F1 2021 Preview: Gotta go fast

It’s lights out and away we go.

When it comes to racing, there’s little that compares to the absolute adrenal impact that is Formula 1. Drivers are racing wheel to wheel at speeds well in excess of 250 km/h, and no games really capture that feeling like the F1 series. F1 2021 is the latest addition to this line up, bringing with it a the classic roster of drivers and tracks, and we’ve been lucky enough to slip into the drivers seat and test it out for ourselves.

Formula 1 has seen a large rise in popularity these past few seasons, undoubtedly due to the influence of Netflix’s Drive to Survive – a show detailing some of the behind-the-scenes drama of an F1 team. Developers Codemasters has sought to give players its very own DTS-type experience through the ‘Braking Point’ single player story. This puts you in the shoes of an up-and-coming F2 driver, seeking to make his break in to the big leagues of F1. While not on display in our preview, it’s good to see Codemasters building a solid single player offering into their F1 titles.

If multiplayer is more your jam, then you’ll be pleased to hear that several enhancements are coming your way too. First off is the addition of a robust two player career mode. This mode lets you and a friend each play a separate driver in a championship – either for the same team or on a contract basis that may see you both eventually signed to the same outfit.

However if it’s larger format online play that tickles your fancy, then you’re in luck — F1 2021 is bringing some nice improvements to these offerings as well. In addition to the Ranked lobbies present in F1 2020, ’21 will also see more casual unranked lobbies available for those looking for some jump-in racing action.

Finally, one of the most requested features from F1 2020 was the addition of some of the tracks utilised in the reworked calendar raced last year. The global pandemic wreaked havoc on the Formula 1 race schedule last year, and with a delayed start saw several changes to the track’s raced. Last year’s offering though only saw the original schedule available in game, with several new ones omitted entirely. This year though, Codemasters is including all tracks to be raced, though three of those will be available via a patch after release.

These features are all well and good, but how is the racing? In a word, better than ever. The cars feel smooth and responsive to drive, but they’re undeniably less planted then then those on F1 2020. Switching back and forth between the titles during my preview, I was able to notice some real differences between the handling models which fits with the regulation changes introduced in the 2021 season.

The cars slide out more willingly in high speed corners, and kerbs are absolutely something to be feared. The 300km/h Copse corner at Silverstone requires a great deal more care in 2021, and other speedy sections of raceway can easily be a disaster if approached incorrectly. This is the kind of experience I love in racing games – the true knife’s edge battle between grip, aero and your own courage as you fight for lap times and positions.

I do recognise that this isn’t for everyone though, and evidently so does Codemasters as F1 2021 sees the introduction of racing styles. Racing styles come in three flavours; Beginner, Standard and Expert, and affect things like grip off-track and more simplified control inputs. This is in addition to the traditional assists of steering, braking and traction control which can all be turned on or off to your liking.

In the interest of providing a more complete preview, I sampled both the basic all-assist-on type gameplay, as well as the raw, unadulterated racing of the simulation style options. While the difference in speed is perhaps the most noticeable thing, F1 2021 does a great job at not making you feel like you’re being babied when you’re racing more assisted. Racing just feels smooth, and it never feels like the game is taking over. Turn the assists off though and you’re totally at the mercy of the machine, but oh what a ride.

F1 2021 heads to Windows PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series on 17 July 2021. This preview was played on Windows PC, using a G29 racing wheel.

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About the author

Hamish Lindsay

Avid reader and general geek, justifying the time I spend playing games by writing about them. I try not to discriminate by genre, but I remember story more than gameplay. I’ve been playing League for longer than Akali and I’m still Silver. Fallout 3 and MGS3 may be the pinnacle of gaming.

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