Thanks to the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive, the fervor surrounding Formula 1–the world’s premiere racing category–has rarely been stronger. The sport has seen a huge influx of new fans, enjoying not only some of the best racing the sport has seen in over a decade, but also injecting a lot more meaning into the relationships between its teams and drivers off the track. In F1 2022, the latest entry in the franchise developed by custodians Codemasters, a delicate balance of catering to this new audience while also offering enhancements to returning simulation racing fans is evident and, based on some limited time I’ve had with the game, it seems to strike it quite well.
In the preview version of F1 2022, I had access to all 10 teams and 20 cars on the grid along with five tracks to race on: the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari (or Imola as its more commonly known), Silverstone in Great Britain, the Red Bull Ring in Austria, Circuit of the Americas in Texas, and the latest addition to the F1 calendar, the Miami International Autodrome. All five were available for racing in both Grand Prix and Time Trial events, with the Grand Prix weekend event featuring practice sessions, qualifying, and even Sprint races (or none, if you decide to edit the race weekend format directly).
This is just a sliver of what Codemasters will be offering when the game launches in July. In addition, Career mode and My Team campaigns will return (although a narrative-focused mode akin to Braking Point last year isn’t returning) and feature the Formula 2 Championship again. Race weekends will also be expanded, with more of the fun events that take place in real-life–like hot laps with drivers and celebrities –as well as Drift, Autocross, and Average Speed Zone challenges that can be tackled with both a variety of supercars, including F1’s own safety cars, for the first time. There’s a lot planned for this entry that expands upon the familiar format of a Formula 1 weekend but still ties itself closely to the sport, not letting it tread too far into territory occupied by the likes of Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo but letting the overlap of players enjoy some variety regardless.
What the preview did offer, despite its limited content, was the chance to see how F1 2022 has adapted to an F1 season that is grappling with massive changes itself. This year, F1 introduced long-overdue changes to almost all its regulations, redefining how teams can spend money, how they can develop their cars, and, most importantly, how those cars can be designed. It has led to incredibly different chassis designs that, while not wider and only slightly longer, allow for drastically closer racing as the sport tries to spice up on-track action during each race. Anyone who has watched this season thus far will likely tell you that it has worked (mostly), and it’s evident that those changes are reflected accurately in F1 2022.
When set to mirror real-world performance (here cars will behave according to their relative performance in real-life, as opposed to all cars being the same), you can quickly see how the field bunches up together for a lot longer–especially when you’re turning up the lap count to force mandatory pit stops. It puts a much greater emphasis on nailing each lap than previous entries, as the opportunity for an opponent to pass you on the next straight is always lingering. It also allows for more aggressive play on the track, with familiar corners now feeling a little wider thanks to the new dimensions of the cars. Given how accurately these cars have mapped the real-life circuits, you might find yourself with entirely new ways to challenge opponents with how these new cars behave, which should satiate both returning players and new ones alike.
If this happens to be the first F1 title you’ve played (or at least the first you’ve tried in a long time), then many of its systems might initially feel overwhelming. The numerous assists let you turn F1 2022 from a dedicated sim racer to something far more forgiving and video game-like, with familiar settings for traction control, braking assistance, gearbox settings, and more. New to F1 2022 is an adaptive AI difficulty that will overrule the realistic nature of the AI and transform races into more closely contested affairs across the field, with three settings governing how difficult the drivers are to race against. This setting is great for newcomers or those looking for something more traditional to racing games, where mechanics like “rubber-banding” keep all opponents close enough to feel like either persistent threats or possible hurdles to overcome. It doesn’t reflect how F1 really works, but it gives a rather malleable racing game even more room to adapt to new types of players.
Another new feature is the inclusion of several “broadcast” modes for certain parts of a race. These remove you from control and swing the camera in positions you might recognize from a live broadcast, adding a cinematic feel to each instance. These are used during Formation Laps (the single lap drivers take around a take before the start of a race), during Safety Cars, and when coming into the pits. The complexity of racing each of these is entirely removed for you to instead just enjoy the view, which works together with the game’s new, breezy difficulty settings. They can also be turned off individually if you want to participate in some and not others, so it comes down to how close to a real F1 race you want to get when tackling a Grand Prix weekend.
The counter to these new approaches to crucial points in each race are more nuanced gameplay mechanics if you want to personally partake in them. Formation laps now end with the ability to position your car within your grid space at different angles, letting you define which line you want to take from the start to be more aggressive or defensive once the lights go out. Pit-stops have also been slightly tweaked with a new mechanic that ties turning into your pit box to a timed button press. Missing the timing on this, and your entire stop might take slightly longer than usual, losing you precious seconds in a tightly contested race. F1 2022’s AI is also configured to make these mistakes from time to time too, in order to preserve an element of unpredictability to races, but this can also be neutralized in multiplayer games to keep the playing field even.
Codemasters’ approach to customizing F1 to a degree that makes it feel both challenging, but welcoming, has been a persistent aspect of many modern entries in this series. However, F1 2022’s changes go beyond previous installments, adapting the game for a potentially new audience without compromising on the simulation roots that the gameplay is built upon. With the series’ esport presence this isn’t surprising, but it’s still great to see the series stay in step with where both the sport and its viewership are heading.
It gives F1 2022 a sense of magic to it, allowing you to feel the thrill of pulling off a tight, technical lap that feels authentic to the F1 experience. No matter what assists you’re using to get to that point, there’s a balance achieved that still makes each new best time feel well-earned, and not one only afforded to you because you’ve made everything that much easier to deal with. In an age where fans over Formula 1 might have been around for a handful of decades or less than a few years, it’s a smart approach to ensure everyone can have fun with what has been one of the best racing games each year consistently. And there’s no indication yet that F1 2022 will be any different when it launches in July.