New cars and Miami’s new track give F1 22 plenty to handle

Even if it added no new tracks, no new modes of play, F1 22 was always going to be a bear for the developers at Codemasters. New regulations governing the cars’ engines, fuel mixtures, and aerodynamics packages have completely remade the real-life pecking order of Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, and the others after four real-life races. Before you even mention new modes, liveries, or customizations, Lee Mather’s job is to give Formula One fans a lifelike game that plays according to viewer and commentator expectations — and those are still evolving, right up to the game’s launch.

“We have less time to understand the performance order of the cars; we have less time to understand the nuances of each of the teams,” Mather, the game’s creative director, said in an interview with Polygon. “It’s something we’ve always really focused on — which [cars] were good under braking, which had good traction, which cars were particularly good in the wet, and which engines were strong at a certain type of track. We understood all of those things. Now it’s all new, and it’s all learning.”

They’re not flying completely in the dark, Mather noted. Codemasters still gets data from all 10 racing teams with each session they run, and the developers will infuse their game’s handling model with it through the Canadian Grand Prix, the last race before F1 22’s July 1 launch (June 28 for those who pre-order its Champions Edition). In a preview build made available over the past week, I felt out a car that, with the difficulty settings that I used in F1 2021, drove consistently and predictably on standard racing setups — but the game made it clear that finding the sweet spot on the rear wing will be the key to unlocking lap times in the leaderboards’ top 20%.

This stands to reason; in the new rules, the F1 car rides lower and wider, but the rear wing that supplies downforce and traction to the drive axle is also lower, relative to the rest of the chassis, than in last year’s car. F1’s new cars are more dedicated to dispersing airflow and making it easier on trailing cars to overtake opponents, as that creates more competitive racing. It takes a good while to see this manifest in the preview build of F1 22.

The four tracks included — Imola, Silverstone, Austria’s Red Bull Ring, and the all-new Miami International Autodrome around Hard Rock Stadium — are not the “rear-limited” sort that, even last year on the bigger-wing cars, require drivers to tiptoe out of the corners and hit the gas only when they can feel straight-line traction on the back axle. Still, even with the “higher downforce” stock setup, I felt so much more confident coming out of Imola’s infamous Acqua Minerale turn — until I saw that I’d qualified in last place by more than two seconds against the difficulty I usually ran in F1 2021 (95 to 97, out of 110). Bottom line: Serious racers should expect to spend a lot of time testing their setups in the Time Trial mode before diving right into a career mode.

Getting the new cars’ handling right — while making it approachable, for varying levels of interest and skill — is only part of the picture, Mather said. Though F1 22 only has one new track, Miami, several others have changed, most notably Australia’s Albert Park Circuit, which raced three weeks ago and had a Drag Reduction System zone — where cars can open their rear wings for even greater straight-line speed — removed the day before qualifying. Whether it’s smoothing out a chicane or changing a DRS zone, it requires Codemasters’ AI team to go back and retrain all the CPU drivers as if it’s a new track, Mather said.

“The AI will come around that track and they’ll hit a DRS zone that they weren’t expecting,” Mather said as an example. “They’ll arrive at the next corner 15 to 20 kilometers [per hour] faster than they were expecting. If I arrived at that corner 15 to 20 kph too fast, I’d go straight off. Every little change, the knock-on effects can have weeks and months of work.”

And that brings up a strange question, of fans asking if a new and unhelpful performance characteristic is in the game, reflecting what they see on TV and read in the blogs. It’s called “porpoising,” and the lay explanation is that, at high speed, the new cars’ ground effects can cause the suspension to rise up, only to be pushed back down by the front and rear aerodynamics. The result is that the car looks like a dolphin propelling itself through the water. Although porpoising has affected Mercedes’ cornering speed, for example, where Ferrari might only encounter it on the straights, it is not present at all in F1 22, Mather said. Not least because Codemasters, like the racing teams caught off guard, could not predict this movement in the new car design.

“It’s not even a concept that we really have,” Mather said. “The detachment and the reattachment of aero is something we obviously have, but for it to cause the side effect of the porpoising […] that’s not something our physics does at the moment.”

This is not to say that F1 22’s differences are only technical. But they are not on the scale of introducing or remaking big new modes, as F1 2021 did with its “Braking Point” narrative, or as F1 2020 did by bringing in the My Team career that has become an obsession for millions. The sprint qualifying format, implemented at three grands prix currently, is available at all events in one-off races or in the Grand Prix mode, where players can set a single season and control its rules. In career modes, it will be limited to just the events where sprint qualifying appears in real life — Imola, the Austrian Grand Prix, and Brazil.

Presentationally, F1 22 is working toward a broadcast that meets the expectations of newfound fans in the United States. Formation laps and pit stops both have “immersive” or “presentational” settings, meaning players can choose to drive out the noncompetitive parts of a race, or sit back and listen to commentary as the AI brings the field behind a safety car or forms up the starting grid. Pit stops now have a new interactive feature in which the driver presses a button to turn into the pit at the best time, with the effect being a shorter or longer pit stop. Though this timing can be dependent on your pit team’s efficiency (which can go up or down in the career modes), it amounts to not much more than a second button press, akin to hitting the pit limiter right at the line.

The locked pairing of Anthony Davidson and David Croft (whose “It’s lights out, and away we go!” has become a trademark akin to Michael Buffer’s “Let’s get ready to rumble!”) can be swapped for new voices such as Alex Jacques, a commentator heard on F1TV Pro; Natalie Pinkham, the pit lane reporter for the U.K.’s Sky Sports; or Jacques Villeneuve, F1 royalty who analyzes races for France’s Canal Plus network. This commentary will be matched to new introductions and fade-outs to give F1 22 a better broadcast feel, Mather said.

And it also means that “Jeff,” the generic racing engineer whom players could order to shut up (literally) for the past decade, has been let go. Marc Priestly, formerly a racing mechanic and pit stop teammate for McLaren, is the new liaison between driver and pit, with audio recorded over an actual Formula One headset, Mather said.

Though the options weren’t available in the preview shown to media, F1 22 promises more customization tools for its rapturous My Team mode, where players create a new racing team and drive it themselves. The cars’ liveries can now have different finishes, among other quality-of-life changes that Codemasters has implemented to help players perfect their look. Additionally, players may begin My Team from one of three starting points: a top-line contender; a midfield competitor, or an all-new striver working their way up. In the past two years, teams started from the bottom. Mather said the new options were implemented, again, in the name of accessibility and fun for newer fans.

F1 22 launches July 1 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

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