Formula 1 is back for another year, but while experts are fruitlessly trying to analyze the importance of pre-season testing ahead of the Bahrain GP, let’s consider what Codemasters is doing with this year’s inevitable F1 23.
In 2021, in the midst of the ongoing darkness of the global pandemic, Codemasters brought a full-fledged story mode – dubbed Braking Point – to its long-running Formula 1 series for the first time. Intertwining original story with real-life sport, Braking Point told the story of a fictional rookie’s rise through the ranks through a series of curated racing challenges.
This freshman driver was Aiden Jackson, a talented Brit who lacked experience on the big stage. Jackson was initially at odds with his veteran Dutch teammate Casper Akkerman, but (spoiler alert) the two eventually mend their prickly relationship and teamed up to take down his Machiavellian rival Devon Butler – the symbolic ball from Braking Point.
A particularly interesting element of Braking Point was that no custom team was introduced for Jackson and Akkerman; drivers actually raced for one of five real teams based on the player’s choice – Williams, Haas, Alfa Romeo, Alpha Tauri and Racing Point (which became Aston Martin over the course of the story as it covered the years where it was rebranded into a real championship) . Another driver from one of the four remaining team choices was replaced by Butler. The storytelling didn’t really push the boat out, but overall it was a serious effort, well done, and it’s cool that real teams were persuaded to sideline one (or both) of their real drivers for the story (which, at one point, even included depicting their cars team that got embarrassingly tangled on the track).
The work this additional story mode required reportedly placed it in a two-year development tenure. This means that while the next chapter of Braking Point skipped last year’s game, it should come as part of this year’s F1 23.
However, this puts Codemasters in a difficult position, because how on earth do you create a fictional F1 drama that could compete with what we saw last season?
Forget the overall result, which was a sort of anti-climax – and I’m not talking about the rain-shortened Japanese GP that decided the championship in such inelegant circumstances that not even Max Verstappen himself knew he had closed it. Rather, I’m referring to what has been described as the broadest set of rule changes the sport has seen in four decades, with the same 2021 car and driver combination winning all the fuss again? Yawn. Yes, I know the RB18 is not same car like the RB16B, but you know what I mean. And of course, F1 is there NO series of specs – and F1 fans are more than used to seeing the fastest cars dominating season after season – but I don’t think you can counter that for those of us who were hoping a drastic MOT and a grid full of all-new cars would produce a different outcome. Or at least a little more interesting results. That is, instead of the so-called the same car won more races in a single season than any other in the history of the championship. Let’s face it: 2022 hasn’t been a swinging contest in ages. Hell, in 2021 there have been 10 podium appearances by drivers outside the big three teams Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. In 2022 it was one. One podium outside the top three teams as Lando Norris brazenly finished third in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.
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No, actually I’m talking about all the controversies, scandals and surprises along the way. As I said, I remember being really impressed that real world racing teams were happy to see their real contracted drivers give way to fictional characters in the F1 2021 story mode, and even saw their team cars collide to add drama. However, I do wonder how far real F1 racing teams can go for dramatic purposes. Indeed, how would those same teams react to a sequel to Braking Point featuring some of last season’s shenanigans?
Would any real F1 teams ever really consider signing on to the dotted line for the narrative they’d be cast in bunch of losers? The candid documentary series they agreed to be watched for like Netflix Drive to Survive is one thing; a video game is a completely different matter.
Would McLaren ever consider approving a scenario where they fired one of their drivers with one year left on his contract, which would result in a huge and public kick in the balls?
Would Alpine dream of agreeing to a sequence where they would lose the former world champion and their next big thing in a matter of moments due to a set of contract defeats of their own?
Would Mercedes accept the idea of Lewis Hamilton going an entire season without a win or pole position for the first time in his astonishing F1 career?
And would Red Bull be content to hand out a hefty fine for violating budget rules and then dealing with a civil war between drivers that culminates with their acclaimed champion irate refusing to help his teammate get the world to hear?
Now I could be completely wrong. Perhaps required parties are better athletes at this kind of thing than they think. After all, Codemasters has been in and around the F1 scene for over a decade. But I do not know; something about it all seems… quite improbable. Despite the fact that they all took place, I’m guessing such stories would be laughed off the desks of every department in every F1 team. And who could blame them, really?
So where will Codemasters take the next chapter of Braking Point? How brave can it be? That’s a challenge I leave to them, and I expect the studio to be deeply interested. I can’t wait to see it though. I would be disappointed to find out that it has been relegated to the background, but I expect that it is not.
After all, if it works in F1, maybe Codemasters can finally implement it in motorsport: Rally.
Yes, I went there.
I’m not afraid to get dirty.
Luke is the Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can chat with him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.