F1 2019 celebrates Codemasters’ tenth-year of developing and maintaining the Formula 1 video game franchise ever since it acquired the official license to publish F1 titles in 2009. Whilst the developer has introduced incremental improvements into the series with each passing entry, there’s no doubt that F1 2019 is the team’s greatest achievement yet – and it shows. Whether it’s the overhauled HUD elements inspired by real-world Formula 1 broadcasts or the introduction of F2, this year’s installment into the franchise brings fans closer to the real sport than ever before.
This week, I had the opportunity to go hands-on with an early build of F1 2019 at a special Press Preview event in Hamburg, Germany at the Automuseum Prototyp using both a premium, high-end Fanatec wheel setup and a standard Xbox One controller – and it’s fair to say that each delivered their own immersive, exhilarating and distinct experiences. From the realism of load cell pedals combined with a robust force-feedback model to the smooth, refined gameplay delivered by a controller, there’s no such thing as a bad way to experience F1 2019.
The wheel certainly felt truly impressive and despite several on-track incidents that would be worthy of disqualification, I could undoubtedly appreciate just how realistic and authentic F1 2019 played on this uniquely-tailored force-feedback setup. Meanwhile, the controller remains buttery-smooth to use and is as accessible as ever to newcomers – it’s truly the perfect balance. There’s no doubt that Codemasters has developed its most authentic handling model yet for F1 2019, and as explained by Game Director Lee Mather in an exclusive interview with FullThrottle Media, the development team back at Birmingham, UK aims to always refines its vehicle physics with each new installment into the annualized series.
“There’s always refinements. So, things like hooking up the rumble motors in certain devices that have them in wheels, hooking up things like the rumble in pedals is another thing,” he says. “But we’re always refining those things, always tweaking the way that the force-feedback is applied, and obviously the device you were playing on has a very strong force-feedback wheel – so you can really feel every detail that comes from the physics, because everything comes directly from the physics.”
Whilst usually subtle, its yearly improvements to the core handling model show Codemasters’ unparalleled attention-to-detail in its sim-focused Formula 1 game franchise, and F1 2019 offers various improvements designed to virtualize the sport in the most realistic manner possible. For example, one of the most notable changes comes in terms of the game’s overall aesthetics. The HUD elements that display throughout races have been overhauled to mimic those as seen in real-world F1 races. These include on-screen indicators for penalties and fastest lap records, which are redesigned to match those from televised broadcasts. It’s a small, but notable improvement that truly makes you feel connected to your virtual Formula 1 race more than ever before.
Codemasters is also introducing Formula 2 into its franchise for the first time. At launch, the F2 2018 season will be available with the 2019 season and support for F2 online racing both coming after release. The addition of F2 also ties into Career Mode, which has received substantial changes in this year’s title. Everyone will begin their Career in Formula 2 and will choose which team they wish to drive for before participating in the Driver Academy. Here, you’ll pick the team you’d like to transfer to when you eventually transition into Formula 1 – and if you select correctly, you’ll even receive additional perks. There’s also ‘Free Events’ that you can participate in for F2 which have been curated by Codemasters, with the last of these acting as the final race of the season, but you’ll obviously need to get the results that are required to make the transition into Formula 1. Along the way, however, you’ll also encounter some Rivals, who will become notable nemeses as you progress through your F2 career.
“So, you’ll move into Formula 1 and through that process, you’ll have met two Rivals,” Mather explained in our interview. “There’s two characters that we’ve added to the game in Formula 2 that will become your Rivals. We’ve also got some really cool cut-scenes that play out through F2. So, as you move into Formula 1, they will join you as well, and they’ll get drives for Formula 1 teams. Your Rivals follow you into the sport. But also, this year has been great because we have the four drivers coming through from Formula 2 into Formula 1 as well, so that really injects that interest from Formula 2 into Formula 1.”
Mather also elaborated on the possibility of AI drivers being able to switch teams throughout the Formula 1 season in Career Mode: “So what we’re going to be doing is retiring some of the drivers because we’re inserting those new drivers into the career. So you know you get the two guys that come through, they could retire, so it maybe that one of them moves into a seat that’s taken by another driver, they get pushed out for that driver, and then they will maybe retire and the other driver will have come back.”
Codemasters has also developed a “completely different” handling mode for its F2 vehicles compared to those used in Formula 1. “They are completely different – setup from the ground up,” Mather noted. “So even like the tires are obviously totally different, and then the physics of the car is completely built around Formula 2.” It’s like the classic cars that were first introduced with F1 2017. Each of these have bespoke handling models that have been tailored to their era of the sport for an authentic and realistic racing experience that recreates the classic Formula 1 races of years gone by. Mather took the opportunity to reaffirm that classic cars will be back in F1 2019, but the list has been “trimmed” to remove the least popular vehicles from the list.
“We can’t have too many, it’s so hard to manage,” he explained. “They’re not being used; we can do something that will really rejuvenate them. So, the vast majority of them are returning from last year, all the favourites obviously. Somebody asked earlier on about the Brawn, it’s obviously back because we can’t lose the Brawn, it’s such a heavily demanded car. Yeah and obviously to compliment the Alan Prost and Senna content we’ve got in the game, we obviously got the two cars that they raced in 1990, so the McLaren and Ferrari, and then to sort of commemorate our 10 years of Formula 1 games, because this is our tenth Formula 1 title that we’ve created as a studio – excluding the Wii version, we’ve got two of the cars from that year as well, so again it’s a Ferrari and McLaren from that year, so that’s really cool to see how they changed since the first game on Xbox 360 all the way through to where we are now.”
Both the McLaren MP4/5B and the Ferrari F1-90, driven by Senna and Prost respectively, will be exclusive to the special F1 2019 Legends Edition. Codemasters has developed eight tailored race challenges that sees these classic race machines battle it out on the track. These are accompanied by themed liveries that can be applied in multiplayer, whilst the likeness of both legendary Formula 1 drivers has been added to the Career Mode. Meanwhile, the Anniversary Edition of F1 2019 includes two classic cars from the unforgettable 2010 season – the Ferrari F10, as driven by Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, as well as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button’s McLaren MP4-25.
F1 2019 also introduces another type of vehicle that’s brand-new to the series – a 2019 spec-based model that isn’t associated with any competing team but adheres to season regulations. Mather says Codemasters has introduced this vehicle to allow players to customize their very own Formula 1 vehicle with the livery design and colours of their choosing – but it won’t give total freedom as seen in other games. “Obviously to do something where a player can create the livery themselves requires some form of moderation as well, as we all know, people always make the same shapes on cars, putting objects in games, so what we have is a really wide range of liveries that we’ve created, and there’s different levels,” he says.
“So, there’s fairly simple ones with just a number of different colours you can change all the way up to really detailed ones which are incredible,” Mather exclaimed. “You can change like four colours on those liveries as well, so you can really tune them to how you want them to be. And because there’s such a range, and you can change all of the colours on those liveries, you know, you’ll probably never see someone with the same looking car as you when you race online.”
Liveries can be acquired for the customizable 2019 spec-based car by accumulating Competition Points that are won in multiplayer events. These skins aren’t just designed to look great during races, but they’re also made to show off just how successful you are in online races. As before, you’ll also be able to customize your driver suit, gloves, helmet and badge, allowing you to express yourself however you desire both on and off the track. With the introduction of a customizable car that meets 2019 regulation standards, F1 2019 doesn’t just offer the most realism or content of the series to date, but also the most personalization.
The ability to race F2 cars online and compete using the customized 2019 spec-based regulation vehicle aren’t the only improvements being introduced to the multiplayer experience in this year’s Formula 1 title, however. As a service to its most dedicated and loyal community of players, Codemasters is introducing dedicated league racing integration into its online offerings. League racing organizers of all types will have the ability to form their own leagues from within the game itself without the need of using external websites or forums. This also applies to how drivers themselves sign-up for events too, as it’s now all handled directly in the game – and F1 2019 will also track how often you show up to races and highlight this on your profile as your attendance rating, which can be viewed by other players.
“We see a lot of people taking part in leagues, it’s also very much a little community that deal with things through their forums, their websites and things like that, so we wanted to allow players to get into races in the game through leagues as well,” Mather explains. “So now, for example, if I know that on Thursday night in the week, I don’t have anything planned and I want to play some Formula 1, I can look for a league that runs in my region on Thursday night, does races on the sort of tracks I like, the sort of distance I like, and I can apply to the race in that league. And then if a league owner wants me in there and I’ve been accepted, then I can take part in those races. So, it’s now giving players who traditionally maybe shied away from that area because they couldn’t find races that suited their schedule [a fair chance], you know, we can now manage all of that from within the game.”
Codemasters is also drastically improving its esports integration within F1 2019 that puts the F1 Esports Series front and centre on the screen when booting up the game. This year’s entry features an entirely-redesigned menu interface that is designed to better showcase areas of the game that people may have missed before – “and esports is one of those areas that we’ve now given its own section in the front-end of the game,” Mather revealed.
“So, if you go into there, you can not only take part in the qualifying rounds, but there’s also now rewards attached to taking part,” he said. “You can unlock items and a special skin, which we’ll allow you to obviously use on the customization car for the online. And also, you can go in there and view races, so if there’s a race running live, there’s going to be a live tile that will allow you to click on that and that will take you to view the race. You’ll be able to go look at the previous results, so we really wanted to give the player the ability to get all those things in the game in a much easier way.”
Super License is also being overhauled and expanded upon for F1 2019 and will even include esports integration, too. As first introduced with F1 2018 last year, this feature acted as a driver’s rating system that ranked your performance based on your overall skill-level and professionalism in multiplayer. But in F1 2019, this system is used across the entire game and will also reward players with trophies for achieving set milestones throughout their Formula 1 career. “So now there’s an attendance rating, so if you don’t turn up for league races, your attendance rating is obviously quite poor, so if I’m running a league, I might set the criteria so that everyone who enters must have an attendance rating of a certain amount,” Mather noted.
“And also, because now if I’m running a league for example, I can create a badge that players can win, so if I win that league, that’s something that then goes on my profile, and I can add that to my collection,” he added. “If I take part in the esports, I might make the top 60 in the world – top 60%, there’s a trophy which you earn for that. So again, you put that on your profile, and you can showcase these trophies as well. If I look at your profile, I can see that you maybe got your favourite trophies and that you qualified ‘x’ in this tournament, so it’s giving the player rewards for what they’ve been doing and allowing them to show them off to their friends basically.”
Codemasters is also expanding its replays system in F1 2019 with the introduction of a highlights reel. “So, anybody who’s watched Formula 1 knows that after the race, there’s always the snappy highlights reel with all the exciting overtakes and incidents in the race, and that’s essentially what that does,” Mather revealed. “So, we’ll collate one minute or roughly a minute of exciting things that happened during the race and put them into one highlight package that you can then view at the end and on PC, you can also export that to a video.” These can then be edited and shared online with the wider community, which provides content creators with another avenue for sharing their greatest racing moments in Formula 1 to their audience.
F1 2019 has been in-development for almost two years now, and it’s no surprise when you consider the substantial number of new features and content being introduced with this title compared to those that preceded it. This is undoubtedly Codemasters most ambitious entry yet into the F1 game series, but it’s also coming out earlier than ever before, too – around two months earlier than usual on Friday, June 29th, to be precise. Whilst Mather is excited for this new release window so the game ships earlier into the season than before, he admitted that it’s also quite a surreal change for the team.
“It feels very strange, it almost feels we’re not at this point yet – but it’s something we always wanted to do, always wanted to come out earlier,” he said about F1 2019’s release date. “It makes it more relevant to the season, because the season is still in that “Who’s going to be the quickest?” – you know, are Red Bull really as quick as they look? Are Mercedes going to continue to stay on the front? Are Ferrari not maybe as strong as they originally looked at the start of the season? So, there’s that real buzz around it and to come out in this window where we’re still mid-air of expectation I think is really beneficial. Because people are more excited about getting involved in Formula 1.”
Mather also spoke about the benefits that the team has received with its longer development cycle. Typically, F1 titles have been developed, polished and released within a 12-month period – but F1 2019 has been in the works at Codemasters for around two years. “I think you can see in multiple areas where the gains have been made,” Mather noted. “First off is the release date, one of the things we get out of it. Secondly, you look at the scale of the game again this year, it’s updated significantly in terms of features, in terms of content, in terms of adding the Formula 2, which is a huge development in its own right. So those are areas that we couldn’t have done without a longer development time.”
These changes undoubtedly have the team excited, and the enthusiasm expressed by Mather throughout our interview certainly showed this. “I really want to see how people engage with that little journey into Formula 1 and how they engage with the characters that we’ve added, and there’s a lot of time and effort gone into those scenes, and the scripts, so how they engage with them is something I’m really excited about,” he said. “I really want to see people play the online stuff as well, I really want to see those leagues and see how they’re getting on, see how they enjoy them.”
“So, what we really need to do now is, you look at how successful the esports is, and you know, you look at how real motorsports’ sort of grassroots series is how people get through esports, we want to see that in Formula 1 as well,” he added. So, when we do add in the F2 as well to the online, that will hopefully start to feed a new generation of online drivers as well.”
It isn’t just the feedback from players that excites Codemasters, but also the response from real-world Formula 1 drivers who use the title to learn tracks and practise manoeuvres that can be used in the actual sport itself. “We’ve had them use it over the years when new circuits have come in, because we’ve had instances where we’ve built circuits before they’ve been finished even in real life. So, drivers have learned the circuits within the game. And then this game, bearing in mind it’s not out yet, was in Baku last weekend and the drivers, a few of the drivers had the opportunity to play the game there as well. We do like to give the drivers hands-on and get their feedback as well, it’s great to see how they react to the game.”
Whilst real-world Formula 1 drivers have close ties towards both the game and the real sport itself, there’s also a group of highly-talented competitors who showcase their skills solely within the game via the F1 Esports Series – which is offering an impressive prize pool of $500,000 in its 2019 season. Whether a driver from this pool of drivers could ever make it into the actual sport itself is tough to predict, but it’s certainly something Mather isn’t ruling out either.
“I’m not entirely sure at Formula 1, that’s a long stretch, but I don’t see any reason why not,” he explained. “I think, as often is the case, money has been a restricting factor for anything like this, but that does really produce the issue when you show your skills in a virtual environment and it shows very obviously in the last few years, and it’s incredible how it can be transferred to a real car. We’ve seen multiple drivers now take the wheel of a real car and do really well. Rudy van Buren has done it, obviously Brendon Leigh has now done it recently with a great performance out of the box. So, the skills are incredibly transferrable; I don’t see a reason why we’re not going to see more virtual racers make it into the real sport.”
Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he keeps the website updated with new and relevant content, including news stories, reviews and opinion pieces for the games he likes writing about the most. He also tweets too much, probably.