The 2020 F1 season is finally almost upon us – and so is the latest edition of the official Formula 1 game.
It’s proved a double-edged sword: Some drivers stayed away from the contest and made less-than-complimentary remarks about the game. However George Russell, who signed off the series with his fourth straight win on Sunday, made positive noises about the handling changes made to F1 2020.
The pandemic had other practical consequences for F1 2020, which was in its final months of development when the team had to start working from home instead of Codemasters’ studio. The cancellation of the opening rounds of the championship meant that, like the rest of us, they still haven’t seen the cars in their definitive ’round one’ specification.
“The teams didn’t need to push things as heavily as they would normally,” explains Codemasters’ F1 franchise director Lee Mather in an interview conducted with RaceFans and other media. “The pre-season test cars aren’t necessarily what you’ll see in Melbourne.”
Codemasters normally “lock down” the game’s car designs after the cars appear at the first race, he explains. “But we didn’t get to see them turn a wheel.
“So that’s probably where we didn’t get that last additional look at the cars. But we still got all of the CAD, all of the liveries and all the reference that we needed to create them. So we’ve not really had any problem creating the cars, they’re created to how the teams had them at the pre-season tests.”
The other great mystery concerning the cars is, of course, how they perform. In that respect Codemasters are as much in the dark as the rest of us.
“Every year we make a really good best guess at the start of the season based on previous season performance and based on pre-season tests. Which is tricky because no team really does a full lap at 100 percent, but they do sectors where they certainly put in some effort and then they’ll ease off.
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“So you can take all of that data and kind of build a clearer picture of who’s got the performance, where and how they’re achieving that performance to a degree. As we saw at the start of last year, the Ferrari was a rocket in a straight line and that made it a difficult car to catch and pass. And yet maybe that was its biggest strength for a period of season. So we use that.”
A much larger challenge for the team was adding two completely new – from the point of view of the game – circuits. They estimate building one new track is an entire year’s labour for one person. However they were able to obtain much of the necessary information before the pandemic hit hard. “We were quite lucky with the circuits in that way,” says Mather.
“Even with Zandvoort, obviously the changes would be made quite late in the day, but they were finished and locked down well before all of this. So we were able to get new reference, we were able to get drone shots, we were able to get new photography and CAD data.
“We also had LIDAR [laser-imaged] data for Zandvoort as well, which allows us to create a lot more of the circuit a lot quicker. Because of where it’s located, on a floodplain, the Dutch governments actually have full LIDAR for the region, so we’re able to get our hands on that.”
In the case of Zandvoort the team had the existing track to work on as a base. But the other new venue for 2020 – Hanoi, the home of Vietnam’s Grand Prix – is a clean-sheet design.
“There was a little bit of flux around what the layout was going to be but as soon as that was locked down, we’d already started work on that track,” says Mather.
“We’d got very much a ballpark idea of where it was going to be while it was being discussed with Formula 1. So we’d already been able to start building that, building some of the key buildings, the routes that we thought were going to be used.”
While new cars and tracks are the bread-and-butter updates of any annual edition of a major sporting franchise, Codemasters are fond of adding major new gameplay elements as well. F1 2020, which arrives 10 years after Codemasters’ first F1 game for major platforms, boasts the addition of ‘My Team’, a new dimension to the series which Mather is especially pleased to finally introduce.
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“It’s something that we’ve had in mind since 2010,” he says. “Back in the early days when we were setting out to replicate a Formula 1 season as accurately as possible, when you’re starting from nothing that alone is an enormous task in itself. It’s been a long journey to get to that.”
My team allows players to add an 11th entry to the grid – something real-world F1 sorely needs – and drive for the team alongside an AI driver. Your team mate is initially recruited from the 2019 Formula 2 line-up, but if you run your team well then later in the game you can hire a real-world F1 driver.
‘My Team’ sits separate from the ‘Career’ mode. And while last year’s introduction of the Formula 2 field was a necessary step towards making the latest new addition possible, it has meant your fictional F1 2019 rivals Devon Butler and Lucas Weber have been benched.
“We didn’t want to bring them into ‘My Team’, we didn’t want to break down the wall between the fictional stuff that we did in 2019,” Mather explains. “I’m sure they’ll be back at some point,” he adds. “They’ve been incredibly popular. Obviously, we did create that comical ‘game-show’ game villain. So it would be a shame to lose them.”
Whereas in the previous ‘Career’ mode you had the chance to develop your car, in ‘My Team’ you can also upgrade your team’s facilities and even help your team mate raise their game. Both modes run over 10 consecutive years, over which period older drivers retire and newcomers rise up to take their place. “We certainly expect to see not only drivers in Formula 1 improving, but also drivers in Formula 2 moving into Formula 1,” says Mather.
“All of the things that the player has to improve their team mate, the AI teams will also have available to them,” he explains. “So there’s multiple ways that obviously you could improve your chances and improve your team mate.
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“One of the areas of ‘My Team’ that’s obviously quite vast is in previous titles in ‘Career’ you would have the ability to upgrade your car. Now in ‘My Team’ you obviously have the R&D which upgrades the car but that’s fed through the facilities that you have.
“Amongst the facilities there’s ones that work on PR and ones that work on driver training. So the facility which you would use to manage your second driver, you can train them, you can send them on courses, you can send them on their driver training, and that will allow them to improve as a driver and increase their stats.
“You can also use those facilities to have that driver potentially be more effective in practice or qualifying. So if you want them more effective in practice, you’ll generate more research and development points to spend on developing the car.”
Some of a driver’s performance is linked to the particular team they are driving for. “So it might be that Lando Norris is still at McLaren, McLaren have spent some money on specific perks, so Lando’s got a temporary boost while he’s at McLaren because of some of the things that McLaren are offering.
“When he joins your team it may be that he loses those. So his base performance will still be boosted to where he’s worked his way up to, but then once he joined your team, you can then look at those areas that you can also boost.”
Players who want to court the likes of Lewis Hamilton will have to do more than just ‘grind’ to afford his salary.
“It may be I want to get Lewis, I’ve saved all my money, I’ve not invested in my team at all, all I’ve done is just grind away to save some money to get Lewis because that’s what I want to do.
“But Lewis won’t join me because I might have a team with enough acclaim, or I might not have a team with facilities that actually suit his needs. He might quite happily look at my team and say ‘you’ve got the money but you’ve got a level one wind tunnel, a level one wind tunnel is never going to help me to produce a championship-winning car’. So Lewis won’t want to join my team.”
We’ll reserve verdict on how well ‘My Team’ and the rest of F1 2020 works until we’ve got our hands on finished code and unleashed Team RaceFans on the world. The wait is almost over: it arrives on July 7th, two days after the real championship finally begins.
Note: All the images and footage show the game in an unfinished state.
Video: F1 2020 First Play
How we tested F1 2020
We ran F1 2020 using the following hardware:
- Fanatec Elite F1 Set steering wheel and pedals (Buy from Amazon)
- Logitech G29 steering wheel and pedals (and G27)
- NVidia Geforce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card running the game’s maximum detail settings
Buy / pre-order F1 2020
- F1 2020 Deluxe Schumacher Edition (PS4)
- F1 2020 Deluxe Schumacher Edition (Xbox One)
- F1 2020 Seventy Edition (PS4)
- F1 2020 Seventy Edition (Xbox One)
- F1 2020 Seventy Edition (PC)
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