Formula 1 games are often a person’s first step into the world of racing games, even if they aren’t huge fans of racing. Even though it’s easy to forget when you work at GRR’s HQ, which has such a rich and varied motorsport history, there are a lot of people whose only experience with racing is when David Croft yells at them from across the living room on a Sunday afternoon. These fans probably won’t be interested in Project Cars or Assetto Corsa, but you can be sure they’d pick up a game with Lewis Hamilton’s face on the cover.
Over the past 30 years, the sport as a whole has changed a lot, and the market for F1 games has grown at an equally impressive rate.
F1 – Sega Mega Drive
Believe it or not, there was a time when you couldn’t make a video game with a perfect Grand Prix track. Instead, you had a very basic version of the F1 calendar that was made up of very small squares. At Monaco, the track went up and down, and you went under bridges and through tunnels. In fact, the bridges and tunnels seemed to have nothing to do with the actual circuits, and by today’s standards, the backgrounds could use a lot more work. But this was how things were in the early 1990s. F1 gave the gamer the best possible experience and was one of the first F1 console games to really show how fast the top level of motorsport is.
Formula One Grand Prix – PC
If you make a list of the best F1 games ever, you have to include something by Geoff Crammond. Even though the former systems engineer for the defence industry didn’t care much about motorsports when he first started programming, he tried to make a Formula 3 game in 1984, and the rest is history. Seven years later, MicroProse made its first Formula 1 game, which was a big hit right away. Even though the game didn’t have any official licences, it had groundbreaking physics, thanks in part to Crammond’s degree in the field, and accurate circuits, so racers could actually tell where they were on the track. F1GP was so popular that it led to three official sequels, and by the mid-1990s, it was still thought of as one of the best PC games of all time.
Grand Prix World – PC
Keeping with MicroProse, here’s a game that was recently on our list of the best racing simulators out there. Grand Prix World was the last and best of the Grand Prix Manager games, even though it didn’t put you behind the wheel like a traditional F1 game. MicroProse and F1 made money off of the hugely popular management sim genre, which is still very popular in the football market today. Grand Prix World was just as detailed as Football Manager is now. You couldn’t just make a plan and hope for the best; you had to carefully divide the budgets among the different departments. Do you put your money into a strong research and development programme, which might not pay off if another team objects to your new parts, or do you spend a lot of money to sign a big name like Schumacher, Hakkinen, Newey, or Brawn? Yes, you had to sign everything, even the technical directors. There aren’t many F1 games that give you a better feeling of accomplishment than taking Minardi from the back of the grid to a full-works-backed title contender.
Grand Prix Legends – PC
Another strange game, since this one probably isn’t for the average F1 fan. The game was made by Papyrus, who were best known for their very realistic NASCAR and IndyCar sims. They looked into the past and made a game based on the 1967 season, which was inspired by the movie Grand Prix. No traction, no downforce, and no run-off. This game did a great job of showing how hard racing was in the late 1960s, and it still holds up today. Many serious sim racers still spend hundreds of hours a year playing this game, which shows how popular it is. Thanks to the modding community, a brand-new demo version of the game came out at the beginning of 2020 to entice people who aren’t sure if they want to spend their hard-earned money on a 22-year-old game. The answer should be an easy “yes,” since the same group of modders has made the game much bigger by adding Formula 2 and even Can-Am cars.
Formula 1 97 – PlayStation
This game was just on our list of the best racing games of all time, so it makes sense that it’s on this list, too. Formula 1 97 was the second game in Sony’s Formula 1 series, and everyone’s favourite commentator, Murray Walker, could be heard in the background. Except for Jacques Villeneuve, this game had every driver and team from the 1997 season. It was the perfect mix for an F1 game. You could choose between “Arcade” mode and “Grand Prix” mode, depending on how realistic you wanted the game to be. “Grand Prix” mode gave you the full Championship experience, with challenges like fuel load, tyre wear, and losing front wings. The perfect F1 game is one that is both realistic and easy to pick up and play, and this was one of the first to really hit that mark.
F1 Career Challenge – PC/PlayStation/Xbox/Gamecube
For F1 fans who liked to play games, the early 2000s were a great time. Sony kept going with its series, which had started in 1996. In 2000, the sports game powerhouse EA Sports came out with a game called F1 2000. Because FOM, FOCA, and Sony had a deal to only work with Sony after 2003, EA had to stop at the end of 2002. EA Sports didn’t want to stop there, so they made a new game based on the seasons they had already licenced. That meant that instead of just one season, you could now play in four, which had never been done before in an F1 game. Teams and drivers changed over time, and small changes were made to the tracks to make the time progression feel more real. This was F1 fans’ first real taste of a Career Mode format, which would become more and more important in later games.
F1 Race Stars
Codemasters decided to make a racing game about kart racing, which is a bit different from other racing games. F1 Race Stars has pretty much been forgotten. It was made in 2012 to expand into the world of games like Mario Kart. The game also had all of the teams and drivers from the 2012 season, plus two more teams with female drivers that didn’t exist.
It might be easy to dismiss this game because it doesn’t do a good job of simulating real life. For one thing, the drivers and cars were easy to recognise, but they had cartoonishly big heads and wheels that were tilted. In the corners of the race track, it was also possible to see skewness going up into the sky.
Still, the unevenness makes for exciting rollercoaster parts. Fans of the game have fun playing it for hours on end. It’s a lot like Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing. Even though it was strange for a formula one simulation, the cartoon journey through the races added a lot of crazy fun to the usual sim-heavy games. One of the weapons in the game was bubblegum, which was used to trap racers. Even though it seems impossible, it’s still fun to try. You can play it for very little money, and it’s a great game for young F1 fans to enjoy.