F1 2019 is the next instalment in Codemasters’ hugely popular Formula One racing franchise, and it’s arriving nearly two months earlier in the calendar than the previous games. But with the addition of F2, a couple of racing legends, and a visual polish, does this entry take franchise pole position?

Fire up a race in F1 2019 as a series regular and the first thing you’ll notice is that the graphics have been improved. The attention to detail that has gone into light and shadow work is impressive, and added shine to the Formula One cars makes things prettier than ever. Light flares in lenses and detailed reflections in the water add another touch of realism to the game, and the quality of the presentation really does add to the enjoyment of races.

Career Mode is back and now includes the F1 feeder competition Formula Two as a starting point for your customisable driver. In order to be promoted into F1, you’ll first need to overcome a series of challenges throughout three F2 races. You’ll be taking part in the 2018 F2 season with drivers such as Lando Norris and Alex Albon (as well as an arrogant fictional rival prevalent in the game’s cutscenes) all trying to win an F1 seat as well. Later on in the year, the 2019 F2 season will be patched into the game but it’s a real shame that it’s missing at launch.

Other returning features include Championship and Time Trial. These features revolve around testing your skills against computer-generated drivers to improve your racing skills. Codemasters has also announced that F2 cars will become a part of online features just as classic cars from prior games were added previously. A welcome addition for multiplayer fans.

Grand Prix mode follows almost the same route as Career Mode without you having ties to a specific team. The showroom is a new feature and simply allows you to view the line-up of cars used in the game, but closely inspecting liveries and body work can be surprisingly interesting for F1 and F2 nerds (shout out to everyone’s favourite alternative F1 blog WTF1 for making it onto the paintwork). Along with this is the Theatre Mode which will capture race highlights so you can watch back your biggest wins and best moments on the track.

These features are all enjoyable but most players will probably spend the majority of their time in Career Mode, which is by far the most in-depth experience F1 2019 offers. In between qualifying, races and practices you’ll be interviewed (yes, Claire makes her triumphant journalistic return) and the answers you give alter the way your team interacts with you. Different teams look for different qualities including confidence, showmanship, and teamwork, which means that these interviews actually shape the game around you.

Driving obviously varies depending on your overall set up, but generally grip is better than in 2018’s offering and handling is smoother. Additionally, the action unravelling on the racetrack seems slightly faster than in previous games, and slower and looser in the under-powered F2 sections. All the R&D options are back, as well as other technical tinkering choices, but it’s an almost identical system to F1 2018’s at its core.

If you pick up the Legendary Edition of F1 2019 then you’ll be treated to playing through the iconic rivalry of Senna and Prost. You’ll go head-to-head across eight challenges and get access to exclusive multiplayer car liveries. To top it all off, the likenesses of Senna and Prost have been added to the Career Mode customisation screen which means you can speed through the F1 championships as two racing legends. It’s a fun dynamic but why it wasn’t simply included in the base game is somewhat baffling.

Aside from the introduction of F2, F1 2019 often feels like nothing more than an enhanced version of last year’s instalment. The graphics are certainly sharper, but the majority of content feels copy and pasted from F1 2018. However, those who are fans of the sport may well enjoy what F1 2019 has to offer regardless. It’s a fast-paced, high-intensity racing game with a plethora of cars and famous racetracks. For casual gamers, a quick spin around one of the courses may be all the F1 fix required, but, thankfully, the number of options and modes means F1 2019 has something for every kind of player.

Conclusion

F1 2019 takes all the elements of the previous games and adds a very thin layer of polish. The introduction of F2 makes Career Mode a little more exciting, and the racing gameplay and graphics are still top notch, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is really just F1 2018 again.