If you’ve ever wanted to race with Formula 1 legends like Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna, your wish could come true later this summer—sort of. The iconic drivers and their driving styles have been put into F1 2021, which arrives on consoles and PCs in July.
“We’ve always spoken about ‘wouldn’t it be cool to have as your teammate the drivers that we all remember?’ And that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Lee Mather, franchise game director at Codemasters, who briefed Ars on the new game recently.
Mather’s team started programming the game’s AI to race like the sport’s current stars in last year’s F1 2020. “We put so much time and effort and science into how you do driver ratings [for F1 2020] and how you manage those on a race-by-race basis. So we built the data [ranking different attributes for each of the current F1 drivers] and then we updated every three or four grands prix,” Mather explained.
Codemasters took a similar approach to adding the stars of yesterday. “Essentially, we still build them with the same parameters and skills, and a lot of that comes from research. We find where they talked about their driving style and how they drove the car,” Mather told me, offering Michael Schumacher as an example. “Michael had a very distinct way of using the throttle, where he was always just over the limit. So we can understand whether they were stronger on the throttle or the brakes, and we can build those codes into them as we did with the other drivers. And unlike [with] the current drivers, those statistics won’t change, because they’re set in time,” he said.
Schumacher and Senna are joined by Alain Prost, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, David Coulthard, and Felipe Massa, and (assuming you can afford them) they’ll only drive for you as your teammate in the driver-manager MyTeam mode—they won’t race for your competitors. The inclusion of these new teammates and some of the game’s other additions mean that the historic F1 cars I’ve rhapsodized about in recent Codemasters F1 games are taking a break.
While some will mourn the loss of the older cars, Codemasters has made up for the cuts by adding some new game modes. A story mode, called Braking Point, develops on the idea briefly explored in F1 2019, bringing back Devon Butler as the AI rival you’ll love to hate. It’s a more scripted way to play the game than MyTeam (where you act as a driver and team boss) or just playing as a driver for an existing team. “We dipped our toe in the water in 2019 with that—we did the feature series. And we’ve always been interested in giving it a go because Formula One is about the characters, the stories, and what goes on around it,” Mather said.
“We always talk about how when you’re playing in the career or MyTeam from last year, you’re building your own story, building your own journey. And that’s all very cool, but some people want something a little bit more cinematic. And obviously we can’t react to what somebody is doing throughout their career in every area, but if we know what that journey is going to be, we can really embellish it and elaborate on it,” he explained.
Another new addition to the franchise in 2021 is a cooperative (online, not local) multiplayer mode. “You know, racing games are a very solo experience, and we’re super into trying to make it a more social experience in the coming years. That’s something we’re really pushing for,” Mather said. In the multiplayer mode, you and a friend can work as teammates, competing against the rest of the grid or as rivals on different teams. In either case, the other 18 cars on the grid are AI opponents.
The tricky part, according to Mather, was making sure that all the activities, like R&D, get matched for both players. “It is technically very, very difficult to have two players doing the same things at the same time outside of the race,” he told me. “So obviously, if one player is doing R&D… you need to keep the other player abreast of what that player is doing. There’s a lot of systems in place that keep the two synced and also keep you aware of what the other player is doing.”
F1 2021 comes out on July 16 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Playstation 4, and Playstation 5. Ars should have a full review of the game around that time.