Formula One is back. It feels good to finally be able to say that. The 2020 season might not be the same, but that hasn’t stopped the excitement as our favourite racing stars get back behind the wheel. Whether by design or happy chance, F1 2020, the latest in Codemasters’ officially-licenced series, has also arrived. And actually, it’s exciting to get back behind the digital wheel, because whether it’s the F2 cars of last year’s season (the new season will be added later), the classics of yesteryear, or Lewis Hamilton’s 2020 Mercedes W11, every car feels great to drive.
But let’s be honest, you’re probably not going to jump straight into a Mercedes, or even a Ferrari, Red Bull or a McLaren, you’ll want to build your own car and team. That’s because this year’s big addition is a second career mode called My Team. Instead of starting in F2 and working your way up the ranks as a rookie driver, you’ll start up your very own Formula One team and attempt to rise through the ranks of the world’s top motorsport.
Strangely, this new mode starts off with no fanfare whatsoever. You’re simply taken through a series of menus, with some extremely bored-sounding narrator explaining each section of your team’s creation. During this process, you’ll create your driver avatar and outfit them in custom-gear, before creating a livery for your team’s cars and employing a second driver. It’s similar to Codemasters’ other racing series in this regard, but with a surprising lack of celebration. Everything about My Team’s opening feels dull, especially in comparison to the excitement once you hit the track.
On the track is where F1 2020 really shines. The racing is better than ever, really setting the benchmark for other games out there. That’s not to say it’s without flaw, the AI might fancy a good race, even against each other, but it still seems a little too keen on trading paint. This might be fine in a touring car game or a GT racer where the cars are built to be a little sturdier, but F1 machines are designed for pure racing, with any impact likely resulting in a broken front wing or a punctured tyre. It can be a little frustrating when a rival shunts into the back of you, or spins you out as you go through a corner together, but thankfully it’s not something that happens too often.
Racing in My Team feels very different from any other racing in F1 2020, because you’ll be starting with a new, unproven car. Not only that, your facilities aren’t anywhere near the level of the top half of the field, so you’ll probably find yourself struggling during the first season. Sure, you might be able to score yourself a good place on the starting grid through a decent qualifying session, but that may not translate to a good finishing position at the end of the race. Your car may not have the durability to preserve your tyres on longer stints, your grip levels falling off more quickly than the more experienced teams around you. Whereas you’ve always had the chance to dominate quite early in the standard F1 career mode, My Team feels designed to be more of a marathon than a sprint, meaning you have to earn points finishes during that first season. This makes it all the more meaningful when you finally get on the podium, or when a stroke of luck sees your strategy pay off and you end up placing higher than expected.
Success in My Team comes through patience, as you aren’t just managing the addition of new car upgrades throughout each season, like you do in career mode, you need to manage your budget and develop your facilities too. Upgrading each facility is extremely pricey, costing millions each time (further proving you’re in it for the long haul), but will improve R&D times or reduce the chance of an upgrade’s development failing.
You even have the chance to sign new sponsors, offering temporary contracts that can earn you extra money throughout the year. Each one comes with a specific objective, which will pay out a lump sum each time you succeed before the contract ends – which is definitely good for keeping the money rolling in. You can also manage the team’s time between race weekends, which can improve a department’s morale or even improve the abilities of your teammate. This is important, because they will initially be an up-and-coming F2 driver, needing a little extra experience to compete against the top stars of Formula One.
My Team isn’t the only race in town, though, and standard career is also available with its own tweaks and additions. F1 2019 introduced F2 into the mix, a feature I was particularly happy about, but it was fairly limited and acted as a sort of story to bring in a fictional rival throughout your career. This year, Codemasters has done away with the fictional drivers, in favour of keeping the grid populated solely with real drivers – and you, of course. You are given the choice of competing in a variety of season lengths, including a full season in F2, or you can simply jump straight into the seat of a Formula One car.
However you play F1 2020, it simply cannot be understated how well it actually plays. The handling model will be immediately familiar to returning players, with its excellent and responsive controls, but incremental quality-of-life changes have improved the overall experience nicely. For example, the new Overtake button makes manual ERS management more realistic and far easier to use. The handling changes much more significantly as tyres degrade, or if a wing is damaged, making for a more authentic driving experience. It’s incredibly intense when you find yourself battling to keep your position as your tyres fall apart beneath you, and all the more rewarding for it.
Races are almost always exciting, which is perhaps the most important part of any racing game, regardless of whether it’s a simulation or not. It’s great when you see opponents battling ahead of you, allowing you to slowly reel them in and possibly take advantage of the situation. It’s equally exciting when you’re forced to defend a top position against a faster car, learning to position your car to maximise your defence through (and out of) corners. Of course, pit stops are a huge part of F1 and that’s no exception here, sometimes requiring some on-the-fly strategising to get one over your rivals. It’s surprisingly satisfying when you nail the timing of a stop.
With two huge career modes, plus a few noticeable tweaks to the overall gameplay, it’s difficult not to be impressed by Codemasters’ latest entry in its Formula One series. It even comes with a new Casual handling mode that makes it more accessible than ever before, potentially allowing a whole new audience of F1 fans to enjoy the game. Both on and off the track, F1 2020 is the racer to beat this year.
Racing is better than ever
F2 fully integrated into career mode
Customisable career length and venues
My Team’s opening is surprisingly dull
AI can be a little too physical on-track