Those of you who have been following this channel for a while now will know I’ve sunk more hours than I care to admit into Codemasters previous offerings, but as I’ve progressed through my sim racing journey and into more high-end hardware, the lack of perspective corrected triple screen or VR support has meant I don’t spend as much time in these games as I used to. None the less, every time a new title drops, I’m always excited to see what improvements have been made. So, let’s dive in today and see how F1 2021, the first F1 title since EA’s takeover stacks up!

Throughout the review process, I’ve played this game on a single monitor with the graphics set to ultra-high and ray tracing on to present the game in its best form, and all the footage you see has been recorded by myself during the review process. Just keep in mind that depending on the hardware you’re using, your experience will of course vary, so make sure you pay attention to the game’s minimum and recommended system requirements.

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The marketing for F1 2021 has placed a heavy focus on “Breaking Point” Story mode, in which you role play as two characters, Aiden Jackson and Casper Akkerman, battling primarily against the series antagonist, Devon Butler. As a sim racer, I wasn’t particularly hyped for this new story mode as I generally prefer to just jump into a championship and play it through my own way, but I did find Breaking Point to be a valuable part of the game. I was quickly absorbed by the story, which takes around 3 hours to complete assuming no restarts. Without spoiling it for you, the story follows through the ups and downs of dynamics between Aiden, a newcomer to F1 and potential star of the future, and Casper, an older and more experienced driver. The plot has quite a “Drive to Survive” vibe to it which I’m sure is intentional. It can be a little repetitive at times, in particular the phone calls to Aiden’s mum and Casper’s partner, and while the story is somewhat outcome based, there’s not a huge amount of interactivity to it. That said, it serves as a great gateway into the world of F1 for newcomers, and means less confusion for new players later on as they tackle the more complex game modes. So thumbs up there. But even if the story mode isn’t for you, there’s plenty more to sink your teeth into.

As with F1 2020, F1 2021 was always going to be a bit awkward when it comes to replicating the real life 2021 season due to the dynamic nature of adapting the season to meet pandemic restrictions, and as such Portimao, Imola, and Jeddah will be added to the calendar as free DLC at a later date.

Multiplayer Co-op mode where you can play as team mates or individually in the same championship. This is definitely something we will be exploring futher in future videos.

MyTeam makes an appearance again, allowing you to play as an 11th team and develop your car over the course of a season to compete with the best of the best.

Real Season Start also adds a fun new element, allowing you to jump in at any point throughout the real life F1 2021 to date, and align with the current pints standings, however I’m not sure how well this will ultimately play out due to the dynamic nature of this year’s championship with tracks being removed, etc.

New realism settings including new Casual, Standard and Expert modes which make the game more accessible for newcomers or those playing with basic controllers, right through to those looking for a more realistic experience, complete with mechanical failures, which provides us with a great Segway into the physics and handling of F1 2021.

Physics & Handling:
F1 2021 feels like an incremental upgrade when it comes to physics and car handling, but definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to simulation. As a AAA title, it’s always going to be a compromise between retaining instant gratification style gameplay, and hardcore simulation.

The cars generally feel more connected to the road than they have in previous titles. I found that some of the exploits I have used in previous iterations of the game were less effective in this one. Kerbs unsettle the car in a much more realistic manner now, and with assists off, you really do have to be careful with your throttle application. In real life, the tyre only has a limited amount of grip available and trivers have to balance their inputs between cornering, braking and accelerating to keep the tyres within the limits. This is known as a traction circle, and staying within the traction circle in F1 2021 is noticeably more important than it has been previously. Overdriving the car typically results in a spin or just generally slower lap times.

Tyre temperature and degradation is something I’ve always found particularly good in the more recent F1 games from Codemasters, and this remains strong in F1 2021, providing a very dynamic driving experience and adding a realistic strategic element to the game. Overdriving the car results in cooking your tyres and can very easily cost you the race, and spinning or sliding the rear of the car overheats the tyre surface which results in significantly reduced grip.

Are the physics perfect? No…. Most notably, the transition from wet to dry and vice versa still feels like it could use some work and is not as progressive as it would be in real life. In my experience so far, the track tends to still remain close to dry grip levels even with slick tyres up until the point it becomes “fully wet” and DRS is disabled by race control. At this point it’s like a switch is flicked and the cars become almost undrivable until Intermediate or wet tyres are fitted. That said, the transition between high downforce grip at high speed, and mechanical grip at low speed is very well handled in wet conditions and seems noticeably improved since F1 2020.

A few other things I think could use some work are the grip levels off line, dirty air physics and balance of performance. Once you get familiar with the handling it’s quite easy to drive around a slower car around the outside of a corner and off the racing line with little regard of off-line grip or “marbles” for example. I expected it to be noticeably more difficult to follow other cars in dirty air, and I have noticed some strange behaviour in the balance of performance between cars. For example, if I get an exceptionally great corner exit and have good run on an opponent and am in the slip stream, I can be slingshotting past them at a high rate of speed, only to find a moment later their car is travelling faster than mine. It’s almost like the “catch up” effect in some arcade games. Sure some cars will be faster in a straight line than others, but something just feels off about it, particularly when playing at lower AI difficulty levels. Many of the AI cars are unrealistically slow on corner exit, but then seem to get a massive acceleration boost on the straights regardless of their corner exit.

I’ve said for a few years now that the AI in Codemasters F1 games is among some of the best in the sim racing industry, and this year’s game is no exception. Other drivers defend in a very realistic manner in keeping with F1’s rather strict rules around weaving and blocking in the braking zone. I also noticed other drivers were slightly less likely to just duck out of the way the moment you showed them a wheel up the inside, which makes racing more dynamic.

One of my biggest gripes with previous games was how lapped AI traffic behaved. It had a tendency to park on the apex as you approached, leaving you scrambling to find a way past at the last moment and often resulting in the need to use a flashback, but so far I haven’t found this to be a problem in F1 2021. Cars get out of the way under blue flags in a very realistic manner, again in keeping with the real F1 regulations.

F1 2021 also sees an updated damage model, which adds sidepod and barge board damage to the cars. This adds a realistic new element to the driving because while front wing damage is still the most likely scenario when there is contact between cars, front wings can be replaced in a pit stop, but if other areas of the car become damaged, you’re stuck with it for the remainder of the race.

Tyre failures are also more realistic, with the carcass slowly separating from the sidewalls as you limp back to the pits.

We still of course have all the expected car setup elements which remain largely unchanged from previous iterations of the game and allow more experienced drivers to extract the maximum from the cars, albeit at times to the extent of perhaps bending the physics just a little.

Controls and Force Feedback
I don’t have a current generation console, so these observations all relate to the PC version of the game. There were no problems detecting any of the wheel bases I have at my disposal, including my Simucube 2 Ultimate, my VRS Direct Force Pro or any of the current range of Fanatec wheel bases. One thing I did notice was that button mapping was a little hit and miss with some of my wheels, and I was disappointed that I could not map the 7-way “funky-switches” on my Ascher Racing F64 V2 USB wheel for use with the Multifunction Display or to navigate menus.

I will say the game works particularly well with the Fanatec Formula V2, V2.5 and Limited Edition wheels, so much so that if I was building a rig to play this game exclusively, I would absolutely be doing so with a CSL DD or Podium DD1 and Formula V2.5 wheel. Regardless of whether you’re navigating menus, multifunction displays or just tweaking and trimming settings, the Fanatec ecosystem seems to have the game best covered when it comes to functionality.

To learn more about our recommendations when it comes to Fanatec gear, check out our detailed buyer’s guide…

As for the force feedback itself, while the in-game settings are limited to your typical adjustments for overall strength, individual effect strength and damper, using a combination of these settings along with driver level adjustments to my wheel bases, I found the force feedback to be very impressive across all the wheel bases I tested with.

Effects like ripple strips and road textures have always been quite good in recent titles of the franchise, In past titles I’ve found the force feedback to feel quite vague right at the limit of grip, but in F1 2021 I found myself able to adjust quite quickly and develop a good understanding of what the car was doing at it’s limits quite instinctively. I was able to catch snap oversteer moments (which do happen quite frequently) the majority of the time and also found understeer to feel more progressive than in previous titles. The fastest way to brake in an F1 car is to apply enough pressure that the tyres begin to under rotate ever slow slightly, but not lock up completely, and I found the force feedback provided the tools required to achieve this consistently.

F1 2021 is an incremental improvement. Certainly not breaking any new ground here, and still running the same graphics engine it has been since 2015 albeit with some enhancements to add things like resolution scaling, more advanced lighting effects and of course ray tracing. As mentioned earlier in the video, the footage you’re seeing was all recorded from my own gameplay at maximum settings. But the graphics in F1 were already pretty fantastic, and there are some noticeable improvements in the finer details.

It’s also worth mentioning that the graphics engine continues to be well optimised. The micro-freezing issues which plagued F1 2018 and F1 2019 for some users including me appear to be resolved as they were in F1 2020, and importantly, I didn’t have a single game crash throughout my 6+ hours of testing, something that certainly can’t be said for F1 2019 or F1 2020 running on the exact same system.

With my overclocked 9900K and 3090, I was able to achieve pretty satable frame rates above 70FPS with maxed out settings including ray tracing at 4K resolution, and over 110FPS with ray tracing turned off.

For those with less powerful systems, resolution scaling works well to maintain a more constant frame rate so it’s good to see this carried over from F1 2020.

Overall, between the improvements to the graphics, physics, AI and force feedback, I find F1 2021 to be a significantly more immersive and enjoyable experience than its predecessors.

All those elements aside however, where I think F1 2021 and its predecessors for that matter really comes into its own is more in the way it conveys the experience of being immersed in the world of F1 to the player. Every element of the game from the UI design (although I’m still begging for mouse support in the menus), to the soundtrack (which is the best since F1 2010 in my opinion), the cutscenes, the interviews and commentary from real life F1 personalities.

For me, best experiences in F1 2021 outside of multiplayer and league racing come from working my way through the career mode with full or 50% length weekends where I participate in all three practice sessions, completing the tasks set out by the team, learning the track more intimately and developing the car, then through into the three full length qualifying session where correct tyre selection, ERS management and pit exit timing play just as vital a role as they do in real life, then through to the race where not only do you have to drive the car, but also plan and work with your engineer to execute the strategy. As is the case in real life, just being the fastest driver, or having the fastest car isn’t always enough to secure your rightful position based on raw pace, and split second decisions and make or break you. Combine that with long term strategy such as managing wear and tear on allocated components such as your engine and gearbox, as well as car development and you’ve got what is the most immersive car racing game I’ve played to date.

So to summarise my feelings on F1 2021 from a sim racer’s perspective, if you’re a hardcore sim racer hell bent on the pursuit for the most realistic raw driving experience when it comes to driving a car on the edge and working with things like chassis and tyre flex, then this isn’t the title for you. There’s no denying there are far more realistic driving simulations out there. But if you’re after a game you can pick up and enjoy at the drop of a hat at any skill level and be challenged, and something that deeply immerses you in the world of Formula 1 beyond just driving a car, then this is absolutely work checking out. It’s in my opinion easily the best F1 title to date, and while it’s still not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it will give you many hours of genuine good fun.

While you can play with triple screens, the lack of perspective corrected triple screen support to avoid stretched side monitors is hugely disappointing, as is the lack of VR support as I know these will be deal breakers for so many of us, and please for the love of God add mouse support in the menus, but otherwise, I’m very impressed.