F1 22 Preview – Hands on with the new cars, tracks, sprint races & so much more

F1 22 Williams Header

With all the stereotypical American excess of the Miami Grand Prix behind us, it’s time to talk F1 22 once again, and go a fair bit beyond trying to figure out how closely Codemasters have managed to match the most recent addition to the calendar. What’s new for F1 22? Will it set the benchmark for a new era of F1 games, just as the new cars are doing in real life?

But before we get to that, let’s briefly touch on the Miami International Autodrome once more. We went hands on with it last week, and having now watched hours of practice, qualifying and racing, it feels like Codemasters has done a great job of capturing the essence of the track’s layout, from its sweeping opening sector to the tight and finicky bit under the turnpike ramps, and that long, long straight, and with so much of the faux scenery that was erected for the race intact as well. They even captured a lot of the track’s more subtle undulations.

The one thing that’s really missing? Well, it’s the so-called porpoising that has blighted the opening five rounds of the year, with certain cars bouncing through high-speed sections of the track in a really pronounced fashion. Just as the teams didn’t expect, or underestimated this aerodynamic phenomenon, so too did Codemasters, so it won’t feature in F1 22 (and they’ll hope it’s a blemish that they won’t have to figure out for next year).

F1 22 Miami Track Hard Rock

Still, the game does seek to represent the new era of car regulations and car handling through the game – albeit currently with the 2022 season demo car in use while the art team busily work on the menagerie of wildly different designs actually seen on the grid. The aerodynamics and suspension model have been reworked, the added weight of the car changes the amount of inertia you have to build up and take through corners, the larger tyres have somewhat different characteristics, and so on.

In general, it works well, though I doubt the layman is going to really pick up on too many differences once there’s a dab of traction control, ABS or other assists enabled. Turn the assists down and the cars do feel a bit more weighty, which is felt when throwing them into corners, perhaps requiring you to start slowing down a smidgeon earlier than in the last couple years of games or lift a little earlier in Silverstone’s sweeping turns. The grip remains absolutely phenomenal, meaning that the diciest moments remain the heavy braking zones and deft throttle control out of slow corners.

The more easily noticed changes will come in how the rest of the racing weekend has been built up around that core driving action. They’ve leant on more F1 pundits like Natalie Pinkham, Alex Jacques and Jacques Villeneuve to flesh out the interstitial commentary, and your race engineer Jeff has been sent off into retirement – I like to think he’s moved up to a more senior position at a different team. In Jeff’s place is Marc Priestley, a former McLaren race engineer, who’s been recorded through an actual pitlane headset for added authenticity.

With this year’s format much more settled than the last two, F1 22 has been able to catch up with including sprint races for the first time. These mix up the weekend format with qualifying now on Friday, a shorter sprint race on the Saturday and the results of that race determining the grid for the full feature race on the Sunday. Through the game’s career modes, the sprint weekends will be featured as in reality – so Imola will have a sprint weekend format, for example – but if you want, you can set up a custom sprint weekend on any of the race tracks in the game.

F1 22 Formation Lap

There’s a bunch of new quirks and details added to the racing itself, which will no doubt please fans. You’ve got the formation lap included for the first time, so you can drive around the track, warm up your tyres and then try to nail pulling into your grid slot. Pit stops aren’t completely automated anymore, with the need to tap a button to time your pit box entry – still a far cry from full on pit stop simulation, but a nice little mechanic to include, and if you or the AI get it wrong, the longer pit stop will punish you. And you still have the returning safety car restarts, holding the clutch to launch at the race start, and more.

All of this is optional, and people that just want the fun of the racing can switch the formation lap and safety car to a “broadcast” mode, which skips right to the good stuff. As always, F1 22 is trying to straddle the sport’s varied fanbase, catering to diehard fans and sim racers with these new, more realistic touches, but also having a low bar for entry through various assists, shorter race options, and more. New for F1 22 is the Adaptive AI, which is only really intended for entry-level players by dynamically scaling the AI difficulty to ensure that you’re regularly kept in scraps for position.

F1 22 Pit Stop Timing

Turning to the overarching career and My Team there’s a bunch of new improvements – the Braking Point story mode has been put to one side this year to focus on other things. You now have three entry levels – Newcomer, Midfield Challenger, Title Contender – there’s an expanded Events department to build up, and there’s a potential ripple effect through your campaign thanks to threaded cross-race questions and escalating issues that could come back to bite you later down the line. Dodge a tricky interview question or fail to resolve a team issue in favour of another opportunity, and there could be a knock on effect.

Alongside all the high-pressure admin work, the new Pirelli Hot Lap Events will inject something a bit different to the game. These come in the form of hooning around the tracks in supercars, with autocross, drifting, average speed zone and rival duels adding a little of the pre-race broadcast fluff to proceedings. You’ll even get to drive the Mercedes and Aston Martin safety cars – I did ask which was faster, but game director Lee Mather was very… diplomatic in his response.

This ties in with the F1 Life features that wrap around the overall game experience. You’l unlock clothes for your avatar to wear through different game modes, and represent you when you head into online lobbies – expect it to be a little more humdrum than Lewis Hamilton’s designer wardrobe. You’ll also be able to customise the living space represented in the menus with soft furnishings, wall hangings and more, all of which is unlocked through challenges and rewards from play. Obviously you can customise your own car for online as well, and there’s new livery editing options, including different paint textures.

Codemasters is looking to check a lot of boxes with F1 22, beyond simply throwing the new era of cars into the mix and fiddling with the physics and handling. Sprint races, pit entry timing, formation laps will all help to capture more of the fine margins that teams and drivers have to deal with to succeed, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the career and F1 Life expands around that core racing.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m liking the ‘hooning around in supercars’ but I’m not so fused about the F1 Life stuff, especially as you’ll have to start your car setups from scratch instead of adapting the previous year’s settings, which can take a fair amount of time. Looking forward to driving the new cars and tracks.

    By the way you say “You’ve got the formation lap included for the first time”, you’ve been able to drive the formation lap to warm your tyres and brakes for quite a few years now.

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