Hands-on: The most important new features in F1 22
We’ve been playing the preview, work in progress, version of F1 22 and there’s a lot to dive into, chiefly the new tyre model, handling, formation laps and online features.
By Oasley Beattie and Thomas Harrison-Lord
It’s that time of the year again, folks. Spring is in the air, football competitions are ending and the motorsport season is in full swing – including Formula 1. With the opening rounds now complete, the traditional reveal of this year’s associated video game is an anticipated inevitability.
Having been hands-on with the work in progress PC-build version of the now entitled EA SPORTS F1 22 we can safely say this: It’s another Formula 1 game that is fun to drive, rewarding and, perhaps at this stage, a little all-too-familiar.
To be clear, we were able to drive all current 2022 cars within Grand Prix and Time Trial modes. The tracks on offer included the all-new Miami International Autodrome, plus Imola, Silverstone, Circuit of the Americas and the Red Bull Ring.
Vaunted new additions such as F1 Life – including road-based supercars – updated track layouts and My Team managerial mode refinements were detailed, but not playable at this stage.
Here, then, are what we think are the most significant changes to the F1 gaming series this year, and our take on their progress.
The Sprint format
Sprints have appeared in F1 weekends four times now and are being evaluated for six potential appearances within the 2023 calendar. They feature qualifying on a Friday evening, preceding the second practice session, before a sprint event on Saturday to set the grid for Sunday’s race.
Regardless of your opinion on the sprint format, the F1 22 game now contains this option, a feature notable only by its absence in last year’s F1 2021 release. Unlike the real world, however, they can appear on any circuit of your choice.
The weekend structure now has three options to choose from: Standard, Authentic and Sprint & Race.
The first option features a practice, qualifying and race event, whereas the other two contain a sprint in-between the qualifying and race events. The difference between the two is that Authentic only applies to those that do contain sprint events in real life this season – Imola, Austria and Interlagos.
The Sprint & Race option enables a sprint at any circuit on the calendar.
Changing the session length setting also affects the number of required laps within sprints. For example, choosing short will only require five laps in a sprint and choosing long will reduce the normal sprint length to 50 per cent.
A long sprint at Austria for example would contain 12 laps instead of the full 24 laps, for example.
Since Adam Rhys Dee voiced your race engineer – first in F1 2010 and then as Jeff in F1 2015 onwards – we’ve all been screaming at him to leave us alone because we know what to do.
With F1 22 however, the original voice artist has been replaced by Marc “Elvis” Priestley, an ex-Formula 1 mechanic who worked with McLaren from 1999 to 2009 alongside drivers such as Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, Button and Hakkinen.
His focus after F1 shifted into media, eventually becoming a presenter on Wheeler Dealers in 2021.
As previewed in a teaser trailer, he now voices your race engineer.
The delivered lines are fairly similar to the previous years, but we noticed several new lines. Maybe we were too harsh on Jeff, and that forced him to seek out other roles within the F1 game universe?
Either way, there’s now a new voice to complain to. I hope you know what you have signed up for Marc, we’ll try not to be too mean…
You can change punditry
Speaking of voice talent, a very small – but welcome – update is the ability to change between your preferred commentators.
Our options were between Sky’s David Croft and Channel 4’s Alex Jacques, but with both still sitting alongside Anthony Davidson. This commentary is played within the pre-race cutscenes, post-race podium and results page as if you really were watching a live broadcast. Natalie Pinkham will also be part of the roster.
Upon release, these options will also contain different commentators according to your language, choosing French for example should provide you with Jacques Villeneuve and Jean-Éric Vergne as your commentators.
Virtual Reality for those with a PC
If you are in the fortunate position of owning both a powerful gaming PC and a VR headset, then F1 22 will be the very first official F1 game to feature the technology.
Handily, it works across both HTC Vive and Oculus devices in our testing and even better, across any game mode. If you’re the sort of masochist that would like to take part in a full-length online race around a wet Monaco in VR, you can. Likewise, the My Team and Driver Career modes.
In practice, using the cockpit camera exclusively, it adds a level of immersion that has been lacking to date. Paired with a sim racing cockpit and the Fanatec Gran Turismo DD Pro wheel base, just driving laps on your own is the most intense an F1 game has been, ever.
But, of course, such a setup remains for the privileged few.
“It’s a discussion. As I’ve said over the years with VR, there’s nothing ever off the table,” explained Senior Creative Director Lee Mather on the Traxion.GG Podcast when quizzed about the potential for PlayStation VR2 support.
A new tyre model changes the handling
Perhaps the most notable change in an F1 game for some time, there is said to be a new tyre model, combined with the altered aerodynamic properties of the latest ruleset.
The driving sensation is of corner entry understeer, like all recent siblings. However, upon corner exit, or corners that aren’t quite flat out, you now must pay closer attention to your throttle inputs.
Turn 3 at Miami, for example, is without a throttle lift, but the first few times your try without the perfect line you can end up spinning under power, even with some traction control providing a helping hand.
From the mid-corner point onwards, oversteer is more prevalent – but not in an unruly sense. Far from a night and day difference, but it requires acclimatisation when compared to contemporaries.
You must line your car up during a formation lap
You can now choose between two modes when it comes to formation laps, those being Broadcast and Immersive.
Choosing Broadcast mode presents the formation lap like a real event, a visual showcase of the grid order and tyre strategies, with its length cut down to just a few corners.
The Immersive mode, however, allows you to park the car within your starting box and even choose any angle you wish to start at.
You must position your car perfectly within the box, as stopping too early or too late forcibly moves the car into position, but thankfully doesn’t lead to a penalty. The box also contains a 3D graphic on-top, which changes colour according to your position.
So far, we’ve found the process of lining your car up in the grid to be quite difficult. In its current form, it seems to think we’ve stopped too short if we’re travelling at 5mph or less, with only two successful tries out of 10.
As this is a preview build however and not the final build, its likely to be refined upon release.
Time your pit box entry and train your team
In a similar vein, pitstops can now be ‘broadcast’ or ‘immersive’ too.
Broadcast mode drives your car through the pit lane and doesn’t provide control until the end, but is shown through the on-track cameras, complete with pit related graphics and commentary.
However, selecting the immersive mode allows you to influence the time spent within the pits. As you approach your pitbox, you’re given a five-second countdown at the top of the screen followed by a button prompt.
The aim is to press the button at the perfect turn-in time, described to you as ‘Optimal’ and gain a short pit-stop. However, pressing the button too early or too late increases the amount of time within the pitstop.
In other words, it’s a quick-time-event, as opposed to your steering into the pits.
Within one of our races, our optimal turn-in delivered a 2.3s – 2.7s pitstop, and an early turn-in gave us a 2.9s – 3.3s pitstop, nearly a second of lost time.
We’ll have to wait and see whether this feature contains additional button presses or changes, as it doesn’t seem to be too challenging in its current form.
One thing that will be factored in during the Driver Career and My Team modes, however, is your team’s ability to carry out pitstops. Invest in this area, and they will be able to form quicker tyre changes, so different teams on the grid won’t necessarily be equal.
For those who race in leagues and esports, this can be switched off for the sake of parity.
Multiplayer, supercars and revised circuits
Following a spot of conflicting messages and fan confusion, cross-platform online multiplayer has been confirmed for F1 22 but is coming post-launch.
In addition, the Miami circuit is a solid representation of a clumsy circuit. Joining it will be updated versions of Albert Park, Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina and Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Any updates to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit venue to match the 2022 season are yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, F1 Life is a bright, shiny, new addition that builds upon the existing Podium Pass cosmetic unlock feature, throwing in licenced apparel and even driveable supercars into the mix.
Your customisations will be able to spruce up a hub, which will include any trophies you may win in-game, and this I used as an online lobby for your friends to view your lifestyle selections.
The 2022 Formula 2 season will be included, but much like the recent F1 games, it arrives as a free update post-launch.
There could also be further tracks arriving too. According to Mather, when pushed for further details:
“[That’s] something I can’t really speak about at the moment, but something we’ll definitely go into a little more detail about once the game is out and about.”
With further additions on the horizon for the full release in July 2022, we are all excited to see how this game plays out, bearing in mind that this is based upon the same game and graphics engine of the recent titles.
On track, the revised handling is refreshing, and the VR adds renewed energy. But, so far, it’s also another yearly F1 game. A lack of revolution may push the disenfranchised sim racer further away, but the new and expanded F1 audience will have a feature-packed game that so far successfully delivers the sport’s glamour.
Image source: In-game F1 22 and Motorsport Images