With one of the biggest changes to Formula 1 racing in over a decade taking place this season, it's unsurprising that its recreation in Codemaster's F1 22 refocuses on the fundamentals. It's easy to look at this year's entry in the F1 series and see only incremental improvements, with a clear focus on how the rapid cars handle around tight corners and translating the authenticity of the new regulations to players in a tangible way. The focus on small but important adjustments means that, as a whole package, F1 22 feels slightly trimmer than last year's version, but it's still a worthwhile successor because of how well it makes each corner feel in this new era of F1 racing.
If you're unfamiliar with just how broad the changes in real-life Formula 1 racing this season have been, there are just a few points that cover the broad picture. The cars are heavier this year, with the minimum allowable weight being raised to accommodate a slew of aerodynamic changes and rules, many of which put emphasis on empowering closer racing that is affected less by a loss in downforce (that is, the amount of grip you have on a track) experienced when following other cars. Many of these changes are represented on the underside of each car, with a ground effect now sucking cars closer to the track when they're hitting extremely high speeds. This makes fast, swooping turns feel easier to nimbly navigate but also means that more acutely angled corners taken at slower speeds are monumentally more challenging.
In the same way that the changes have made this Formula 1 season enticing to watch as drivers figure out the new limits of these cars around familiar circuits, F1 22 is a reset on your own understanding of racing in the game. Tracks with tight chicanes, such as the street circuit in Baku or the classic in Monte Carlo, are even more treacherous to navigate, with each slow corner feeling like it's demanding far too much steering from the new chassis. Conversely, tracks with long, fast turns, such as the sweeping Maggotts and Becketts corners at Silverstone or the long straights of Monza, feel much easier to manage. The changes are so stark that I often found myself adjusting the difficulty of the opponent AI in-between each of these events to compensate for my wildly varied performances, where I could be whole seconds ahead on one track and then struggle to get out of the first session of qualifying on another.
In this way, F1 22 can feel far more revolutionary than is apparent on the surface. If you're returning to the series after last year's entry, this year's driving model offers more than enough in terms of meaningful changes to make learning each track feel like a satisfying challenge again. That's especially true if you're accustomed to racing around circuits with many of the game's assists off, such as traction control. The heaviness of the new vehicles and the temptation to claw back control from the understeer tests your patience on the throttle, which makes even the medium assist setting tough to get comfortable with. F1 22 hits the mark of replicating the challenges that real-world drivers have been facing with these regulation changes.
The flip side of this new challenging driving model is the return of the many, many settings that let you alter F1 22 into an experience you can enjoy regardless of your skill level. Numerous assists, such as steering and braking aids, traction control, and ABS braking, can drastically reduce the number of elements you need to think about as you go into each corner. Having them all offered independent of one another also means you can mix and match to find the perfect balance, while also changing AI difficulty to keep things feeling authentic. New to this year's entry is the addition of an adaptive AI setting, which keeps other cars close enough for consistent overtakes if you're less focused on nailing every lap to keep gaps small.
Additional mechanics for formation laps and pit stops give you more agency in these crucial moments, too. You can angle your car on the grid slightly to one side to give you an edge into the first corner from a start, for example, or toggle on a new broadcast mode to give the formation lap a more cinematic feel. Pit stops are given a similar treatment, with a button prompt and your reaction speed determining the time gained (or lost) in the pits. This, similarly, can also be changed to an automated broadcast-like sequence, requiring no input at all. Given the explosion in popularity that Formula 1 has recently experienced, these assist settings and new mechanics (even if not entirely new) are even more important for a new audience potentially coming to this year's entry.
One omission from last year is an iteration on the story mode, Braking Point. In F1 2021, this mode charted the rise of a new driver in the sport, emulating a lot of the off-track drama and real-world decision-making that has made television series like Drive to Survive so compelling. Without it, F1 22 feels like it has considerably less content than last year's entry. It still features the two excellent, distinct career modes, one where you're only tasked with the duties of one driver and the other where you must manage a team, but these feel all too familiar if you're hoping for something fresh. Some small tweaks are welcome, like being able to start your My Team career with a budget large enough to fight for championships from the get go, but they're iterative at best. There's nothing wrong with either one, and I still enjoyed balancing budgets for the best on-track technical advantages with my own custom team. It's just that Braking Point was a real step forward for the series last year, making its omission this year profound.
With Braking Point gone, the only big addition to F1 22 is F1 Life, and it pales in comparison in almost every way. F1 Life is social space but is almost more of a glorified menu backdrop, showcasing the high-class lifestyle that so many F1 drivers enjoy by recreating it in a digital showroom of cars, trophies, and expensive furniture. Other players you've met online will dynamically hop in and out of this space, while you can manually inspect friend's spaces by visiting them. The options to decorate these spaces are incredibly limited, however, with only a handful of supercars that you can purchase with in-game tokens (earned by completing mileage in races) available to be displayed. F1 22 features a battle pass-like system for additional cosmetic items, from F1 Life showroom items to new clothing for your avatar, but many of its best pieces are trapped behind a paid tier that feels egregious given how little there is on offer for a full-priced game that already feels lacking in content compared to last year.
These same supercars are also replacements for previous classic Formula 1 cars that were available in past entries, and the ways in which you can race them are also severely limited. Supercars can't be used in custom races, but rather only in special events such as single time trial laps or drifting zone events. After experiencing the technically tight driving model of the Formula 1 cars, these supercars, which include a host of popular options from Ferrari, McLaren, and Mercedes, never feel as responsive or satisfying to drive. Outside of the occasional special events peppered throughout each of the game's career modes, I didn't find myself clamoring for more ways to experience these cars outside of displaying them in the showroom, which makes the omission of classic Formula 1 cars more apparent.
It makes sense that, in a year where Formula 1 has changed so much, most of the focus for F1 22 has gone into replicating the slew of regulation changes in order to provide the expected authentic racing experience the series has come to be known for. In that regard, F1 22 delivers, offering up a satisfyingly challenging way to wrestle these extreme racing machines around every track on the Formula 1 calendar. It's in the omissions and lackluster additions where F1 22 falters somewhat, with less content than last year's entry and a paid battle pass-like system that locks away many cosmetic items behind a paywall.. It's a few rare missteps for a series that has been consistently great for so long, but thankfully it delivers in the high-octane action on track, where it matters most.