The release of F1 2019 is just around the corner.
Codemasters’ upcoming game looks and feels absolutely fantastic, with the developers going above and beyond to create the most realistic edition yet.
But not only does it look and play like a dream, the game’s realism reaches new heights this year with its revamped career mode.
Earlier this week, we were lucky enough to sit down with Sky Sports F1’s lead commentator David Croft – who’s been the voice of the channel’s F1 coverage since 2012, and is also the main commentator for Codemasters’ F1 series – to discuss the exciting new features of F1 2019.
But oddly enough, we began things by discussing the upcoming Premier League season, and one of Crofty’s other big passions: West Ham.
With rumours that his beloved club’s young centre-back Issa Diop could be on his way to Man United this summer, we talked about the importance of building your career from the bottom up – and not jumping straight in with the big boys.
“The thing with Issa is, the club don’t need to sell him and I think he’s young enough to know that he needs to stay around at somewhere like West Ham,” he told me.
“A move to a big club could make his career or end his career. You’ve got to take your time, and you’ve got to go through the ranks. It’s a bit like this season’s F1 game; for the first time ever, we have the F2 Championship included in the game, which means you get to have a junior career before working your way into F1.”
The introduction of the F2 Championship is certainly a fascinating new feature, as it means you can now work your way into F1 through the junior ranks – much like a real-life driver.
You can choose a young driver program to join, which will limit your team options early in your career but can open up doors for you to earn a place with one of the championship’s big hitters.
Joining Red Bull’s program could get you a seat at Toro Rosso, for example, which might lead to a place with Red Bull Racing later on; which is the path their current line-up took in real life, as both Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly learned their trade with Toro Rosso.
He uses the rise of current Toro Rosso youngster Alexander Albon as an example, with the British-born Thailand driver moving from the F2 Championship last season to Red Bull’s feeder team.
He said: “He’s been a revelation; he’s challenging the more-experienced Daniil Kvyat this season and it’s been really interesting to see his progression first-hand. He’s only 23, and he’s close to the two other drivers who came up from F2 last season – George Russell and Lando Norris.”
Driver transfers on the new game is something that interests me in particular as it reflects the cut-throat nature of F1 – which can see a driver booted out after a less-than-impressive campaign.
And while moves between teams tend to occur at the end of a season, there is also a chance of a driver undergoing a transfer partway through the year, with some drivers moving up the field as a result of a strong performance, while others will move down as they fail to secure contracts after a challenging championship.
“If you’re playing as someone like Albon, you can try to get a move to Red Bull during the middle of the season – much like the team did with Max Verstappen in the 2016 season – so you’re not locked into your current F1 team. You can also get current drivers moving teams at the end of the season, it’s a really cool new feature,” says Crofty.
But it’s not all serious business and driver politics with F1 2019, as the game is as fun as ever.
I asked Crofty about his favourite track to drive on the game, and the enjoyment you can have with racing the current circuits in some of the sport’s most famous cars of the past.
“The one thing I’ve learnt from playing the game is that it’s really difficult to drive, even on the tracks you think you’d do well at, like Monza or Montreal. I love driving around Austin, that’s a sensational track to drive. But my favourite track – my all-time favourite – is Silverstone. It’s just relentless; I’m a proper home boy in that regard, I think it’s the greatest track on the grid,” he says.
With the return of classic cars, there’s also the inclusion of two of the sport’s former greats; Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna – perhaps two of the biggest rivals in F1 history – with the F1 2019 Legends Edition.
This allows gamers the chance to drive as Senna in the 1990 McLaren MP4/5B and Prost in the Ferrari F1-90.
Crofty said: “The classic cars are coming back this year if you like your nostalgia, and there’s Senna and Prost in the game this year too. You get to drive the greatest F1 car of all-time, the beautiful McLaren MP4, which was one of the cars that really got me into Formula 1.”
Commentating is a tricky business, and getting it right in the game takes a lot of work. With my time slot with Crofty running out (he was really fun to talk to, and I didn’t want it to end), I asked him how he prepares his commentary in the game and how Codemasters make it sound authentic.
He said: “The guys at Codemasters are really good, and I’ve been working with them for 10 years now, so they trust me to know what I’m doing!
“What they tend to do is give me a script to follow which is usually centred around a theme – such an in-race impact or an overtake – but the view is if I see something I don’t think I’d say, I’d perhaps try to put it into my own words. It sounds more realistic, as if I’m delivering a real-life commentary line. We don’t work to a script when we’re on Sky, so why should we in the game?”