The record-breaking 22-race 2020 F1 calendar will only exist in the virtual world.
“The game will follow the season as was originally planned,” Codemasters Formula 1 game director Lee Mather confirmed. “We’re not deviating from that.
“That’s something that as soon as all this started and the races were postponed, we started those discussions with Formula 1 and we all decided that people still want the full season. It wouldn’t be right to use something, particularly as well as unpleasant as the pandemic in such a way. It’s a game, it’s there for people to enjoy and have fun with so it was always deemed that we would always be allowed to run the full season.”
But the full roster of 22 circuits is only one of many changes in F1 2020. We had the chance to play a pre-release build of the game over the past week, got a feel for what else is new, and found out much more about what will be in the finished game.
Note: All the images and footage show the game in an unfinished state.
Video: F1 2020 First Play
More videos from our first play of F1 2020 are being published today and over the coming days. Find them all on RaceFans’ YouTube page:
New tracks: Zandvoort and Hanoi
Renovation work at Zandvoort was only completed in February, so Codemasters had to work quickly to get the remodelled track into the game. They were able to do this partly because they obtained laser-scanned imagery of the circuit.
“Zandvoort is the first track that we’ve had full LIDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] data for, that we were able to obviously build a track from scratch for,” says Mather. “It gave us a really good head start.”
Playing the game, it’s not hard to see why Max Verstappen was so enthusiastic about the track when he drove it for the first time. It features spectacular undulation, seriously quick corners, unforgiving run-off areas and those two banked corners.
It doesn’t lend itself to wheel-to-wheel racing as readily as the other new addition to the calendar, Hanoi, imagery of which we’re not allowed to share with you just yet. With its long straights and hard braking zones, Hanoi lends itself to dramatic late-braking passes.
Its final sector is downright fiendish, rapid corners hemmed in by tight barriers. Good luck if you get a wet race. By F1’s standards, it feels like a proper street circuit.
Existing tracks have had a makeover as well. The final sector at the Circuit de Catalunya has been polished – Codemasters say this work began before F1 2019’s rendering of the track was criticised by Charles Leclerc and other drivers on social media.
Suzuka’s notorious bump is also apparently no more, though that track wasn’t available for us to test.
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New gameplay: My Team
Unfortunately the major new gameplay addition for 2020 – My Team – was also not yet ready for us to play with. That’s a shame, because being able to run your own 11th team, boosting the car count to 22, and appointing your own team mate, is a feature many fans have been eager to see.
Of course it wouldn’t be called ‘My Team’ if you couldn’t brand it as your own, and so there is a heavy cosmetic element to this part of the game. As well as being able to design your team’s badge and livery, you will appoint sponsors and decide how to spend the income you receive.
“There’s the primary sponsor, which will stay with you for the entire season, and then we also have another four sponsor slots,” explains Mather. “They obviously offer short-term goals, long-term goals, bigger cash pots up front with a shorter over period of time or vice-versa. You pick and choose the way you want to handle that cash flow.”
While the sponsors available to you in My Team are fictional, you will get to choose from real-world power unit manufacturers. “We didn’t want to do it if we couldn’t allow players to actually sign a real engine supplier,” says Mather. “Those are absolutely key parts of the sport.”
Another must-have aspect of My Team was the ability to appoint real-world drivers from outside F1. This was “an absolute must”, says Mather. The 2019 Formula 2 field will feature at launch, and the 2020 roster will be added later. And if your team performs really well, you may get to poach a rival’s driver.
“We also had to be able to dip into the Formula 1 driver market. It just wouldn’t be right to not be able to lust after the greatest drivers on the grid and to want them to join your team.”
But it will take more than a wad of sponsor cash to lure the likes of Lewis Hamilton – you’ll have to make your team an attractive proposition as well. “Lewis will have requirements of [my] team as well. He’s not going to come to me if we’ve got no chance of winning races.”
Hamilton may have other demands, Mather adds. “He was quite vocal about how he was spending a lot of his time doing sponsor and media events and things such as that when he was at McLaren and then when he moved to Mercedes, he wanted to cut down on that a little bit. That’s one of the elements that the play will have to manage in the game.”
You’ll have to make trade-offs between the different demands on your drivers. “Maybe there’s an opportunity for a driver to go do something for one of the sponsors and that’s going to bring you in a sponsor bonus or increase the team’s acclaim in a certain way that you will either attract a better sponsor in the future.
“But the downside to that might be if the driver’s there doing that, it could mean that they’re not doing something in the wind tunnel or suspension development or engine development, they’re not giving the team feedback on something else. So it could be detrimental to not only the performance of that department, but the morale of that department.”
As the championship unfolds – over a full 22-race campaign or, if you prefer, shorter 16 or 10-race seasons – the decisions you take influence your team’s performance in myriad ways.
“Alternatively, I could get myself a poor driver and have more cash to actually improve my facilities so I can better improve that driver over time. So it’s very much how you decide to manage those areas. There’s always pros and cons to everything you do.”
It is possible for your team to go bust. Before you get to that point, you’ll likely find you have to replace your named team mate with one of the fictional drivers otherwise seen in the historical challenge modes, who serve as the game’s equivalent of ‘pay drivers’.
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New cars and handling
Naturally the full roster of 2020 cars and teams is present with all the correct updates. Most cars appeared in standard models in this preview version while their final shapes are completed, though the Renault RS20 was sporting the slender nose which distinguishes it from its predecessor.
The changes are not just skin deep. Codemasters have continued to refine their handling model with detailed changes which the most dedicated F1 2019 players should appreciate. These include changes to how tyre pressure adjustment influence tyre carcass and surface temperatures, and refinements to the car wheel physics.
“The changes we’ve made to the inertia of the wheels and tyres and the way that works, it’s not one of those headline things, but it makes a very, very big difference to the experience,” says Mather.
“You’ll have so much more confidence with the car, you’ll certainly have that feeling on the brakes of being been able to brake so much later.” You have to switch the braking assistance off to really feel the benefit of this change which is obviously aimed at hardcore players.
“I think one of the areas that we were particularly weak in was how the cars braked,” concedes Mather. “We just couldn’t get the deceleration in the tyre correct. That’s probably the biggest change for the on-track.”
Amusingly one change for the sake of realism, which was prompted by a suggestion from Lando Norris, actually makes F1 2020 feel more “gamey”, says Mather. The Energy Recovery System has been simplified from last year and now takes the form of a straightforward ‘overtake’ button and choice of three settings, down from five last year. “It’s mirroring a lot closer to what the drivers experience in real life,” says Mather.
When not playing online, your computer-controlled opponents will also put up more of a fight than before. “The AI will be more dynamic, more racey. Further still we’ve refined some of the systems that we brought last year with the blocking, the way that they perform the overtakes. It’s not uncommon to see the three-abreast down a straight as everybody tries to get past.”
“The way the AI was turning in as well, they were pushing a little bit into some understeer which was sometimes causing them to run into the side of other cars,” he adds. “So again we’ve continued to refine the way that they manage their inputs.”
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New ‘casual mode’ and assists
A major new addition to the game is intended to make it more accessible for first-time players, or those less familiar with F1 who find the challenge of reversing out of Baku’s run-off areas more infuriating than immersive.
“There’s a lot people out there who aren’t the greatest gamers in the world, but they’re huge Formula 1 fans and they want the joy of racing a Formula 1 car around some of the world’s greatest circuits. So accessibility is another area that we’ve focussed on.”
Codemasters have done this by adding a new casual driving mode. It offers greater simplification of the game, to the extent that the mode isn’t available for online play. It makes off-track areas easier to drive on, offers an ‘auto reset to track’ option, and includes AI-assisted steering.
“Rather than dumbing down the title, which is something we said we would never do, you still have the standard set-up where you have all of the options available to you as a player, you have exactly the same as feel and handling that we’ve had over the years, the same physics tech which we’ve obviously moved on this year, but the casual setting is very separate.
“It can be applied onto the game modes that the player can play offline, but it’s never applied to competitive game modes because it is incredibly heavy-handed and certain elements of it obviously would be seen as exploitable, such as the easier to drive off-track surfaces which allow the player to return to the track easier.
“All that was derived through a lot of research and focus testing that we’ve done where we’ve seen how players play the game, we’ve seen the points of friction where people have their little tantrums and they’re like ‘right I don’t like this is it’s too difficult’. We wanted to relieve that friction to allow players to learn the game in a more casual setting and then gradually increase the difficulty and find a level that they’re comfortable with.”
Two new assists have also been added and work as you’d expect. “A lot of people still struggle to remember to trigger the DRS so there’s an auto DRS option. There’s an auto fuel management option and there’s obviously the auto ERS.”
What else is new?
Career mode hasn’t been neglected despite the addition of My Team. Changes here include the introduction of power unit upgrades, the ability to rush development of certain parts – with inevitable potential for breakages – and more sophisticated contract negotiations. The latter allows you to renegotiate your existing deal, and open talks with multiple rival teams.
The fictional duo Lukas Weber and Devon Butler introduced in last year’s game are gone, but may return in a future edition. In their absence, you can scale your involvement in Formula 2 before commencing an F1 career.
“Now at the start of your driver career, if you’re not going [into] My Team, you can enter Formula 2 and do a three-race taster, you can do half a season or you can do a full season or you can skip straight to F1 if that’s something you prefer” says Mather.
The career-influencing interviews remain, and are also present in My Team, both now hosted by F1 presenter Will Buxton’s virtual clone.
Finally a new customisation option allows players to specify their own podium ’emotes’. Whereas previous the drivers all acted in much the same way “now the player can actually set what their character does when he runs onto the podium, be that a silly jump, a little bit of a dance, something a little bit different.”
From our first play of F1 2020 it’s clear Codemasters haven’t tampered with the fundamentals and the core elements of the familiar driving experience remain intact. The opportunity to enter an immersive and highly customisable new game mode looks like just the ticket in the long weeks which remain before F1 racing is scheduled to finally begin.
Video: F1 2020 onboard laps
Pictures: F1 2020 gameplay
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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