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Formula One’s official game is now in full release for the 2021 season. Codemasters has brought a full story mode and another annual round of improvements. But is it enough to justify the upgrade from 2020?

F1 2021 is the latest installment of the F1 series from developer Codemasters, and the first under their new Electronic Arts parent company. This year’s edition is hardly an overhaul, but it does build on the strengths of previous titles in the series and delivers a solid gaming experience. Below is our review of F1 2021 for PC.

Intro to 2021​

Codemasters has some highlighted some of the new or improved features for 2021:
  • Braking Point – A new story mode focused on rivalries and relationships both on and off the track
  • Two-Player Career – You and an IRL friend can compete as a team or against each other in Career mode
  • Real-Season Start – Jump into a season based on current standings in Formula One and drive the remainder of the season
  • Updated Driver Stats – Drivers’ statistics have been updated based on recent real-world performance
  • Casual, Standard and Expert Modes – Get as in-depth as you’d like with various modes that determine the amount of input required from the player

Graphics​

Graphically, the F1 series has essentially stagnated, albeit at a very visually appealing level. F1 2021 can be stunning to look at, just don’t expect to experience those looks in VR or triple screens natively. The game carries heavy console influence in its presentation, so playing on a single screen is how it was meant to be enjoyed.

Various graphics level presets and customization options are present, and the visual presentation can range from good to near lifelike. F1 2021 is not unusually strenuous on graphics cards either, so sustaining good frame rates across various tiers of video cards should be possible.

Sounds​

Codemasters has been tasked with recreating arguably the worst sounding F1 cars in history, so don’t expect the core gameplay to wow you with engine notes. Classic F1 cars like the F2004 and its screaming V10 like we’ve seen in previous years aren’t present here, so the F1 and F2 sounds are all users can expect to hear.

Credit should be given though to the secondary sounds. Added touches like the DRS beep, radio calls, broadcast music, and commentary are all essential to creating the ambiance and immersion we’ve come to expect from the series, and once again it’s delivered well.

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Content​

The F1 games’ annual release format has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 schedule adjustments in the real-world race series. Codemasters has been unable to keep up with the comparatively short notice changes to the F1 calendar, and in some cases tracks that will be raced on this season are missing altogether in F1 2021.

Also on the content front, the classic F1 cars are conspicuously absent this time around. Drivers like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher can be acquired in-game, but not their cars. Granted, the classic F1 cars from previous years have been viewed by some as a sales gimmick, but more content variety in a racing title that features only two series should always be welcomed. The game does include the full 2020 F2 series cars in addition to all of the 2021 F1 cars, however.

All of the scheduled tracks for the 2021 Formula One calendar are present here. As we’ve seen, that calendar is undergoing significant changes. Some of the tracks are starting to show their age as well, and new laser scans would be a welcome update for future titles in the series.

Multiplayer​

It took only a few hours after the game was released before aliens starting flexing on social media with impressive hotlaps in F1 2021. This continues to be a key part of the online experience in F1 games. Only a few days removed from official release, a 1:30.000 lap at Silverstone won’t even land you in the top 10,000 in the world. This speaks both to the popularity and the talent level of the player base.

Of course, online racing is a big part of the series as well. F1 2021 offers gamers plenty of opportunity to jump into an online race thanks to solid player counts. Those online races are subject to rammers like previous titles, and expect to find the most well-populated races to be held at Monza, Spa and Silverstone.

Single Player​

F1 2021’s most highly touted addition this year is Braking Point. Braking Point is a full story mode, putting players in control of a character that progresses from Formula 2 into a career in Formula 1. Players will be responsible not only for winning races, but also controlling relationships off the track. This mode is well done and should serve as an intriguing entry point for those who have been pulled into the sport by Netflix’s popular and drama-rich Drive to Survive series.

The Braking Point story is obviously geared toward those looking to commit to this title over a longer period, but for those looking to use F1 2021 for casual offline races, Codemasters hasn’t left you hanging. The AI you race against shows excellent awareness, and computer-controlled cars will fight you hard to hold their current positions.

The Real-Start feature is impressive too, allowing players to jump in to the current F1 season as it stands and finish out the calendar. It’s another nicely done level of immersion in the title, but of course it won’t matter after the season finishes.

F1 2021 RaceDepartment Review 006.jpg


User Interface​

Again this year, Codemasters doesn’t allow PC users to navigate menus with a mouse. Most of the menus are reasonably well laid out, but recurring issues such as the escape key not exiting you from menu screens are still present. The interface appears to be unchanged beyond cosmetic details in this edition.

Driving Physics and Force Feedback​

This year’s F1 title likely won’t change the minds of fans or critics of the series concerning the driving experience. The cars behave nicely overall, though low speed corners tend to produce a crunchy understeer effect that feels unnatural given the capabilities of the car. It does feel nicely hooked up around fast sections like the Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel complex or through Eau Rouge and feels reasonably nimble around medium speed corners.

The force feedback feels about the same as previous years. It’s sufficient to give you some idea of when the car is beyond its traction limits, though it doesn’t have the detailed road bumps and tire scrub that we find in higher end racing simulations. It often feels like your car is floating rather than connected to the road by soft rubber. It’s not any worse than what we’ve come to expect based on previous years, but unfortunately not any better either.

One final note on the handling is that the rain driving feels great. It gives a good sense of reduced traction without feeling overdone, and the curbs can be either benign or problematic depending on the angle and speed you attack them with.

Overall​

Codemasters has done enough this year to pique the interest of returning fans of the series, but nothing in this title is particularly groundbreaking for owners of recent editions. The Braking Point story mode is an interesting and well-done feature, likely most suited to new fans of the F1 game series or those who are new to the sport in general.

F1 2021 carries on a tried-and-true formula Codies has utilized for this series and haven’t pushed themselves past their comfort zone. The fun we’ve come to expect from the series is present once again. Hardcore sim racers should temper their expectations before diving in to F1 2021, but for as amusing romp racing alongside some of the most famous race drivers in the world, this title has a lot to offer. If you weren’t a fan of F1 2019 or 2020, the returning features and characteristics will likely have you feeling the same about 2021.

Next year should prove interesting in this series given the new car regulations. Between having a new parent company and Formula One undergoing significant changes, that comfort zone is soon to be broken. For now, Codemasters has played within their abilities and delivered another fun and competent title. It does enough to justify the upgrade for most fans of the series, and the new story mode makes this a great time for those new to the series to jump in.

Did you buy F1 2021? Let us know in the comments below what your impressions are so far and make sure to submit your own rating and be sure to check out our rapidly growing F1 2021 modding section and vibrant community forum.

Note: Reviewed on PC with a wheel and pedals.
About author
Mike Smith
I have been obsessed with sim racing and racing games since the 1980's. My first taste of live auto racing was in 1988, and I couldn't get enough ever since. Lead writer for RaceDepartment, and owner of SimRacing604 and its YouTube channel. Favourite sims include Assetto Corsa Competizione, Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, Automobilista 2, DiRT Rally 2 - On Twitter as @simracing604

Latest reviews

Pros: -The AI is hard as hell. I used to race on 105 in 2020, now I'm around 90 on this game. Even if it's partly because I'm still transitioning to this game, it's still easy to tell that this is definitely harder.

-The AI is also very racy here. They are aggressive and punchy, and it's legitimately fun to compete with them.

-It's great that the kerbs aren't just extra parts of the track now, you will be punished heavily if you abuse them now.

-The game does look somewhat better than its predecessor, though the differences are minor.

-Braking Point is a good first attempt at a story mode, even though there is certainly stuff left on the table for CM to add to in the future.

-Quick Practice is an absolute god-send, and the practice programs, in general, are definitely improved over the last game.

-While the single player career and MyTeam career haven't been changed much, they're still just as fun as last year.

-There are also some minor improvements and cool gimmicks:
-Plenty of the tracks have had minor overhauls (Suzuka is easily the most noticeable overhaul),
-I like the halo stickers and victory calls, they're nice little additions.
-I think it's cool that they have the actual TV intro in the game intro
-Real Season Start is a nice addition.
-The new career options are all good additions and it helps you nail down the experience you want out of the game.
-The belated addition of random (?) mechanical failures is great.
-MAHAVEER RAGHUNATHAN LIVES ON!
Cons: -The team performances are how they were in 2020 and that means that the Mercedes is far too ahead of the Red Bull, while AM is even more out of place as the third-best car.

-The cars are also a lot faster than they are in real life.

-The handling in the high-speed corners is a nightmare.
Silverstone, in particular, is a nightmare. I run a lot of wing angle and I still cannot get one lap without horrendous oversteer. It's kind of weird that in a game where the cars are so much faster than real life I can't take certain corners flat out while the real-life cars can.

-Braking Point is definitely on the easy side.

-It's also really annoying that the kerbs aren't just extra parts of the track now, as you will be punished heavily if you abuse them now.

-The game feels kind of barren content-wise.
It's understandable that the new tracks and F2 2021 are delayed (the new F2 seasons have always been delayed, and it would have been nigh on impossible for CM to make three brand new tracks on short notice).
However, I don't really understand why CM had to remove classic cars and short tracks, especially considering that Canada and China are both in the game despite neither track holding a race in the last two years. I'd be lying if I said that I used the classic cars or short tracks that much, but to remove them just feels pointless.
It's also silly that CM couldn't let us use the 2020 F1 cars outside of Braking Point. It's kind of ridiculous that they took the time to adapt last year's cars, and only used those cars for half of a relatively short story mode.

-The livery editor is still lacking. I do not understand how CM hasn't added something more comprehensive than a glorified paint shop.
While F1 2021 is lacking in some areas, it's generally a well rounded simcade game that's got plenty to offer to people who either liked the last few F1 games or people looking for a competent simcade game.
Sound bad and voices go at rallenty
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Pros: - Graphics: Any way you look at it, the F1 games have been looking fantastic for a few years now, and F1 2021 is no exception. This is particularly noticeable in night races.

- Atmosphere: No other sim or game will come close to the way F1 reproduces the feel of a race weekend or a championship.

- Accessibility: Controller and wheel users alike will feel at home. Complete beginners have a variety of assists to choose from, with everything turned off, the cars are a challenge to drive and extract maximum pace out of them.

- Braking Point: The all-new story mode is very captivating, focusing around the careers of young Aidan Jackson and veteran Casper Akkerman.
MyTeam: Anyone who has ever dreamt of having their own F1 team or has drawn up their own F1 cars as a kid will love this mode. The best part is: You get to decide how deep the you want to dive in - the player can do all the managment and development himself or turn off some parts of the mode to focus on the driving part.

- Multiplayer: A broad base of players means no lack of multiplayer servers.

- AI: If you are looking for an offline experience, the AI helps massively with that. They are very aware of you, defend and attack, and make mistakes as well - I have been turned into pretty blatantly at times, but that happens in real life as well.
Cons: - No mouse steering in menus: A PC exclusive problem - it is impossible to navigate menus using your mouse. Finding out what button on your wheel does what can be infuriating at times.

- Missing content: Unlike in previous years, no classic cars are present in the game. The 2019 F2 cars are only playable in the very first chapter of Braking Point, the 2020 F1 cars are exclusive to that mode at the moment as well. As of the release, only the 2021 F1 and 2020 F2 cars are available for single player modes, with the 2021 F2 cars set to be added later on. The same goes for tracks like Mugello, Imola and the new street circuit in Jeddah.

- Force Feedback bug: On Thrustmaster wheels, you will have to update your firmware every time you turn on your PC before the game's FFB will work with it. The wheel and pedals itself do work as intended if the firmware remains untouched, but there will be no feedback.

- Kerbs: They seem to be very slippery in a lot of places, so having to find out the hard way where you can and cannot go is a bit of an annoyance.
Having played F1 2021 for about 12 hours at the time of this review, I am positively suprised by the game - before '21, the most recent F1 game I played was 2014. I had seen lots of videos about the series in the meantime but always heard about how it would be too arcade-y, which is not the case. Sure, it is not a full sim, but if you want it to, it can be a real challenge.

The AI know how to race you, the cars need precise input but also quick reflexes when the back steps out (which it will if you're to trigger-happy with the throttle). The atmosphere of an F1 weekend is probably unmatched and will draw any F1 fan right in.

There are a lot of game modes on offer, which will keep players busy for quite a while. The new story mode Braking Point is very interesting and captivating - at least so far, since I am in the middle of the second F1 season. I was sceptical that it might be a bit of a cheesy story, but so far, it has done a great job in keeping me motivated to play.

A bit of a downside are the various oversights like the lack of mouse support in menus on PC, a bug which requires Thrustmaster wheel users to update their firmware each time they boot up their PC if they want their FFB to work and unreasonably slippery kerbs in some places. There is no historic content either, meaning classic cars are scrapped altogehter - which is a shame if you are an F1 history nerd like myself.

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Comments

Still people wanting developpers like kunos and reiza to get the licence of F1 games. But we should remember that each f1 game is a new game with it's own rules and features.

The FIA wants money every year.
Not sure the economic model of ACC or AMS2 would meet the FIA's financial objectives. It would the best for us, players : a long development process with dlcs for each season, with older dlcs receiving the improvements made for the game. But let's.face it, this.won't happen.
 
Still people wanting developpers like kunos and reiza to get the licence of F1 games. But we should remember that each f1 game is a new game with it's own rules and features.

The FIA wants money every year.
Not sure the economic model of ACC or AMS2 would meet the FIA's financial objectives. It would the best for us, players : a long development process with dlcs for each season, with older dlcs receiving the improvements made for the game. But let's.face it, this.won't happen.
Kunos this game is not interesting. FIA will never provide data for the development of the modern formula one simulator.
 
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Honestly no. I bought it 'cause well, I do every year, and every year I feel as dirty as a farmer caught in a compromising position with a goat.

I haven't checked but I'm pretty sure the 2021 livery mods for the 2020 game are freely available here which should make it feel more like this season.

At least this year we have the promise of some new tracks relevant to the season to be added down the line, which leads me to the next point....

Honestly I really think it's a bit of a waste of time reviewing a modern title at release. Sure people want to know what there getting right now, but for the first 6 months we're effectively early adopters testing a beta version, and not really knowing how it's going to pan out.

Could you imagine reviewing ACC at version 1.0 and expecting that review to stand today.

That said, I think it's a pretty fair review of how F1 2021 stands at the moment,
In my experience Codemasters are not like Kunos when it comes to upgrading their games. The former has to release a game that is to be packaged in a box for the console market. Look at the fiasco of Cyberpunk and Sony. Do you think you will get better handling and graphical upgrades? i don't think so. They can't even fix Dirt 5. And when they do add it is usually bug fixes. F1 2021 will not change. What you get today you will have in 12 months. Same cannot be said of Kunos or Reiza.
 
In my experience Codemasters are not like Kunos when it comes to upgrading their games. The former has to release a game that is to be packaged in a box for the console market. Look at the fiasco of Cyberpunk and Sony. Do you think you will get better handling and graphical upgrades? i don't think so. They can't even fix Dirt 5. And when they do add it is usually bug fixes. F1 2021 will not change. What you get today you will have in 12 months. Same cannot be said of Kunos or Reiza.
ACC on consoles was/is an utter shitshow, only avoiding the Cyberpunk like debacle due to its niche nature.

Some my say that Kunos is not to blame for that as the console port was done by another studio, but the damage was done due to Kunos' early development decisions with the PC version - They dug themselves into an optimisation hole with Unreal 4, which has proved very difficult to get out of.
 
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Kunos this game is not interesting. FIA will never provide data for the development of the modern formula one simulator.
If I remember well, for the 2017 or 2018 game, the developpers got access to real data they did not have for the previous games. I dont think the FIA iz able to provide any dara, the teams are and decide. Anyway, without all the data, some modders did great jobs creating modern F1 cars.
 
Had this been codemasters’ first attempt at an F1 game, the gushing reviews & praise heaped on it by reviewers (including this one) & YT dimfluencers alike would be somewhat justified.

As it stands, the studio has delivered another big ridden product - exposing themselves yet again as anything but masters of code.
 
ACC on consoles was/is an utter shitshow, only avoiding the Cyberpunk like debacle due to its niche nature.

Some my say that Kunos is not to blame for that as the console port was done by another studio, but the damage was done due to Kunos' early development decisions with the PC version - They dug themselves into an optimisation hole with Unreal 4, which has proved very difficult to get out of.
True but codemasters has the game already with its previous incarnations. No new engine and nothing really to shout about comparing it to last years. Extras with new tracks will be a welcome addition but i doubt anything beyond what you now have.

I have decided to pass on this years due to a lack of classic cars and very little for me to spend nearly 50 quid on. Will stick to 2020. Even on a sale this is a hard sell. And i did make the jump from 2019 to 2020.
 
I bought F1 2018 few years back, and I still don't know why...played it less than 8h, then just went back to AC, the physics and the handling, it's just couldn't satisfy me
 
2019 does it for me. Hard on the breakpaddel befor cornering is how it should be, and this game does it. If you like F1 racing without to much fiddling , buy the 2019.
 
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The physicscode is clearly not on par with AC, ACC, but somehow more enjoyable for me than AMS2 (which has a huge variaty in terms of physic quality from car to car and I can still feel the PCars core in some corners).
The AI is the best compared to every other racing game I tried and it is a lot of fun to race them and that already is enough for me to justify the buy even though the difficulty is still a bit inconsistent from track to track. There is more going on in the races, AI makes mistakes on and off camera, better implementation of safety car and vsc.
Compared to 2020 the car is more understeery at low to mid speed, has more grip on the rear axle, but it is more difficult to catch when the traction breaks. Finally you don't have to run 50% brake balance and still locking the fronts. Feedback is similar to 2020, not AC/ACC level, but enough for me to enjoy the drive. F2 cars are better to control under accelaration compared to 2020, where I really struggled to judge the rear axle.
The Menu is slightly worse than before, but nothing essentially missing. Missing classic cars don't bother me as there was no complete lineup of one year anyway (->pointless for races) and for hot lapping I switch to AC in VR etc. I think it is very questionable to not have Imola and Portimao in the game yet, hopefully they will be added soon. Abu Dabi and Barcelona layout update are missing as well, which is disapointing. Did not try the story mode yet.

Overall some good updates, especially the great AI, but a few pieces missing, which feels odd paying the full price.
 
Good article and it hits the point on the low speed physics where the car refuses to turn if you're at 1 km/h faster than the game suppose you should. If you're planning to be a top time table racer you'll have to unlearn your real life or true simulator skills and focus on the engine physics flaws.

Other than that it's amazing how good the graphics are under low CPU and GPU cost, it's a real achievement by Codemasters in this regard.
 
True but codemasters has the game already with its previous incarnations. No new engine and nothing really to shout about comparing it to last years. Extras with new tracks will be a welcome addition but i doubt anything beyond what you now have.

I have decided to pass on this years due to a lack of classic cars and very little for me to spend nearly 50 quid on. Will stick to 2020. Even on a sale this is a hard sell. And i did make the jump from 2019 to 2020.
The jump from 2019 to 2020 was well worth it - the handling of 2019 was well off IMO.

If you have 2020 then I can understand not getting 2021, but citing classic cars as the reason leaves me with a ? expression on my face. Does anybody actually bother with these? Ok you do and that's fair enough, but for me it's not like you can do anything with them other than hotlap. Honestly if I hadn't been told 2021 doesn't have classic cars then I wouldn't have noticed.
 
The jump from 2019 to 2020 was well worth it - the handling of 2019 was well off IMO.

If you have 2020 then I can understand not getting 2021, but citing classic cars as the reason leaves me with a ? expression on my face. Does anybody actually bother with these? Ok you do and that's fair enough, but for me it's not like you can do anything with them other than hotlap. Honestly if I hadn't been told 2021 doesn't have classic cars then I wouldn't have noticed.
Then thats the difference. I like the traditional element of skill and co-ordination rather than self driven modern cars. Lets say i am the opposite. You can't beat a H shifter when in comparison to a paddle shifter. I could say much on this subject but i will let it pass. Important to note the audience probably feels the same as you hence it's removal. And to be fair you would rather buy a RSS or VRC car on assetto than buy the F1 game for classic cars.
 
Then thats the difference. I like the traditional element of skill and co-ordination rather than self driven modern cars. Lets say i am the opposite. You can't beat a H shifter when in comparison to a paddle shifter. I could say much on this subject but i will let it pass. Important to note the audience probably feels the same as you hence it's removal. And to be fair you would rather buy a RSS or VRC car on assetto than buy the F1 game for classic cars.
I don't have anything against the classic cars at all, it's just in the F1 games their inclusion is meaningless - just a bunch of disparate cars from different time periods.

If F1 included a complete historic season recreation, complete with all cars and tracks then I'd probably play the historic content way more than the modern content. However, as it stands, the way the historic content is presented in the F1 games is little more than an offhand afterthought bringing no real value to the game.
 
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They should add F3's to this. No reason to left them out and then there would ne whole "F" package in one game. And I would surely rather drive F3's than F2's.

At least in console version(Series X) they should realy change menu background color from too bright white to some much darker/dimmer color, that white really hurt your eyes when game starts and go to menu, and even when there menu windows over that white.
 
I don't have anything against the classic cars at all, it's just in the F1 games their inclusion is meaningless - just a bunch of disparate cars from different time periods.

If F1 included a complete historic season recreation, complete with all cars and tracks then I'd probably play the historic content way more than the modern content. However, as it stands, the way the historic content is presented in the F1 games is little more than an offhand afterthought bringing no real value to the game.
Agreed. F1 series had a big advantage against sims and that is the offline racing experience. With classic cars you either hotlap or play gimmicky non-authentic races, in which case (and being on RD I am not reluctant to say it) I'd rather switch to AC especially with mods. But when I want to race modern F1, there is no contest. However good RSS FH might be to drive, the racing part is not there. Now if one is a casual, semi-casual or console racer, and doesn't have access to AC with mods, I can understand why one might miss classic content.

Haven't got 2021 yet by the way, just wanted to add to the discussion.
 
The issue for Codemasters and their F1 franchise is that their player base dwindles each year, shortly after an initial spike with a fresh launch. Other racing sims continue to grow, with F1 style cars and better player experiences – if Codemasters do not improve their online experience with dedicated and private game servers, if they continue to hit the reset button each year, and if they fail to adapt to the current trend of player retention and growth; the future for this F1 franchise does not look good.
 
I don't have anything against the classic cars at all, it's just in the F1 games their inclusion is meaningless - just a bunch of disparate cars from different time periods.

If F1 included a complete historic season recreation, complete with all cars and tracks then I'd probably play the historic content way more than the modern content. However, as it stands, the way the historic content is presented in the F1 games is little more than an offhand afterthought bringing no real value to the game.
I disagree about their inclusion. For me sim racing is about the car first which equates to the experience. Story based products do nothing for me. And so i like to rip into a formula pro in rf2 and test myself and my patience. That experience exceeds anything that F1 has given. So why did i purchase it. Because with all its faults i still enjoy how vehicles react in other sims and the immersion that this package brings. There is nothing for me in this new inclusion. And to be fair it is just an add on with a story mode. All content is value. True, out of context, but it's a start. Who knows where it will lead. After this edition maybe nowhere?

A historic sim would be impressive. Would like to see an old brands hatch. AC is about as close as you can get at the moment.
 

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