Driving simulations are usually somewhat unattractive to casual gamers because of the immense amount of time required to become a competitive driver. You must spend hours practicing and learning each circuit, then fine-tuning the car to be able to keep up with the pack. Although designer Geoff Crammond (of Grand Prix and Grand Prix II fame) realized the importance of aiding you in these areas, few other driving sims have followed suit. Considering the number and types of driving aids F1 Racing Simulation contains, it's probably safe to say that there are some Grand Prix II fans among the ranks at Ubi Soft.
From the opening screen, you immediately have the choice between realistic and easy modes. Choose easy and a single race, and you're on the track, ready to roll. It's a straightforward arcade game in easy mode - turn on auto-gear and auto-brakes, and you do little more than steer. But for the true sim fan, realistic mode is the attraction - and F1 is pretty attractive indeed.
If you're new to racing sims or want to graduate from arcade-style racing to simulation, F1 will accommodate you. Any racing sim fan knows that most of his time will be spent learning each circuit. In F1's training area there's a demonstration option that lets you sit back and watch another car run the track, letting you note the speed and gear of each turn before you get behind the wheel yourself. After that, you can choose to enter driving school, which will place you on an empty track with a ghost car to follow around (you can even save up to ten of your own ghost runs or download others). You can also turn on gear and speed recommendations until you learn them on your own.
As you start to get more comfortable with the car and the circuit, you can start to toggle off some of the driving aids, particularly auto-gear and auto-brakes. The realism continues to increase from there. This sim is loaded with options you can toggle - there's anti-sliding (helps when exiting a turn), anti-skidding (helps acceleration), ABS (antilock brakes), and more.
However, as helpful as F1 is for the driver, it isn't as thoughtful for the engineer. As with any racing sim, you're going to have to get your hands dirty and make a few adjustments to your car before a race - especially if you set the game to allow variable weather conditions. The only help the game gives you in the garage is some slim documentation about the F1 race car. There is a useful chart that shows how adjustments on one area of the car might affect another area and to what degree, but from there it depends on your own experimentation. To top it off, there aren't any preset configurations in the game, although there are some for download on Ubi Soft's web site.
If you already know your way around open-wheel race cars, you shouldn't have much trouble in the garage. A nicely functional telemetry system lets you examine your car's performance in many different ways. You can choose up to eight different data sets to be plotted in the graph window for the custom information you're looking for.
When you finally get into the race, expect to compete against some pretty crafty and aggressive drivers. And as long as you stay on your line, you won't encounter too many computer-controlled drivers plowing into your rear end. Car physics are also as good as in any other race sim, although the car seems to experience an inordinate amount of drag when the wheels touch anything but asphalt.
F1 Racing Simulation is an extremely well-thought-out simulation with drivers of all abilities in mind. With a midrange to high-end PC and a 3D card, the game looks spectacular, although users of low- to midrange machines will pay the price when the number of cars onscreen can cause the frame rate to bog down considerably. (Just experiment with the graphics options in a single race to maintain a good frame rate before your first race of the season begins.) It would have been nice if the game adjusted the graphics detail on the fly to maintain a certain preset frame rate (as in Papyrus sims).
Finally, the game only goes up to the 1996 season (it seems F1 demands a higher price for a more recent license). Other than that, there is little fault to be found. Fans of Grand Prix II should delight: F1 Racing Simulation has all that made GPII a classic and more.