2020 has been a peculiar year to say the least. Everyone has undergone some form of readjustment to their life and developed new routines in the process. Mine is quite straightforward. Wake up, absurdly late due to my abnormal sleeping pattern, run downstairs, boot up the PC and sip away at my cuppa. Either tea or coffee. Usually, I’d take my time, but in this instance, I had none to spare. Lee Mather, Game Director of the Formula 1 Game franchise at Codemasters is on Discord, and he’s waiting for me.
I usually catch up with Mather every year ahead of the release of the newest F1 title. However, this time there’s no fancy event venue. No free food or drinks either. Instead, myself and several other key journalists and influencers have been trying out an early version of F1 2020 from the comforts of home. It’s quite a contrast when I reflect on last year’s event in Hamburg, Germany, but truthfully, I don’t miss the travel hassle. Nor am I pushed to grind through the build’s content within a few hours whilst feeling jet-lagged, so this has been quite the refreshing experience.
But despite the current global circumstances, it’s F1 game season and Mather’s team is geared up and ready to ship the latest entry into the annual series from their homes. On Discord, the excitement is clearly visible – he’s just as enthusiastic as he would be in-person, and his passion for the F1 franchise is cut-clear throughout the entire interview. After all, F1 2020 is on track to release this July without any pushback, mostly because Codemasters approached the pandemic with the seriousness it requires. Once rumours of a lockdown began to emerge, Mather and his team were quick to react and had immediately began to put things in place.
Two weeks before the lockdown was official, the Codemasters development team were in a strong position to tackle the situation. The studio mobilized extremely fast and everyone was up and running. The biggest issue faced by the developers were their home internet connections, which now must regularly download tons of data. However, their ISPs quickly hooked up faster lines and the result has been “fantastic overall,” as Mather puts it, with communications and workflow “barely interrupted.”
One positive side effect of the pandemic is the boost it has brought to sim-racing, including F1 2019. Not just in player engagement, but also virtual motorsports which have been gaining so much popularity lately with newfound players and spectators. The lockdown has drastically accelerated this side of things despite the ongoing growth Codemasters would typically see in their F1 titles year-to-year. Mather described the situation as “a very different world,” yet he remains excited to ship the team’s “strongest F1 game yet,” which he hopes continues the trend of bringing new people into the series.
One of the ways Codemasters aims to deliver their most comprehensive F1 title to date is through their new accessible handling model, which has been designed for those who are fresh to Formula 1 and racing as a whole. This addition comes about as a learning of previous entries and had undergone much user testing ahead of the lockdown.
Casual handling offers “heavy-handed” handling with a separate suite of assists that make it feel distinct to the traditional physics of the F1 series. For example, the game can now provide a hand with steering to aid those who struggle at sharp turns or technical corners. If you’re a newcomer without any previous driving experience, this setting will undoubtedly come in useful.
But Codemasters will continue to cater to its hardcore audience. Not only have the physics and traditional handling been refined to offer a better simulation overall, but pressure now impacts tires in a more realistic way, based on surface heat levels. F1 2020 also measures both internal and body tire temperatures, too. Mather stressed the importance of these additions, as any F1 race car needs both the correct pressure and ideal temperature levels to run optimally.
There’s also a new ERS system managed by AI in F1 2020. Drivers can choose when to deploy the new “Overtake” mode to easily pass drivers and upgrades still apply as they did previously. Now it’s all about choosing the right time to deploy it – either to defend or gain a place. Failure to use it effectively will leave you a sitting duck. Enabling it after a full charge of the battery is certain to push you ahead of drivers nearby.
However, the real star of F1 2020 is the all-new MyTeam mode. Now players can develop their own Formula 1 team and make all the right, or wrong decisions, depending on their hindsight. Not only will you have full control over your racing strategies on the track, but also the growth of your team and its areas of investment. Mather says it’ll take around two seasons to bring a team to the top, but that is heavily dependent on the choices made by the player.
For example, you’ll get to choose sponsors, build up facilities for research and development, train a second driver and increase marketing efforts to bring in more advertising partners at better rates. But it doesn’t stop there. You’ll also have to carefully manage how time is spent between race weekends, allow vacation time to boost team morale and effectively balance the work between all facilities in operation with a very important goal in mind – to profit and earn R&D points. Money is spent on driver hires and paying your engine supplier, whilst R&D points are essential for research and are dictated by how your team performs, including your secondary driver's on-track results.
MyTeam also uses the F1 regulation car, built by Codemasters to official Formula 1 spec in assistance with F1 engineers and introduced in last year’s title, which can be customized with a range of skins. The vehicle comes equipped with 5-6 sponsor slots that occupy the various wings and plates. Those edging on the more creative side of the spectrum can even use two-layers to create a badge, set outfit colours, customize team branding, and even choose the colour scheme used in the facilities. When starting out, your facility will be fitted with a modest wind tunnel setup for car development before later flourishing.
Mather believes that MyTeam disrupts many elements in the game, as a driver hire results in a purge that must be filled – which could see competitors in F2 being roped in to occupy the void. Of course, there still exists much criteria for which teams any driver can or cannot go to. Let’s say you refused to invest your money into the necessary research and upgrades to improve your car and instead focused on saving it all up to buy out Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes. Well, he’d simply turn it down because you’ve got a level 1 engine and facilities. If he joined, he’d be losing every race as he just wouldn’t have the suitable car. Upgrades are crucial to your success, not just the cash you have on standby.
Treat MyTeam like “a blank canvas,” Mather says. You’ll speak to Will Buxton in your first interview and whatever answer you give to him could impact the department it represents. If you say the car is going to be stable around turns, the chassis department will take note of that and it’ll boost their morale. In addition to managing your own team, you’ll still be out on the racetrack alongside your secondary driver to compete for points. Remember, F1 2020 is still a racing game first and foremost, but now it comes complete with management aspects.
With the introduction of MyTeam to the F1 franchise, the story elements and rivalries of F1 2019’s Career mode have now been retired in this year’s entry. This is due to the shared focus between development teams, which sees F1 titles created simultaneously. Codemasters has retained the 3-race Formula 2 taster before joining the main F1 season, which now offers options for shorter seasons with 10, 16 or the full 22 races and the ability to change the order of tracks. You can also expect driver moves to occur at least once per season, perhaps twice if it’s a longer one.
Two new tracks are also featured – the Hanoi Circuit in Vietnam and Circuit Zandvoort in The Netherlands. On these circuits, the team has adapted a new approach for the spectate camera placement and are aiming to expand this to all other environments in the future. Mather noted Zandvoort to be “a prototype of the next generation of how they build tracks,” trialling the use of data such as lidar, with all aspects of track creation now being derived from the data provided.
Racing in F1 2020 feels better than ever before. Codemasters has always excelled in this department, but the continuous refinements made every year ensure the game is as close as possible to the real-world sport. Having spent several hours with this year’s title in both the Time Trial and Grand Prix modes, it’s clear that this is by far the most refined Formula 1 game yet – and the newer additions to the track roster show just how perfected and polished Codemasters’ track development process has become – and they stand out from the rest because of it.
In response to feedback, the infamous bump at Suzuka has now been flattened out, whilst the Safety Car bug in Career has also been fixed for this year’s entry – with Codemasters refining the criteria for activation. A complete pile-up of cars will now trigger it, whereas previously that may not have happened in F1 2019. Players will also notice more Amazon Web Services (AWS) graphics in the game due to the company’s partnership with F1 for live analytics and insights, which will be visible through replays and in spectate mode.
At launch, F1 2020 will include the full 2020 season, and events will have the classic GP timeframes. Whilst they will no longer match the official calendar, they will be adjusted to go in line with changes to the season. Mather also says that whilst multiplayer will continue to refine what already exists, it’ll have “some more attention” post-launch as future updates introduce feature requests.
Mather also said his team is “actively investigating” cross-play in future entries, but it isn’t a simple change, so don’t expect it anytime soon. The backend matchmaking for the Formula 1 games relies on the core Xbox Live, PlayStation and Steam networks, so the introduction cross-functionality is described as “a fundamental change.” It won’t be a foreseeable addition for F1 2020, but it’s a feature that Mather himself would like to see – noting that he enjoys playing Call of Duty Warzone with his friends across Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Another “technical undertaking” that isn’t feasible currently is support for VR, but that doesn’t mean the team is resting on their laurels in this department. Split-screen is back for F1 2020 for local play on all platforms, including PC. Dynamic resolution scaling has become another area of investment for the team, with Codemasters working closely alongside video card manufacturers such as Nvidia and AMD to optimize the game for the hardware as best as they can.
As for a next-generation version on Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, Mather said that’s a discussion that’ll happen later, but Codemasters only recently announced DIRT 5 for both current and next-generation platforms, including support for Microsoft’s Smart Delivery initiative, which means the Xbox One version of the game includes both compatibility and enhancements across Xbox One X and Xbox Series X.
Those familiar with the history of the F1 game franchise will be aware of the team’s struggle when moving from the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation to Xbox One and PS4. Their first current-gen title arrived in F1 2015, with most fans being disappointed at the game’s lack of content. Career mode, for instance didn’t return until F1 2016. I ask Mather if a similar situation could occur with the move to Xbox Series X and PS5, and thankfully that won’t be the case.
“We really challenged ourselves with the last transition as we moved game engine at the same time as we moved to new platforms,” Mather explains. The team is approaching the next-generation of consoles differently by making refinements to the current engine, which has been built to be future-proof and effectively scale across all kinds of hardware, including newer hardware and high-end PC setups. “We won’t make our lives quite as difficult this time,” he says.
F1 2020 is undoubtedly shaping up to be the biggest Formula 1 game yet, but Mather does stress that COVID-19 has changed things, when I ask him about the future of the franchise. Codemasters only recently signed an agreement with Formula 1 to continue developing new entries into the franchise and making it bigger for years to come, and well, it’s fair to say the investment and upgrades made since F1 2015 have been significant – especially for a franchise with an annualized release schedule.
Since then, the F1 videogame has been used competitively in esports, whilst a combination of both new and existing features has been added. But the series will undoubtedly continue to evolve, especially as new budgets aim to significantly adjust things in the sport. Codemasters is also ready to make any necessary updates later this year to F1 2020 to accurately simulate the finalized car performance and introduce any tracks that might be swapped into the current season, such as Hockenheimring which the Codemasters team already has on standby since it has appeared in previous entries.
The team will also continue to listen to feedback. From improving circuits to making the cars feel more realistic. Braking differences have been made much shorter and brought more in line to actual F1, traction is more realistic, physics inertia has been improved and tires have a tighter, grippier feel to them. In addition, many F1 drivers have been putting in the hours from home lately and giving their feedback to the development team, especially those now participating in Virtual Grand Prix events. This includes drivers such as McLaren’s Lando Norris, who provided Codemasters a heads-up on new features such as ERS, track changes and adjustments to how the cars handle.
F1 2020 launches on Friday, July 10th for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC via Steam and Google Stadia. In addition to featuring all the cars, drivers and circuits from the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, as well as the full season options of the 2019 and 2020 Formula 2 seasons, F1 2020 also includes 16 classic Formula 1 race machines from 1988-2010. The Deluxe Edition gives players the opportunity to race as the legendary German driver Michael Schumacher in four of his most iconic cars, including the 1991 Jordan 191, which Mather described as “a significant challenge” to get into the game.
Codemasters began looking into the Jordan since 2010, around ten years ago, and the licensing department have tried to get it ever since. Mather said adding a classic F1 season would be “near, non-impossible,” as trying to sign a licensing agreement to get a team that doesn’t exist anymore is extremely tough, as the developer must then attempt to figure out who holds the license. Treat this one as not happening. Also featured in the Deluxe Edition are the Benetton B194 and B195, both of which were just as difficult to license, Mather says. The 2000 Ferrari F1-2000 completes the list. At least they’re a current competitor of Formula 1, which makes the licensing process significantly more straightforward.
No matter how you approach it though, Formula 1 licensing is a seriously tough business, so props to Codemasters to delivering a brand-new title every year with a mix of both new and returning classic cars.
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.