With the takeover of F1's commercial side by Liberty Media, we knew changes were afoot in the newest season of Codemasters' Formula one racing sim, and following on from 2017, the track had already been well set.
This newest incarnation is not just new logos and liveries though, the game's hugely popular Career mode has been tweaked back at the factory to bring the feeling of being an F1 driver closer to the player than ever before.
Being a Formula 1 driver is not just about your performance on the track; the way you behave off circuit can have consequences too. This year you are introduced to Claire, a journalist who will follow your career and interview you between sessions. Your answers will affect your relationships with your team and your rivals. Have a go at your pit crew for a poor performance and you could either inspire them to work harder next time or demotivate them and their times will continue to slip...
But just like any F1 driver, you can also carve out your own personality. Want to be the showman, pull of brash moves, and talk the talk in the paddock? You soon create a reputation based on your behavior, or if you wish, you might want to be more sporting, work hard, embrace your team and try to develop a car that is dominant on the track. Just remember, the perception of your character can not only affect your peers but also your rivals.
In F1 2017, driver rivalry was introduced, and this feature was based on how well you were performing on the grid, putting you against someone in a similarly powered car, this year, however, your rival can be set by you. To start with your rival will always be your teammate, as you both drive the same car it stands to reason, but think you can beat Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel in the Championship? Select them as your competition, start beating them to pole or stealing those wins and watch your reputation grow throughout the paddock. Get your reputation high enough and you'll start to see offers from teams that have been keeping a close eye on you. Contracts have also been tweaked, with requirements from teams differing due to not only your skills but now your reputation as well.
The decisions made in your interviews can also have an impact on your R&D department. This season the RPG-style development tree has been built upon and rebalanced to make it not only quicker but easier to navigate. It has also been covered in a fog, which makes exploring the skill-tree less specific but possibly more rewarding.
Furthermore, the addition of rule changes throughout the season, just like in real F1, can either nullify or boost your R&D choices. This helps change any major dominance one team may have over another as it affects the AI drivers and teams as well. Spend too much time focusing on aero and you may suddenly find the wings need to be simplified and you've wasted valuable resources, but if you've spent it on engine reliability or power output the rules changes won't affect you... this time.
The Formula 1 2018 season will always be the known for the introduction of the Halo. This safety cage has caused a lot of controversy in the world of motorsport and regardless of views, it's a new rule that all teams need to adhere to. Every 2018 car comes with it equipped and while it doesn't pose an issue for most, if you're really not into it and find the cockpit view too obscured it can be removed via the in-game settings.
The halo is not the only part of the cars that have been upgraded. After receiving a lot of data and feedback from the F1 technical teams, the suspension of the cars has been overhauled, bump stops have been added to reduce the play in the suspension's rise and fall, the relation to suspension loads due to aero have been adjusted. Even the way the suspension and tyres react going over curbs has been looked into, giving a far more realistic feel to the grip, or lack thereof, available in the tyres. Talking of tyres, Pirelli's "Rainbow" range has had two new compounds added. This season's tyres are the softest yet, so the manufacturer has added a Superhard Orange banded variant and the softest ever compound in its Pink banded Hypersoft tyre. The levels of grip available this year make it possible to flow through the iconic Silverstone corners of Maggots-Becketts-Chapel flat out.
F1's Track calendar changes every year, with the 2018 season being no exception. We return to Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix after a year's absence, and finally back to a French Grand Prix at the completely rebuilt Paul Ricard circuit after a gap of nearly 30 years. It's not just the famous French track that's been created, the full circuit, all runoffs, paddocks, buildings and other structures have been faithfully recreated. Think of it on the scale of creating a whole town, not just the roads.
More work has been put in to track evolution again this year, detailed physics have been added to the 'marbles', the discarded rubber that is thrown from the tyres as they wear down, so that they are now thrown a distance from the cars and build up on what is known as the dirty side of the track. Drive on to this area late in the race and you'll soon realise how little grip there is out there.
The details aren't only in the cars and tracks, the atmospherics in 2018 have been ramped up. Morning races can now have a dewy mist in the air and fog can form over the track making conditions quite difficult. Weather isn't the only thing to have had an upgrade, the detailing and physics of the dust kicked up by going off track has been <missing text>
With a new season comes new blood, and this year rookies Charles Leclerc, winner of last year's F2 championship, and longtime F1 test driver Sergey Sirotkin join the elite, in the Sauber and Williams respectively. Talking of cars, the roster of classics has been bolstered again this year with notable introductions of James Hunt's McLaren M23D and Niki Lauda's Ferrari 312 T2 from '76 the year of Hunt's championship win and Lauda's horrific life-changing crash, both of which are immortalised in the movie Rush.
For those willing to pre-order or buy Day One, the Headline Edition is available with access to Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams FW25 and the most requested car by fans, Jenson Button's 2009 Championship winning Brawn GP001, which has been faithfully recreated using a 3D scan of Ross Brawn's personally owned car. Both cars will be available at a later date as DLC.
Of course the main thing that fans want to know is what it's like to get behind the wheel of an F1 car, and in terms of how the game feels to play, it won't come as much of a surprise to hear that the experience is pretty close to the one we were offered last year, only this time there's more noticeable feedback in the grip. That means tight controls, satisfying physics, and relentless speed around some of the world's most iconic tracks. Codemasters seems to be once again delivering an accessible racing simulation that caters to both casual players and more committed F1 fans.
Just like the ever-changing sport of Formula 1, the studio has evolved its game once again to make it feel more immersive. This attempt to bring the sense of being an F1 driver closer to the player, both on and off the grid, makes the game feel even more complete, and we can't wait to get behind the wheel when F1 2018 lands on PC, PS4, and Xbox One later this month.