Unless you're a Mercedes fan, you might feel that Formula 1 in 2019 is a bit stale with the team's dominance of this year's world championship. But Codemasters' F1 2019 is anything but stagnant, presenting an exciting, if idealized, version of the world's premier motorsport. It sticks mostly to the familiar cadence of previous titles with its massive career mode and loads of classic content. However, big additions like the FIA Formula 2 World Championship and scheduled online racing add even more to an already burgeoning title that's filled to the brim with enjoyable things to do–all revolving around driving some of the fastest racing cars in the world.
Anyone familiar with the series will feel immediately at home with F1 2019. Functionally the menus are borrowed from previous years, so finding the mode you want to play is thankfully easy because there is just so much here. Solo play consists of the brilliant career mode, Grand Prix weekends for single races and time trials for leaderboard junkies, numerous championship scenarios–extra if you've got the Legends Edition–and the official F1 and F2 World Championships. And that's before you dig into multiplayer, which adds player-made leagues and scheduled event racing. Amazingly, none of it feels like filler, with each mode offering something different and enjoyable overall. But like in previous years, it's the career mode that gives you the fullest and most rewarding experience, venturing further into the realm of sports fantasy than it has in the past.
In previous career modes, you'd simply select an F1 team to race for, set some contract goals, and go. But F1 2019's career opens with more of a throwback to Codemasters' Race Driver series, allowing you to start in the newly added Formula 2 Championship before making the step up to the big time. It's not a full season but a series of scenarios where you clash against two fantasy rivals, Lukas Weber and Devon Butler. While this opens the career with a series of cutscenes developing the competition between the three of you, once you all enter Formula 1, those personal moments don't come back; they're replaced with the comparatively lifeless email transcripts of their media interviews. It would've been nice to have more of these characters around to add some more flavor.
Another big addition to the career mode is driver changes between teams. All the drivers on the grid can trade places, doing so automatically based on their prior performances. Early in my career, both McLaren drivers found themselves out of a job thanks to their poorly performing car, with Carlos Sainz booted partway through and replaced by Kimi Raikonnen, and Lando Norris making way at the end of the season for a then-jobless Pierre Gasly. It leads to some fascinating shifts in the power dynamics between current F1 teams, leading to some surprising results and a consistently intriguing run to the title. While it's jarring to see drivers replaced, especially by fantasy drivers, it adds more to the game than it takes away.
You can choose to not have the fantasy drivers, but that means skipping the feeder series entirely, and the Formula 2 cars are way too much fun to do that. Smaller, less powerful, and easier to drive, the Formula 2 cars in F1 2019 are surprisingly enjoyable given their comparatively slower pace. Over-drive them and they'll slip and slide, teaching you how to find the edge of grip. As such, they make for a perfect place for beginners to grasp how to race a light and nimble car without having to step straight into the might of an F1.
There's a reason they only let the best drivers in the world behind the wheels of these carbon fiber beasts; modern F1 is about much more than just driving fast. You have to manage tires, hybrid deployment, fuel usage, race strategy, and the gaps between your competitors–there's not a moment's rest for the mind, if that's how you want it to be. But the option for hugely robust assists makes it possible for both ardent fans and inexperienced players to get something out of a race. For sim fans, there are layers of strategy and car management while jostling for position, on top of driving these beautiful cars at unimaginable speeds. For everyone else, there's the thrill of close racing against their favorite drivers because of AI that gives space when needed but also fights hard to pass you when given the opportunity to pounce.