It’s no secret that Formula 1 is surging in popularity right now – largely because they’ll tell you, any chance they get. In fairness, that’s what quality promoters do – and it’s precisely this sort of promotion that’s seen F1 gather such an impressive amount of momentum over the past few years.
On the back of explosive online growth, the success of Netflix’s surprise hit Drive to Survive, and some long-awaited rising interest in the US, F1 is in a very healthy spot. The fastest growing sports league on the planet in terms of online follower growth in 2021? F1. The highest-attended live sporting event in the world last year? The US F1 Grand Prix. In fact, the Abu Dhabi season finale had a higher TV audience than Superbowl LVI – almost 30% higher than the same race in 2020. It may have been marred by controversy but the historical showdown between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton attracted remarkable interest.
“It’s a really exciting time for us to be making a Formula 1 game,” says long-time F1 series senior creative director Lee Mather. “It’s really growing across the globe and those figures are increasing on a race-by-race basis, so that sets us up really strongly for where we’re going to take things in F1 22.”
As the sport itself enters a new era, Codemasters appears to be following suit.
“So the rule changes have been the biggest changes we’ve seen in the sport in four decades, and certainly the biggest change since we’ve had the license,” says Mather. “Things have changed massively in the sport this year; we’ve got new rules, we’ve got new drivers, we’ve got a new circuit in Miami. Things are really changing.”
“The order of the cars in the series is changing massively. The way that the cars look, the way that the cars drive, all of those things have changed. There’s a new audience coming in, and there’s an existing, intelligent audience who’ve followed Formula 1 for years. And we want to make sure that we’re covering all those bases.
“It was very much, ‘Well, the sport’s having a big refresh; we gain that with the cars and Miami, and the on-track experience – let’s push that out and do it across the broader game.’”
That means plenty of tweaks to the traditional Codemasters F1 package – tweaks that go far beyond simply adding the new cars, squeezing in the new Miami circuit, and calling it a day. F1 22 adds an overhauled handling model to reflect what the new cars are capable of, new commentary talent and a different race engineer, refreshed podium celebrations and other broadcast-inspired elements, support for the sprint race format, new options for both hardcore racers and casual players to get a more authentic race-day experience, crossplay multiplayer arriving post-launch, and even VR support for PC players. It’s an impressive list of additions and improvements.
“Obviously handling and physics changes have been paramount this year,” says Mather. “We knew from an early date what was coming in terms of the rule changes. We obviously met with the teams at Formula 1; we spoke with the teams.”
“We had got a really good understanding of where things were going with the cars. The difference in weight, the difference in body inertia; the way that we’d need to move from a more over-body aero system to something that was more underbody. All of those changes were things that we set out nice and early to do, along with changes to the tyre model as well. You’ll really feel how different the game is this year.”
With their bigger tyres and a minimum weight of just under 800 kilograms, 2022’s F1 cars are the heaviest they’ve ever been. This is something that can be particularly felt under braking and in slow-speed corners, and Mather explains F1 22 contains “the best handling model that we believe we’ve ever implemented in the Formula 1 series.” And no, porpoising is not reflected in F1 22.
“Just like the teams, we didn’t know porpoising was ever going to be a thing,” says Mather. “We had no concept of porpoising before we saw it at the test. So, no, porpoising won’t be in the game.”
“And I think for the benefit of those players in VR, it will be very beneficial to not be porpoising down the streets.”
At any rate, the new Miami track proves to be an interesting showcase of these new driving dynamics, with its three DRS sections, some extremely heavy braking zones, and an idiosyncratic and skinny uphill chicane complex. Interestingly, Mather confirms Codemasters’ new home at EA paid dividends here when building the precinct around the new Miami track, which includes the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
“We obviously reached out to our friends over at the Madden team who said, ‘Yeah, you can take our stadium if you need to use that; you can take the model for the stadium and tweak whatever you need,” says Mather.
The circuit upgrades to Australia, Spain, and Abu Dhabi will also be reflected in F1 22, and the sprint races occurring at Austria, Imola, and Brazil this season will also be included (although outside of My Team and the main career mode, the sprint race format will be able to be applied to any of the grands prix in the game).
This is still just the tip of the iceberg, though. F1 22 will finally refresh some of the post-race cutscenes, with new cameras and added sequences, and will even provide more commentary options.
“You can now, if you choose to do so, change David (Croft) for Alex Jacques,” says Mather. “So that's really cool, to have a different commentator. And we’ve had Anthony Davidson playing the second commentator role; Anthony can now be replaced and joined by Natalie Pinkham, who will take on the role at certain races.”
“And then across other territories we’ve also altered some of the talent. We’ve now got the likes of Jacques Villeneuve. We’ve brought Sascha Roos in, we’ve got Jean-Éric Vergne; again, all of these real, authentic Formula 1 characters coming into the game. So the players are seeing exactly the sort of thing they expect to see from a licensed Formula 1 game, and built very much on what they see when they watch these broadcasts on TV.”
Codemasters has even replaced the long-serving race engineer, Jeff.
“We decided that, after joining the series in 2010, it was time to give Adam [Rhys Dee], the voiceover artist, a break,” says Mather. “And we brought in Marc Priestly, F1 Elvis, a well-known character in the world of Formula 1; former race engineer at McLaren, currently presenting car shows on Sky TV.”
“We spoke to him last year; we realised he’s got the passion, the enthusiasm, the drive. He sounds like a race engineer. He’s been a race engineer. He’s absolutely fantastic for the role. And to reinforce that authenticity, we were able to record all of his lines with a real Formula 1 engineer headset. So again, it’s that level of authenticity, that level of realism, and with your race engineer, being your buddy, your contact, your confidant when you’re on the track, it’s great to have somebody who’s got a voice that is of that level of authority, but also calm, and also excitable when need be.”
As Mather explains, the team “wanted to go through it and refresh so many areas of the game that people have become used to” – and for the full spectrum of players, no less.
While the formation lap has been part of the game for some time now, players who crave maximum realism can now control the position of the car on the grid prior to the start.
“So you can position your car defensively or offensively in your grid slot, as you see all the time in the real sport,” says Mather.
“But not all players want to actually take part in the formation lap, and some players have turned it off in the past, but we thought, ‘Well, it’s a shame to miss out on what is a part of the spectacle of Formula 1.’ So now there’s the option to have a broadcast-style formation lap, where it’s presented very much as it is on TV, in an abridged form. Again, setting the race up in a realistic way.”
A new, broadcast-style, hands-off approach is available for pit stops, also – but so is a more demanding, timing-based challenge for optimal, semi-manual pit stops.
“So we’ve recaptured pit stops this year because obviously the scale of the tyres has changed and the speed at which the stops are happening has changed,” says Mather. “So we wanted to make sure they’re realistic and authentic. And for the player who wants the real, full experience, we’ve now got a new pit stop turn-in mechanic.”
“If you turn in at the wrong point, obviously this will upset your team. There may be a slower stop. There may be a mistake. It could be that you get a wheel stuck. If there’s a front wing change, it could be that the wing gets stuck. All of these things are things that we see in the sport.”
Casual players will even be able to select a broadcast-style version of safety car periods, which will be a hands-off and abridged sequence that will bunch up the field and bring with it the drama of a safety car without requiring them to sit behind it in real-time for multiple laps.
Codemasters is also adding an adaptive AI level for absolute beginners to make sure everyone can enjoy the excitement of dicing with opponents.
“Adaptive AI is an option for the more beginner-style player,” says Mather. “Somebody who’s trying to get into the sport. Somebody who really loves Formula 1, but maybe isn’t so strong at a racing game. And it will allow the AI to race closer with the player. We want players to not just be able to navigate the circuits, we want them to race. That’s what it is; it’s a racing game and you want cars wheel-to-wheel. You want them racing side-by-side.”
Various quality of life improvements to My Team sound good to me as a long-time player, especially the ability to copy colour schemes across multiple team design elements, and the option to start a My Team campaign as a well-financed outfit with the ability to hire a top driver immediately. The prospect of experimenting more with the new VR mode for the PC version is exciting, too (“We didn’t want to restrict where VR was available,” confirms Mather. “So if you’re playing on PC and you have a VR headset, yes, you can take part in any of the game modes.”
The team has even thrown in a lifestyle element to F1 22 called F1 Life, which is a customisable space for players to spruce up as they choose, and dress their driver in various items of clothing. It looks to be one of those things some players won’t get much mileage out of, although the collectable supercar element to F1 Life does sound interesting. Inspired by Formula 1’s Pirelli Hot Laps programme that occurs at real grands prix – where F1 drivers hurl supercars around the tracks with various passengers aboard – F1 22 will feature supercars from Ferrari, AMG, Aston Martin, and McLaren for driving events Mather describes as “palette cleansers” between races. On top of that, we’ll even be able to drive the safety cars in time trials.
Formula 2 is also making a return, and Codemasters will be updating Formula 2 with the 2022 Formula 2 season later in the year. It seems about the only thing that isn’t making a return in F1 22 is more of the ‘Braking Point’ story that began in F1 2021, which is on a two-year cycle.
“The reason being, it’s such a huge undertaking, as you can imagine,” says Mather. “If you remember in 2019, we did that feeder series intro for Formula 2, and then we obviously came in with the fully-fledged Braking Point story in 2021. That was a two-year dev cycle, and that’s the sort of cadence that we believe we need to retain in order to keep pushing that side of the game.”
F1 22 gets the green light on July 1, for PC, PS4/PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Looking at the wallet-assassinating cost of tickets for the Miami GP, it’s still the cheapest way into the world of F1.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN's Sydney office. You can chat to him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.