS…”

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Like the rest of us, Codemasters only discovered DAS during testing because Mercedes couldn’t hide it. “We watched the video, you see Lewis [Hamilton] doing his little push and his pull and you think ‘that’s incredible’,” said Mather in response to a question from RaceFans.

F1 2020 screenshot
F1 2020 has features iRacing lacks – like rain
As their junior driver George Russell observed, DAS is the visible tip of the iceberg when it comes to innovations on the W11. There are plenty more hidden beneath its surface.

The teams’ sensitivities to exposing their secrets is why the media and paddock pass-clutching fans alike aren’t allowed to poke their cameras around the back of cars or anywhere near an F1 machine when its covers are off.

Can a sport which invites teams to pay hundreds of millions of pounds to create racing cars bristling with cutting-edge technology also expect those same teams to surrender enough details of the inner workings of those cars for them to authentically simulated?

Bear in mind this is the same championship which recently cut a secret deal with one team because it couldn’t work out whether their power unit complied with the regulations or not.

Could this change in the future? Perhaps. The 2022 (formerly 2021) technical regulations overhaul will, many believe, strip F1 cars of their individuality to a greater degree than ever before.

Whether that’s good for the sport is another debate. But perhaps it will go some way towards making a publicly-available official F1 simulation game a reality. And, of course, if the sport believes there are enough potential buyers out there.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 29 comments on “The obvious obstacle to creating an F1 simulator game”

    1. I do not quite understand why the need to have two games, an arcade and simulator like game.
      You can always add driving aids to get new people into a simulator like game but not to do the opposite in an arcade one.

      Ifor me, it seems like codemasters want to not invest more money in the game. Neither make one worth of the F1 name.

      F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport… why not as an esport?

      1. Just because some people don’t want to play a simulator doesn’t mean they want to play with assist’s on & so making a game more of a simulator & then telling those that want something more accessible to just turn the assists on if they don’t like it isn’t a viable option.

        They should just keep doing what they are doing as the games are great for those of us who just want a pick up & play, fun F1 experience. They review well & sell well because clearly this is the sort of game the wider gaming audience wants.

        The more full-on sims never sell as well because that is a very niche market & not something most (Especially on the console side) are looking for.

        1. @roger-ayles So how does the handling of the car compare between, say Project Cars 1/2 or Assetto Corsa, and the official F1 game? I have very little experience but fooled around a but with F1 2018. You take something like the Ferrari 412 T2, turn off all driver aids and it seemed very tricky to drive. Not very forgiving when you do something wild. Maybe only the braking seemed too easy (didn’t get lock-up). I am particularly interested in the handling mode. I do understand no sim or game will ever be able to offer good realism on the latest F1 cars, for the reasons described in the article. But I think many of us will be fine with trying old cars that are a few years old, or some of the classic F1 cars, as long as they handle as they should in a sim.

      2. The main issue with that is that in order to play a sim, you really need a wheel and pedals. If you try and play iRacing or one of the other sims with a controller, you will struggle to complete a lap and if you do, it won’t be competitive.

        You can race online in F1 2019 with a controller and win.

        1. Jacques Villeneuve was able to race competitively in the Legends Trophy with a controller, and that was on rFactor — arguably a more realistic sim than iRacing.

        2. Nonsense. Before I got a wheel and pedals I used a controller and raced online competitively in Assetto Corsa.

    2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
      22nd May 2020, 13:44

      The current Codemasters game has differing handing and performance levels for each car. Where so they get that logic from?

      All they need to do is make the cars as a whole drive more like a real F1 car and then apply the same logic. Most serious sim racers would be satisfied with that I think.

    3. And, of course, if the sport believes there are enough potential buyers out there.

      What do we have to do to make the powers believe anything, tbh?

    4. “Teams want as little information as possible about their cars getting into the public domain, because once it’s out there they’ve surrendered a potential competitive advantage to their rivals.” Don’t really understand this point because there is so much more that could be improved than the current option available without needing information from teams. Take the Hybrid car from Race Sim Studios. All they need to do is as a whole improve how the cars handle and feel then fiddle with their performance.

    5. F1 cars haven’t changed _that_ much since 2017. I’m sure there’s enough data now to build a set of cars that handle pretty realistically every year. Maybe the new regs will change things but, I’m sure a solid set of cars could be built, or at least ones from the previous season, hardcore simulation fans do not need 2020 cars right now, a set of 2019 vehicles will do just fine thanks.

      They need the licence a set of cars for iRacing/ rF2 and sell them to those that wish to buy them. Same with the tracks. They don’t need to create a whole new physics engine or anything, or integrate some kind of season mode. This would seem to be a worthy investment in terms of supply/demand/profit, but then again what the hell do I know.

      1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
        22nd May 2020, 16:58

        As someone who has been a GPL and rFactor simracer since around 2003 …
        … I strongly (!) support the second suggestion. Just licence a set of cars for iRacing/rF2, maybe Assetto Corsa as well, and you’re right, the 2019 cars would do just fine.
        Super simple especially since both those simulators have infrastructure, physics and lots of tracks already in place.

        While I wait I’ll just stick with Grand Prix Legends. My old GPL league raced at Rouen with the 1968 GPL mod yesterday.
        I drove the Jo Bonnier McLaren M5A and finished (in last place).

        1. GPL is iRacing

          1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
            23rd May 2020, 11:16

            Yes, GPL being the 1.0 version if you like, iRacing being the 2.0 version.

            GPL has one major advantage: user freedom
            It is quite fiddly to get all the different mods and add-ons to work. This does put some people off – I recently reinstalled GPL and it took me three days to get it going properly. But the community is very helpful. You do need a steering wheel and pedals.

            Current Grand Prix Legends mods that I know of:
            F1: 1955, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969
            F2: 1967
            CanAm: 1966, 1974
            Sports Cars (Le Mans): 1967
            Lancia Stratos spec mod
            Thunder Cars fantasy mod (a bit like early 70s Indy)

            Several hundred historic tracks to explore. If anyone is interested, feel free to join the “Grand Prix Legends public group” on Facebook.

            1. Magnus Rubensson (@)
              23rd May 2020, 11:17

              Correction: it is CanAm 1966 and 1971 (not 1974).

      2. Seems sensible to me

    6. Aren’t all relevant forces transmitted through the tyres? A sim would need to simulate how a car handles and drives, not how it achieves driving like that, so individual tyre loads, slip and slip-angles etc. should be sufficient data. So maybe not ask the teams for data, but Pirelli.

      1. The basic g force traces which all teams get are enough, and not confidential.

      2. @crammond LOL Pirelli complains that they don’t get enough data as it is…! they even ditched the proposed tyres for this year…!

        I’d not trust that data :P

    7. I agree with @crammond above, there’s not a lot of intellectual property that needs to be shared. As long as the physics is modelled appropriately from the tire data (which is perhaps the most sensitive data), aero loading and HP data (which can often be extrapolated from GPS in testing anyway) and the general specs of the car are provided in conjunction with the teams then in think that’s enough. Assetto Corsa Competizione had provided a good model in terms of how teams can work together with simulators whilst still protecting intellectual property; granted GT3 is close to a spec series, as the article addressed above, it still serves as a good example.

      There are also many avenues one can take when creating/sharing sensitive data, for one, you can provide reasonably outdated data; development in Formula 1 is so fast that I’m sure giving data on last year’s car will have little harm, and as a hardcore simfan myself, I would have NO issues driving a realistically modelled 2017 Mercedes in 2020… So staggered releases are an option. McLaren also provides precedence for this with their F1 model on iRacing.

      Beyond the car physics however, most people are also forgetting the other aspect that makes a sim great, the track. As far as I know, NONE of Codemasters F1 tracks are even laserscanned, which is a travesty in my opinion and just speaks to the level of corner-cutting (heh) that happens when a game is arcade-focused vs. sim-focused. There are so many other aspects that make simulations fantastic that I’m all for splitting the two (broader options for broadcasting – camera work etc., real telemetry data, greater support for wheels, ongoing development, real weather…I could go on), dive it would free up the sun developers from having to worry about things like story mode etc. Overall, I think that the noted obstacles are not hard ones to overcome. They are simply beaurocratic hoops that can be navigated if there are enough interested parties and it SOUNDS like there are enough this time around. I hope this comes to pass, my sim set-up is ready.

    8. I said that yesterday. It’s something that’s very difficult it’ll ever happen because of basically two reasons: complexity and market.

      It’s a huge effort (that’s difficult to get right…) for a very limited number of sales, with A LOT of competition from games that don’t focus only on F1, but have multiple motorsport disciplines…

    9. every single year it seems codemasters say they’re improved the car physics. Like how much improvement can you get?! obvioulsy just a marketing phrase.

      1. @sato113 Only rookie programmers think a product cannot be continuously improved. There is always room for improvement.

    10. to be honest, I think they face an even bigger problem. F1 cars are too hard to drive, let alone the complexity and the number of operations the driver has to perform, on the steering wheel in the first place. Nobody who is not a professional could realistically manage the real thing, and I’m not even taking into account the forces acting on your body. If you want to make it real as a simulator, it’s just too hard and too complex. You want to make it playable in some way, you end up with an hybrid half simulation / half something else, which might be just fine for everyone using it. But this way they would risk to make it too simple, and yet call it a simulator. And then you would have thousands or hundreds of people who get really good at it and then it will become common for people to believe that in the end an F1 car is hard to drive but not so much, look at how many random guys are good on the simulator!
      That’s why I’m not interested in seeing an “F1 simulation game” come out: it can’t happen, and if it does it’s not for good. If you want a close experience, you go the actual simulator facilities the real F1 drivers use, Dallara for example, pay big money and enjoy the real thing for an afternoon, plus that memory sticks with you for life. That’s how I see it.

      1. @alfa145 This. So much this.

        They’re hard to drive. That’s kind of the point. It’s the pinnacle.

    11. dw12 was heavily criticised by some indycar drivers. tyre characteristics were too sensitive. IRL they can lean much more heavily and with more confidence.

      supercars had a big update recently and it was well received.

      check here how complex is the tyre moddeling https://www.youtube.com/user/niels007007

      imagine having to simulate HAAS issues. using tyres in qualifying and in race, going through temperature ranges. few celsius, or few psi makes a big difference, combined with environmental variables…
      I hope f1 2020 will be better at imitating a simulation

    12. As far as the market goes, now that many pros have a rig, you have to figure a certain percentage is going to start their own servers. Fans of those pros are going flock to try to get track time with their hero.

      I mean, they are giving away real race seats if your a good sim racer. That’s serious incentive. If you can get a real race seat for the price of a race rig and some practice, that’s insane incentive cause the only other alternative is thousands of dollars a year. So now a fan will be able to go out and impress his favorite driver, and get a ride lol

    13. I think the real obstacle is the following: there will be very little people able to drive a realistic F1-car at it’s limit. So the market will be small.

    14. Those are concerns, but just an approximation would be fine. As others have said, the only realistic way to get this off the ground is to involve iRacing. The whole infrastructure is there. Just sort the license, and have some F1 drivers and engineers sort the rest together with iRacing. Heck, even Newey might be tempted to get involved in this as he seems to like all kinds of new challenges (take note Julian Tan) and would be more than capable to make something great without giving any secrets away. Just ask him.

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