Formula 1 is back for another year but, while pundits fruitlessly flail with trying to parse meaning from pre-season testing times ahead of the Bahrain GP, let’s consider what Codemasters has been doing with this year’s inevitable F1 23.
Back in 2021, amid the continuing gloom of a global pandemic, Codemasters introduced a fully-fledged story mode – dubbed Braking Point – into its long-running Formula 1 series for the first time. Threading an original story through the real sport, Braking Point told the story of a fictional rookie’s rise through the ranks via a series of curated racing challenges.
This fresh-faced driver was Aiden Jackson, a talented Brit who lacked experience on the big stage. Jackson was initially placed at odds with his veteran Dutch teammate Casper Akkerman, but (spoiler alert) the two eventually repaired their prickly relationship and joined forces to subvert their Machiavellian rival Devon Butler – Braking Point’s token slimeball.
One particularly interesting element of Braking Point was that it didn’t introduce a custom team for Jackson and Akkerman; the 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 during the story, as it spanned the years that branding change occurred in the real championship). Another driver from one of the four remaining selectable teams was replaced with Butler. The storytelling didn’t really push the boat out but overall it was an earnest effort well executed, and it was neat that real teams had been convinced to sideline either one (or both) of their actual drivers for the purposes of the story (which, at one stage, even involved their team cars being depicted getting embarrassingly tangled up on track).
The work this supplementary story mode required has reportedly placed it in a two-year development cadence. This means that, while the next chapter of Braking Point skipped last year’s game, it should arrive as part of this year’s F1 23.
However, this places Codemasters in a bit of a tricky spot, because how on Earth do you fashion a fictional F1 drama that could possibly compete with what we saw last season?
Forget the overall outcome, which was kind of an anticlimax – 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’d locked it up. Rather I’m referring to what was described as the widest set of rule changes the sport had seen in four decades, and the same car and driver combination from 2021 wins the whole shebang again? Yawn. Yes, I know the RB18 isn’t the same car as the RB16B, but you know what I mean. And sure, F1 is not a spec series – and F1 fans are more than accustomed to seeing the fastest cars dominate over consecutive seasons – but I don’t think you can hold it against those of us who were hopeful the drastic technical overhaul and a grid full of brand-new cars would produce a different result. Or, at least, some more interesting results. That is, instead of the same car winning more races in a single season than any other in the history of the championship. Let’s face it: 2022 wasn’t exactly a seesawing contest for the ages. Hell, in 2021 there were 10 podium performances from drivers outside of the big three teams of Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes. In 2022, there was one. One solitary podium from outside the top three teams, when Lando Norris grabbed a cheeky third at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
No, I’m actually talking about all the controversy, scandals, and surprises along the way. Like I said, I do remember being genuinely impressed that real world racing teams were content with having their actual, contracted drivers step aside for fictional characters in F1 2021’s story mode, and even seeing their team cars colliding for added drama. I do, however, find myself wondering how far real F1 racing teams could be pushed for dramatic purposes. Indeed, how would these same teams react to a Braking Point follow-up featuring some of the shenanigans that went on last season?
Would any real F1 teams ever truly consider signing on the dotted line for a narrative that would see them cast as a bunch of wankers? A candid docuseries they’ve agreed to be observed for like Netflix’s Drive to Survive is one thing; a video game is another thing entirely.
Would McLaren ever consider approving a storyline where they would find themselves sacking one of their drivers with a year left to run on his contract, taking a huge and public financial kick-in-the-balls in the process?
Would Alpine dream of saying yes to a sequence where they would lose a former world champion and their next big thing within moments of one another over a set of contract debacles of their own?
Would Mercedes have approved the idea of having Lewis Hamilton going a complete season without a win or pole for the first time in his astonishing F1 career?
And would Red Bull be happy with copping an enormous fine for a budget rules breach, then dealing with a civil war between its drivers that culminates in their established champ petulantly refusing to help his teammate for the world to hear?
Now I could be completely wrong. Perhaps the required parties are better sports about this sort of thing than I’m giving them credit for. After all, Codemasters has been on the scene in and around F1 for over a decade now. But I don’t know; something about it all feels… pretty unlikely. Despite the fact they all occurred I’m guessing story beats such as these would’ve been laughed off the desks of every department in every F1 team. And who could blame them, really?
So where does Codemasters take the next chapter of Braking Point? How bold can it get? That’s a challenge I leave up to them, and its one I expect the studio is deep into tackling. I do look forward to seeing it, though. I’d be disappointed to learn it’d fallen by the wayside, but I expect it hasn’t.
After all, if it works in F1, maybe Codemasters can eventually roll it out in the superior motorsport: rally.
Yeah, I went there.
I’m not afraid to get dirty.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can chat to him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.
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Author: Luke Reilly