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F1 2017 review: everyone gets a grid penalty

The lights are out at Sochi and it’s go, go, go. The Mercedes of Hamilton gets the better start as pole-sitter Simons’s Haas gets bogged down. After the first corner, it’s the triple world champion followed by Simons, who has recovered from the poor start and looks determined to immediately get out of the dirty air.

It’s all or nothing at the next 90 degree corner (a Tilke circuit, clearly) as the South African plunges down the inside, a compliant Hamilton wary of Simons’s Maldonado-style antics. But far from being a last-gasp attempt to delay Hamilton, it’s the Brit that struggles to stay within DRS range, eventually falling to an 18 second gap in the closing stages of the race.

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It’s not over until the chequered flag drops though and with three laps to go, Simons is stuck in sixth gear, reminiscent of Senna in Brazil 1991. The trouble only lasts for a lap though, as the leader eventually finds other gears, the gap to second only falling to around 15 seconds. It’s a dominant first win for the rookie Haas driver, but it certainly wasn’t trouble-free.

Who wants to juggle F1 parts?

F1 2017’s decision to incorporate parts management in season mode means that moments like these are certainly possible. It’s a lovely idea, obviously inspired by the real-world motorsport. So you occasionally have these stressful moments, or you’re forced to choose between a fresh engine and a very well worn engine. Decisions, decisions.

But for every dramatic moment as a result of dodgy reliability, we’ve got tinkering with pricey durability upgrades, mulling part changes between sessions (and occasionally during sessions) and constant warnings from Trevor, Jeff, Phineas or whatever his name is, during practice.

The upgrade system has also been expanded to parts management, giving you the ability to boost durability of certain parts. But progression could be much better, as I often felt like I had to sacrifice practice laps to save my parts in the early going. How about reducing the cost of durability upgrades or, better yet, let gamers choose which parts can go boom over a season?

Nevertheless, it’s an authentic part of the F1 experience, so I can’t fault Codies for including it in the first place. However, it’s an aspect that would benefit from more customisation or a reliability slider of sorts. But the idea is certainly sound, at the very least.

Season mode is still fantastic

F1 2016 introduced a fun season mode that was miles away from the barebones championship option of F1 2015. Last year’s title actually made practice sessions meaningful with the introduction of minigames during these sessions.

F1 2016 introduced qualifying sims (drive as fast as possible with the grippiest tyres and low fuel load), track acclimatisation (drive through virtual gates to learn the racing line) and tyre management (drive several laps with a low rate of tyre wear). Not only did it make for a great way to learn the track and show you how to finesse the car into corners, completing these minigames also delivered points for upgrades.

F1 2017 introduces a few more minigames this time, in the form of fuel saving and race strategy. The former is pretty handy, as  you use ‘lift and coast’ and other techniques to save fuel while meeting specific lap times. You’ll find this minigame to be useful if you like to switch up your fuel mixes during a race, as you find more ways to squeeze juice from the car.

The race strategy minigame is interesting too, tasking you with lapping as you would in a race, then calculating a race strategy for you. And you can even complete extra laps to further refine the strategy.

The two additions are pretty meaningful then, bringing more variety to practice proceedings. But I do get the impression that any more minigames in this regard might be too much for practice. As it is now, you can complete about two minigames per session, if you want to leave some time for actual practice. However, the minigames are pretty much what you’ll be doing anyway, familiarising yourself with the track at first, doing quali simulations, figuring out which tyre is best for the job and learning where to save fuel.

Classic cars are back!

After a four year hiatus, we’re really glad to see classic cars coming back into the fold. Featuring 12 cars (or 11, if you don’t want to splash out on the McLaren MP4/4), it’s clear that some thought has gone into the featured cars.

And I’m glad to report that almost every car has a distinctive feel to it. So driving the 2010 RB6 is like driving a scalextric car, driving the F2004 feels like peak F1 power, while the McLaren MP4/6 feels like an untamed beast. Meanwhile, the likes of the Williams FW18 feel underpowered compared to the aforementioned cars. There is one weird omission though, and that’s the fact that stick gearshift animations aren’t present for the relevant cars, weird.

The classic cars (and four short circuits, based on existing tracks) all feed into the career mode too. You’ll get invited to classic car events throughout the season, tasking you with completing a certain number of laps in a set time or overtaking a certain number of cars, for instance. It does a great job of spicing up the career mode, so even if you’re not an F1 fan, you might derive some enjoyment from the mode.

These challenges can also be completed in a separate mode, although you’ll need to work your way through the season mode to unlock all of them.

Still life left in these tyres?

F1 2015 may have been a solid foundation, but it’s clear that Codemasters have taken the barebones criticism of the title to heart. So you’ve really got a lot to do in F1 2017.

Finished the ten season career mode? Then you’ve got the aforementioned challenges in classic or modern cars. Don’t care for those? Then you’ve got several themed championships to play through, such as a retro championship (old cars, old circuits), street circuits only, F2-style reverse grid races etc.

The studio has also crafted a regularly updated challenge that coincides with real-world Grand Prix weekends.

At the time of writing, we’re at the Japanese Grand Prix, so Codemasters has delivered a challenge based on this track. The challenge sees you play as Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, languishing in the middle of the pack behind a safety car. With only ten laps or so to go, you’ll need to make the decision to pit or not. Either way, you’ll need to nab sixth place or better.

The previous week’s challenge saw me playing as Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg at the Sepang circuit, way down the field and requiring a finish in the points. Things aren’t so easy though, as a sudden downpour changes things up in a big way, leading to changeable conditions at the end of the race. Do you switch to slicks for the last few laps as the track dries out, or do you stay out and hope that you built a large enough gap?

These challenges are a wonderful addition to the F1 formula, akin to the scenario mode in last-gen titles. Competitive types will also enjoy the online leaderboard attached to these challenges, motivating you to do a better job. However, the biggest complaint about these challenges is that they’re over far too quickly, lasting for a week or so before being gone forever. The ability to save your favourite challenges would be very welcome.

Any other improvements?

Check the difference between Maurizio ‘Your mom’s new boyfriend’ Arrivabene and the generic Ferrari dude on the left.

In the production value department, F1 2017 is an incremental improvement over last year’s title — F1 2016 set a high bar in the first place.

Visuals are as solid as ever, although screen tearing is still prevalent. Character models see a welcome improvement, with accurate facial scans for the drivers and team bosses. But all the other NPCs and your created driver can still look like trash — glad to see Codemasters actually trying to make the humans look real though.

Meanwhile, it seems like the high-pitched “you can’t unhear it” turbo whistle has been toned down, while the classic cars all sound accurate and just wonderful. There’s nothing quite like taking a V10 around Monza.

Much like the production values, the base experience still feels as solid as ever, with the aforementioned reliability adding another welcome (if occasionally annoying) aspect to proceedings. However, one of the more underrated features this year is the introduction of a difficulty slider (from 0 to 100), instead of several preset difficulty levels. It’s a smart addition, especially for players that find themselves dominating at one difficulty, but utterly hopeless on the next level.

F1 2017 manages to improve upon last year’s game in several notable ways, making you wonder what could be next

It’s also worth noting that those who played F1 2016 can import their custom driver — no need to create from scratch again. As far as I could tell, the settings weren’t imported though, so you’ll need to configure assists and other options again.

Another touted feature this year is the weather, having received a tweak for unpredictability. I can’t say with 100% certainty that it’s much better than last year,  but I’ve definitely encountered more changeable conditions that had an effect on the race. At least in the challenge/event mode.

And if you read our wishlist last year, you’d know that I hoped for more interactive pit stops. Fortunately, we get some of this, with a few simple button prompts (hold in the clutch, let go and accelerate out of your box). It’s nothing game-changing once again, but it certainly adds a layer of fun and a facade of authenticity to proceeedings.

There is a wishlist item missing though, in the form of classic circuits. The likes of Imola, Estoril and even older layouts (Hockenheim, old Monza, old Spa) would’ve been a welcome pairing with the classic cars.

Another long-held wish has been for feeder championships, such as Formula 2 and GP3, to be featured. How cool would it be to carry out rivalries from lower formulae, getting scouted by the F1 teams and occasionally taking part in free practice before stepping up to F1 proper? I get the feeling that licensing complexities are the biggest factor here.

Top step of the podium?

Between the in-depth career mode, meaningful practice sessions (again) and classic cars, F1 2017 certainly makes an argument for being the greatest F1 title ever produced on consoles. Toss in the event/scenario option, female custom drivers and alternative championships and you’ve got plenty of bang for your buck.

It’s not perfect though, as the parts management aspect is far too heavy handed (at least in the early going) and more persistent scenarios/events would’ve been preferable. Also, the lack of a split-screen championship option — if only for the semi-custom championships — would’ve been fantastic.

Verdict: F1 2017 builds on last year’s effort in a notable way, introducing classic cars, a deep and authentic career mode and fantastic challenges. Now, about improving the durability department and introducing a feeder series option…

Score: 9 out of 10

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