Our review of F1 2018 resulted in a 9/10 last year and just a mere 10 months later - two months earlier than any other incarnation - F1 2019 is revved up and ready to go. We would have been hard pushed to find anything missing from last year's game, but in the offseason, Codemasters has managed to, with what is probably one of the hardest development cycles in annual video games, pieced together yet another podium finish with this year's iteration. There are the obvious upgrades expected in visual graphics and handling but the inclusion of the F2 Championship (a lower formula of motorsports that acts as a feeder for F1) is the standout addition that adds a new level of immersion to a stunning game.
In the new Career mode, before you take to the grid in an F1 team, you must complete a series of F2 2018 season highlights. This mini-story introduces you to a couple of fictional drivers amongst the official grid lineup, who couldn't be more clichéd. These are Lukas Weber, your teammate and possibly the nicest, kindest driver in all of motorsport, and Devon Butler, your rival, a hot-headed, arrogant and ultimately selfish hotshot. The trio of drivers, yourself included, graduates to F1 with varying degrees of success and the relationships carry over too, affecting the contracts offered by the different teams.
It does seem with the latest rookies entering F1 in the form of Alex Albon, George Russel and Lando Norris (all directly from F2), that a trick was possibly missed, but maybe they wouldn't have offered the same level of rivalry or storytelling that the fictional paddock creates. Speaking of which, last year's addition of interviews is still a big part of career mode and now has even more influence over your season, and you'll also get rival-specific questions that can really heat things up the paddock.
For the uninitiated, Formula 2 (a 2017 rebrand of GP2) is a second-tier single-seater championship. Engine, chassis and tyres are standardised across the field to make the competition more about driving rather than team development and money. The race weekend is different too, consisting of a qualifying session followed by two races, a feature race and a much shorter sprint race with a reversed grid. This adds up to some rather exciting racing and quite intense battles for position. The F2 2019 season is to be added as free DLC later in the year with the current driver lineup including Mick Schumacher (son of F1 racing legend Michael Schumacher).
Along with the new F2 season there are also all the new rules and regulations that have taken effect in this year's F1 season, an extra point can now be earned by completing the fastest lap during the race, so finding yourself with a large enough gap between you and the car behind, it may well be worth pitting for some fresh rubber and to set yourself up for a blistering lap. As for tyre regulations, this season Pirelli has ditched the rainbow compounds for a simplified yet still complicated three tyre system; each race has just three compounds (soft, medium and hard) but depending on the on track and temperatures, a hard at one circuit may be a medium at another.
There are also some mid-season changes to contracts which can really change up your calendar. Perform well enough and you might just get an offer to switch teams and increase your chances of becoming the world's No.1.
In terms of gameplay, this year's entry builds on some already rock-solid foundations. You can tweak the experience to suit your skill level, so if you want a deep simulation and to race in all the qualifiers you can have that, much like you can have a very casual experience if all you want to do is tackle the main event and keep all the assists on. Overall the whole thing is very customisable, and that level of customisation is underpinned by tight, responsive controls and realistic physics.
As well as the new racing styles there are also new additions to the visuals, and the TV-style camera makes for an excellent view. Set just above the driver's helmet, your line of sight isn't compromised by the halo, which makes hitting those apexes and breaking zones all the easier, although we still much prefer the realism of the cockpit camera angle, the TV pod view even has dirt and raindrops making it look just like it does on TV.
There are also new lighting mechanics for night races which look seriously good. Tracks such as Bahrain and Singapore are gorgeously lit and we quite often found ourselves looking at the stunning scenery. To go with the lighting there is new rain effects that add to the realism, spray, dry patches and standing water are really well done, but at the same time making any mistake can result in a spin or a crash. Visuals for the tyres seem to have been adjusted too; Pirelli's new tyre sheen is clearly visible as is the degradation as you wear your rubber down, and even driving off line into the marbles will add to a build-up of dirt on the tyres. All creating the most lifelike visuals in a driving game to date. In fact, during some replays it would honestly be difficult to differentiate between TV footage and gameplay footage. The only downside to all these advances in quality is loading times, which can be quite lengthy, but we really didn't find it that irritating.
F1 2019 isn't just about the new stuff though; for those who love the classics, there are some of the most iconic championship-winning cars from the last five decades cars to play with across a whole host of invitational events including time trials, pursuits, as well as checkpoint and overtake challenges. The biggest of these is brought to life with the Legends DLC pack that gives us the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Both as teammates at Honda Mclaren then championship adversaries when Prost joined Ferrari in 1990, cementing them both in the annals of F1 History. What's more, you can also access these cars in the showroom and read up about their history via a small bio as you look at them close up.
F1 2019 has more to offer than the driving and nostalgia though; there is a whole menu dedicated to the F1 Esports series. Here you can catch up on the news, current league standings and rules, as well as watching race replays ready for the start of the new season. There is also a huge multiplayer side to the game with weekly events, leagues, ranked and unranked races as well as LAN games. Unfortunately, we didn't really get to experience much of this side of the game as the servers just weren't populated enough pre-launch.
To cap all this off is a new Highlights Theatre that auto captures the highlights of your last three races. These can be viewed at any time and are great for rewatching those midfield tussles. All these highlights can then be stored more permanently if you'd like to keep them for prosperity.
After last year's effort, we didn't think F1 2019 could add much more, especially in such a short time frame, however, Codemasters has made pole position yet again with another stunning, realistic F1 racing sim.