F1 2020 game preview: 10 things you need to know

Published: 13 May 2020

 We speak to game director Lee Mather
 Here's what you need to know
 Released in early July 

You would have forgiven F1 game director Lee Mather and Codemasters for taking a gap year in 2020, putting together some Lego models or playing Scalextric. Even F1 drivers have expressed a desire to step away from the sport for a bit.

Instead, they’re still poised to deliver F1 2020, an act of clockwork defiance in these weird times. Sure, work behind the scenes has been quite different this time around, and of course we’ve no season to compare it to – but here it is, on schedule, just like it should be every year. It’s almost comforting – like McDonalds Monopoly or a John Lewis Christmas ad. 

To preserve the normality, we’re not going to mention anything else about – that – in this hands-on preview. It’ll be a bubble of racing game chat. So, buckle up into the racing sim rig you probably decided to buy a few weeks ago, and away we go. Here’s 10 key things you need to know about the F1 2020 game.

1. We played a WIP on PC

Codemasters supplied a WIP build of F1 2020, which we played on a close to high-end gaming PC from Asus. As you’d expect the game wasn’t remotely finished but there was enough to get a flavour of what the new instalment will be like. A Grand Prix mode for single races was present, as was a time trial mode, split-screen mode and the F2 mode.

Best racing games

2.  It’s had an interesting development

For reasons which shall remain nameless, F1 2020 has had a very different gestation to previous games. It turns out, working from home isn’t the worst way to make a racing game.

‘Our internet suppliers were great, we actually got the connections or connection pipes increased significantly straightaway. So working from home, it's actually been really seamless for most people,’ Mather explains. ‘I know this is an easy thing to say, but it’s impressive just how insanely professional the team is, and how they are in dealing with, you know, an annual franchise. 

I think without that experience, and also the skill of the other newer members on the team, I think we would have been, obviously, a very different place.’

3. Putting together tracks has been a puzzle

It’s had an impact of some of the tracks too. With transport reduced, the team has had to use a patchwork of data to construct some of the newer tracks, with sections of drone data, survey data sometimes from different dates. 

‘Zandvoort was the probably the easier one the two [new tracks] because they have great LIDAR data for the region, because it’s built on a floodplain. So, we were able to use that as the starting point for the track,’ Mather explains. 

‘We have also had CAD data from the circuit. And then we sent a photographer out there who took hundreds of hundreds of photos, to give us the real sort of levels of detail to the fine detail. We also had some drone footage as well, which were able to make great use of, obviously, some changes were then made to the circuit after we received all of that data.’

 As you’d expect there’s still tweaking to be done before launch.

4. The cars are grippier – because realism

In F1 2019 the cars have bags of grip, but the initial phase of acceleration and often and braking could feel a little skittish. Get on the power a little early and you’d find yourself pointing the other way, like a virtual Grosjean. Not so for F1 2020.

‘Braking distances now are way more realistic, they're very Formula One, the traction out of the corners, again, is massively improved,’ says Mather. 

Having played the game, we’re inclined to agree. Of course, it’s still very possible to pirouette on command if you’re a little heavy on the gas – throw a kerb into the mix and it’s even easier – but the car still feels more stable.  

Braking is even more impressive than before. You can pretty much brake from 200mph at what feels like a yard from a corner, and still have time to feel a little embarrassed as coast towards the apex.  

In 2019 the cars felt unruly, and like you needed to tiptoe around tracks. In 2020 the danger is still there, but you’re encouraged to use their performance more.

But rather than pandering to fans, the increased grip is down to improved physics. ‘This is actually due to changes to the physics of the calculations that we use to calculate the inertia of the wheel in the tyre,’ Mather tells CAR.

‘[In F1 2019] the real driver feedback was, I don't have the confidence on the throttle I think I should have. In fact, some of the feedback we had recently was, they say that in their Formula One car, the feeling of getting on the throttle is very similar to how our game in ‘19 would have been if you had medium traction control, and that's how much grip they actually have.’

5. It’s had more input from F1 drivers

‘At the moment, we've got more drivers than ever playing a game on a regular basis,’ Mather tells us. So, the level of feedback that we're getting now probably greater than we've ever had.’ 

It’s already led to changes. At an eSports event McLaren driver Lando Norris pointed out that the ERS deployment in 2019 was too complicated, and that’s now been corrected for the game.

Lando said ‘that's not what we do. We don't have to worry about that the teams create a map for the car. And then they tell me when I've got the overtaking.’ 

6. There’s new My Team and Career functions

F1 faces a perennial struggle to keep its grid intact, but the sport is very much open for business in the gaming world. A new ‘build-your-own-team’ mode is the feature being pushed front and centre now, and Codemasters says it’ll see players building facilities, designing their own liveries and ideally moving to the top. 

Best racing wheels

The career mode is set to be a decade long and more customisable than ever – and it should span across F2 and F1 championships. Players can set up 10 and 16 race seasons now, so things are a little more streamlined – even if the real drivers and stuck with a 22 race marathon.

7. It looks better, especially on PC

'We’ve started to really push the console to their limits, but we have had some graphical improvements – mostly on PC. The two new tracks you will see a visual difference as they’ve been created most recently but also, we’ve used some techniques to create those tracks,’ Mather explains. 

From what we can see, both Hanoi and Zandvoort benefit from improved lighting, and things like pollen and debris hang in the air and splat onto the onboard camera. It’s subtle, but like F1 graphics are all about diminishing returns.

‘Those are techniques that we’ll be able to start rolling to other tracks in the future,’ he adds.

The game also features new sponsors and other bits of screen furniture you’ll see in the TV broadcasts, which just adds a little bit more realism and polish.

8. It’s easier for the casual gamer

F1 2020 has to appeal to motorsport fans just as much as gamers, so Codemasters has brought in an event more accessible casual mode after some focus group tests. 

Steering assistance makes it easier to hit apexes, and the changes in grip off and on the track are significantly reduced – so it’s easier to drive offline and rejoin the track. There’s also an automatic track reset to avoid those depressing cross-country trips back to the tarmac. 

As you’d expect, none of this is available in the more competitive modes. Mather is keen to point out that, ‘at no point does casual ever encroach on the competitive side of the game.

9. Split screen mode has returned

‘Split screen goes hand in hand really nicely with the fact that the game is more accessible, as it can be played by a wider audience,’ Mather adds.  

‘We actually partnered with another team this year to help us do split screen because we knew that we were putting a lot of resources into my team, and we needed some assistance to bring in something such as split screen. 

10. There’ll be Schumacher content 

The Deluxe version of F1 2020 will come with four classic Michael Schumacher cars – including the fantastic-looking Jordan 191. Both championship-winning Benettons are also included, though we’re not sure if you can turn all the assists of on the ’94 car… Here's a list of the cars below.

  • 1991: Jordan 191 
  • 1994: Benetton B194 
  • 1995: Benetton B195 
  • 2000: Ferrari F1-2000

And when’s it coming out?

F1 2020 should be released on the 10th of July. It’ll be out PS4, Xbox One, PC – and for the first time, also on Google’s cloud-based gaming service, Stadia. 

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast