How Imola and Portimão hint at bright future for the F1 games

Thomas Harrison-Lord
How Imola and Portimão hint at bright future for the F1 games

I’ve said this many times before, in pretty much every review I’ve written in the past five years, to I’m blue in the face and from the rooftops of Northern England – the track representations are the biggest drawback of the current Formula 1 games.

Please do not misconstrue that sentiment – I enjoy the F1 games created by Codemasters and EA very much, and play them every year without fail. I enjoyed the Breaking Point story, think the My Team mode is the pinnacle of racing game career modes and have had many enjoyable online races.

But no game is perfect. To me, the biggest drawback, and I’m sure you have your own, to the games created by the current developers is how the tracks are modelled.

McLaren F1 2021 Spa-Francorchamps Eau Rouge

The shakiness to the Spa-Francorchamps layout is almost too easy to pick apart, so instead let’s talk about the bomb hole on the entry to Hungaroring’s Turn 13. It looks like the Snetterton corner, copied, pasted and flipped.

Similarly, there’d a giant dip on the back straight of the Yas Marina Circuit that even shows up rather embarrassingly within a pre-rendered cut scene when Aiden Jackson and Casper Akkerman are duelling.

While I’ve been calling out for the tracks to be re-developed for some time now, I also don’t appreciate how much time, effort and money would be required – especially when you are tasked with releasing a new game every year.

Portimão F1 2021 game

Yet, something rather intriguing just happened.

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the real-world F1 season chopped and changed in both 2020 and 2021. Two of the last-minute track additions were Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari and the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve near Portimão.

In a first for the F1 game series, these two circuits have been added as free content post-release. Tracks have been added in the past, Estoril and, funnily enough, Imola, but that was back in 2013 as paid downloadable content.

F1 2021 Imola chicane Alfa Romeo

Not only has it been refreshing to race around new venues – Hanoi was in the F1 2020 game, but didn’t hold a race in real life and wasn’t exactly exhilarating – but it helps that both are among the very best in the world.

The blind crests of the Portimão, the narrow confines of Imola. Each presents a different challenge. Getting up to speed and then nailing all apices around a single lap is more satisfying than licking the lid of a Müller yoghurt.

Imola just sings. Driving these high-downforce cars around this famed venue on your own, trying set a quicker lap time, is glorious. While I’m not a huge fan of the current car ruleset – too big and cumbersome – when it’s just you cutting some laps, adjusting to their high-downforce corner speed delivers a rewarding challenge.

The Algarve International Circuit is almost as fun to drive solo, but thanks to its more open layout, better suited to racing. Especially online, where Imola does lead to more crashes than most venues. Apart from Monaco, of course…

The biggest satisfaction I got from these new additions wasn’t the driving, either. No, the knowledge that the Codemasters Birmingham team has it within them to create accurate tracks on this ageing game engine – heavily revised, but a derivation of what debuted way back in 2010 – lit my imagination.

F1 2021 Algarve International Red Bull Honda Livery

If they have the resource to perhaps re-make some of the older track models, like the Red Bull Ring for example, even though the layout would remain familiar, the driving would feel different. New setups would have to be made, kerbs relearnt and more communicative steering wheel force feedback programmed.

I would take this over managerial or story mode enhancements all day long. I’ve thought that for a long time but knew that there were far bigger priorities.

However, Portimão and Imola brought previous opinions racing back to the forefront of my mind. Both these tracks breathe new life into F1 2021, a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, but had placed lower down my playlist as newer racing games released as the year progressed.

F1 2021 game Imola

If you’ve perhaps grown a little tired of the F1 game this year, fire it back up and try out these latest additions. I can’t promise the upcoming Jeddah Street Circuit will be as enjoyable, but it solidified my opinion that venue variety is the lifeblood of this franchise. Now, how about historical tracks for F1 2022?

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