Through no real fault of Codemasters’ own, the authenticity that’s been a hallmark of its F1 series isn’t quite there this year. How could it be when the season it’s replicating remains a moving target? Having started some four months later than planned, we’re still not entirely sure what the rest of the F1 2020 calendar is going to bring, with visits to circuits like Portimao, Imola and Mugello on the cards – none of which will make it into this year’s game, while Zandvoort and Hanoi, two new races we’ll never get to see this year, find a place in the game’s circuit roster. Even the liveries have changed fast in the build-up to yesterday’s season opener – the now Rokit-less Williams is part of a day one patch, and you’ll likely have to wait a little while after launch until you’re able to race Mercedes’ freshly black and jaw-droppingly beautiful new look.
None of which detracts from a series that just goes from strength to strength. If anything, it only helps underline what fantastic games these have become – even detached from the finer detail of F1, there’s stuff here that anyone who’s ever loved a racing game can enjoy. Here’s something that’s now as accessible and entertaining as Dirt 2, and that’s as authentic and engaging in its thrills as TOCA was back in the day.
The biggest stride made this year comes in the shape of the My Team feature, which gives you your own outfit and puts you in charge of their day-to-day business – and then places you behind the wheel, too. I’d sort of written it off beforehand as another throwaway gimmick – like last year’s cute but inconsequential story mode that added in a handful of cutscenes, a feature which has this year been duly tossed aside – but before I knew it I was kept up playing well past my bedtime and then drifting off to sleep idly dreaming about the fortunes of my own outfit: a proper Norfolk-based revival of Team Lotus, run on a lavish budget from a couple of Chinese investors brought in by Hethel owners Geely.