F1 2019: Gameplay, handling, & rivalries – Testing driving the new game

We paid a visit to Codemasters to try out F1 2019. What can gamers expect when it hits the shelves?

Toby Durant by Toby Durant

F1 2019 has already captivated fans. Codemasters hit the ground running by announcing that the game will be released two months earlier than usual on 28 June, 2019. Then came the revelations that the F2 Championship will be in the game, that Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost will be given their own game mode, and multiplayer will have its own car with custom liveries at long last.

All of that was more than enough to whet the appetite for gamers, so we were very excited to be invited to Codemasters this week to try out the game.

F1 2019 Gameplay

The first thing that strikes you about the game is a complete overhaul of the main menu. It is easier to pick your game mode and view the cars that you will be driving. Once you get on the track the improvements in graphics are immediately obvious. The surrounding buildings and trees have received a massive upgrade. The clips before a race have had a face lift, and even the cherry pickers and cameramen are visibly improved. At first it was legitimately distracting. Trying to take in the scenery while blasting around Monza can quickly result in a trip to the barriers.

Once you get over the surprise of those upgrades you get to the cars. The sheen of the new Perelli tyres stands out and allows you to visually see the camber of the wheels for the first time in an F1 game. The liveries have received an upgrade too, with Ferrari’s matte red & black making a particular impression.

As for the AI, they are punchier than before. They are quicker to defend a position and less likely to jump out of the way when divebombed. In F1 2018 you could force your way through the pack by diving inside at strange corners and exploiting the AI’s tendency to jump off the racing line to avoid a crash. In F1 2019 all that will do is lose you some front wing.

F1 2019 Handling

The handling model for F1 2019 is very different, though perhaps not for long. There is a massive lack of front downforce in the current version of F1 2019 compared to F1 2018. This is due to the regulation changes to the front wing that happened over the winter and the expectation that teams would struggle with front end performance. What we have seen this year is that F1 teams, once again, have found a workaround to actually get quicker. Codemasters are likely to patch this into the release version of the game so I expect it to improve. However, there has been a big change to the way cars are setup and it does greatly effect the handling.

Codemasters have taken the step to remove the weight distribution part of setups. The effect here is to make traction and car rotation harder to come by. The reason for this was explained to us by Lee Mather, game director on F1 2019.

“For the very competitive out there who were racing online you would find people would run very unrealistic setups or setups that were incredibly difficult to drive other than maybe on a wheel and it was giving an unfair advantage and unbalancing things.”

This is a fine reason to remove part of the setup options, especially since things like camber and toe are kept within a very small window of change while the weight distribution could be made extreme one way or the other. What this does from a handling perspective is profound however.

It is very hard to get the car through tight sections of track now. This made my attempts around Monaco very sloppy, as the rear wouldn’t come with me as much through corners like Mirabeau and Portier. Combined with the lack of front downforce this moved breaking points compared to F1 2018, even when using the racing line assist. Again, some of this may change with the final version, but it is important to realise that the removal of weight distribution will make it difficult to just import F1 2018 setups and find success.

“It will make players work harder to find the perfect setup and there won’t be that quick gain and quick exploit […] there is more attention to detail required.”

Emphasis on rivalry

The recent passing of Niki Lauda once again highlighted the rich history of captivating rivalries F1 has, and his 1976 battle with James Hunt can be recreated in F1 2019 as both their cars are available to drive. This year though Codemasters have truly embraced that history by including the likenesses of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost into the game and developed a game mode around their 1990 battle. There are 8 challenges you can play, from either Senna’s seat or Prost’s, and there are multiplayer liveries based on their helmets that can be applied as well.

Along with that rivalry, Codemasters have taken a big step forward in career mode to make it more engaging and dynamic. It starts with three challenges in the 2018 F2 Championship where you will race alongside Alexander Albon, George Russell, and Lando Norris as well as two rivals, one antagonistic driver and a more friendly, teammate rival. These 5 drivers will follow you up to F1 for the 2019 season, creating a journey for the player that builds into a far more legitimate rivalry than previous F1 games have had.

Combined with the new look, handling changes, and better AI model F1 2019 feels like a fresh take on the sport, far more so than you get from most sports franchises where the annual release is often just a tweaked version of the previous. F1 2019 will be a challenge for seasoned drivers while also being more accessible for new players. Should you invest your hard-earned money in this game? Absolutely. Roll on June 28.


Toby Durant