I'm surprised a game like this hasn't been done before, although part of the charm with Kart games is the distinctive cartoon characters, but everyone looks pretty uniform in the F1 World. The teams and drivers are officially licensed. I didn't notice the drivers perform differently, but each team has a unique ability.
The tracks are full of wacky karting style designs, with stereotypes of that country. There's part of the track which is based on the official F1 track. I thought this hybrid approach worked well, and I really appreciated the track designs.
Although there's no drifting, there are marked areas on certain corners which give you a speed boost (referred to as KERS) on exit, if you pump the accelerator in that zone. At first, I was disappointed with the lack of drifting, but the KERS system is really the same thing. The advantage is you can only do it in certain areas which prevents performing this manoeuvre on straights (like in some Mario Kart games). You can also gain speed by drafting (driving behind an opponent), but obviously you must be aware they can fire weapons behind them!
Weapons are based on the Mario Kart template, but the game often uses variations of bubbles. So there's a red bubble which is the homing attack, a yellow bubble that ricochets around the track, a purple bubble that has an area attack on contact, blue bubble which is a stationary obstacle. There's other power-ups like the bottle which is like the Bullet Bull/Chain Chomp in Mario Kart where you charge at speed on autopilot. DRS is like the Starman power-up; you can drive faster and will damage karts on contact. Safety Car rushes to the front and slows the leaders down, and a Rain power-up gives you wet tyres but slows everyone else down.
When you get hit, your car will take damage and slow you down. There are two pits during the track which are used to repair your vehicle. I was in two minds about this feature; it was a bit different and made the weapons more effective, but I also felt you were doubly punished for being hit which was a bit harsh.
There's quite a lot of opportunities to pick up power-ups which I felt they could have toned down. Even on the easiest difficulty; the game is very tough. You aren't expected to finish 1st in every race though; you can have wildly varying finishes and still win the cup overall which is just like the main F1 games.
There are 30 Championships to play, each with varying rules and a different amount of races within. There's loads of gameplay ideas too. There's standard Race, Elimination (players are eliminated at regular intervals), Pole Position (accrue points by being in the top four), Sector Snatch (claim areas by being the fastest in that section), Refuel (pick up fuel to keep driving, but you drive faster on low fuel), Slalom (pick up points when you drive through gates), Exhibition (score points based on the achievement system), Trophy Chase (pick up trophy icons on the track).