Such are the strange times we live in that the Formula 1 season has only just kicked off and we already have the official video-game version of the 2020 championship landing in our collective lap. When we said last year that we enjoyed the game arriving earlier in the season, this isn’t quite what we had in mind.
Understandably, this new release is a snapshot of what could have been had the full 2020 season gone ahead as planned rather than a reflection of the current truncated schedule, but that does mean you get to hack around the excellent new Hanoi and Zandvoort circuits long before Lewis and chums do.
The Vietnamese track is a highly technical street circuit whose defining feature is an enormous straight into an extremely tight hairpin that is destined to become a carbon fiber graveyard. A facelifted Zandvoort, meanwhile, will be more familiar from GT racing games, but the sheer speed of an F1 car shrinks it down into a narrow undulating roller coaster that’s a great way of checking what exactly it was that you had for your lunch.
As always, any F1 game that adds new circuits to master is a treat, but there’s also a significant new career mode in F1 2020. ‘My Team’ has you not just as the star driver signing of a new 11th F1 team, but also running the financial, logistical, and branding side of the business. You’ll decide the livery and the logo, pick a power unit, and hire a plucky youngster from the ranks of Formula 2 as your teammate. And yes, you can fire them in the middle of the season if they beat you too many times. It’s good to be the boss.
Therein lies the genius of the Codemasters licensed series: These official games have had the on track action nailed for several years now, so the gains there are negligible—more realistic ERS management and a new virtual rearview mirror aren’t exactly box office. Instead, the primary focus is giving you ever more interesting connective tissue to keep you occupied and invested between on-track outings.
F1 2020 is a ‘not racing’ game as much as it is a racing game, and it’s equally brilliant at both.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.