Codemasters Can't Please Everyone With F1 24

A split graphic image of the rear of a Ferrari in F1 24 on one side and the front of a Red Bull racing in the wet on the other

A split graphic image of the rear of a Ferrari in F1 24 on one side and the front of a Red Bull racing in the wet on the other

F1 24 is finally here for those with the Champions Edition. After a rocky pre-release campaign, normal players have finally been able to try the controversial new handling model, and it is safe to say that the community is split about it.

Throughout the beta and preview period of F1 24, elite drivers, F1 Esports stars, and YouTubers have complained that the handling feels bizarre. Compilations of players throwing the car into corners at unnatural speeds, ramping over kerbs, and fishtailing out of bends have littered Twitter and Reddit.

Every year Codemasters provides a post-release handling patch that fixes a few things, and this year's is expected to be massive and act on some of that feedback.

But now that normal players are getting a chance to play, the handling is getting more positive feedback. So what's going on? And how has the F1 series reached this point?

Between a barrier and a hard place

In the build-up to release, Codemasters touted working with three-time F1 champion Max Verstappen, who has been critical of the series in the past, when developing F1 24's handling.

The result seems to be an all-powerful front end that can dart into corners at outrageous speeds and a car that can ride kerbs hard but has late-corner understeer and outrageous grip, even in extreme wet conditions.

Two Mercedes fighting for position in F1 24
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It is hard to think that Verstappen, a dedicated sim racing competitor, would actually approve of a model that performs drastically differently from iRacing or Assetto Corsa.

Throughout the pre-release process, those lucky enough to get beta access or preview codes have been feeding back how odd the game feels. In a breakdown of the game, YouTuber Alex Gillon details the absurdly pointy front end, chronic late-corner understeer, and the lack of bottoming out over big kerbs. And I don't disagree. You can throw the car around and it feels unnatural, fast, and drastically different from last year.

But here's a dirty secret: I don't hate it.

Normies vs pros

As a fairly average player who sits smack in the middle of most time trial boards and isn't trying to be ultra-fast or climb the PSGL ladder, F1 24's handling model is just like every other new F1 game. It requires some adjustments to get used to, some setup tweaks, and some balancing with my own skill limit. And in the end, it is still F1 and still fun.

If you drive normally, you can get a reasonable feel of the car, sensing where the rear drifts away from you and correcting it. The front end feels a bit disconnected, pulling the car around one moment and then disappearing the next. But the pointiness moving to understeer through the corner sounds like what a lot of F1 drivers discuss during a race weekend. Tuning that out and adjusting to it is part of the sport.

A Red Bull taking turn 1 at Bahrain in F1 24
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However, I can see how things will quickly get ugly at the elite level, where every millisecond counts. There are definitely ways you can exploit the handling and create ultra-fast laps that look totally unrealistic. Those who have poured thousands of hours into previous F1 titles are having to retrain their muscle memory to a system that, right now, is not as realistic as it used to be.

And that is the problem: realism. F1 games have never been super-realistic, and thanks to YouTube and F1 Esports, there is now a loud section of the F1 community that wants them to be.

However, a push for realism in the F1 series would alienate the silent majority of players and put sales at risk.

Console kings

Actual sales figures are incredibly hard to find these days, but we do have a breakdown of F1 23 sales by platform. This provides a clear picture why Codemasters and EA are keeping F1 in a middle ground that is more pad-friendly than other games.

In Europe, 65% of F1 23's sales were on PS5 per, with PC accounting for just 0.3% of sales. That is a remarkable split, which is likely replicated across the world. While we don't have an indication of how many of those console players were using a pad, Codemasters will, and we can safely assume it is a healthy majority.

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a close up of a playstation 5 controller on a white background .
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That silent player base shifts from year to year, with F1 22 providing a big uplift in sales before dropping down again for F1 23. A lot of that is down to the overall popularity of the sport rather than anything Codemasters puts into the game or doesn't.

However, the health of the series as a whole depends on the console players, not the elite racers at the top of the time trial charts or YouTube viewing figures.

iRacing, the king of sims, boasts "more than 250,000 sim racers all around the world" on its membership page. How many of them will make a switch to F1 if Codemasters makes it hyper-realistic? How many players would Codemasters lose if the game became unplayable on a pad due to hardcore handling and physics models?

It would be economic suicide for Codemasters to move away from those console players in favor of those with high-end direct drive wheels on PC. It's a move EA would never allow to happen.

Coming changes

Given that all the pre-release feedback came from that elite slice of players, we can safely assume that the handling patch will roll back some of the changes and make it more like F1 23.

That will be good in some ways, but it feels like Codemasters is now stuck between its content creator/esports class of players and the broader player base. The two groups seem to want drastically different things from the F1 game, and Codemasters is fundamentally unable to please both of them.

F1 is the biggest motorsport series by some distance. It's one of the largest racing games around, providing the best career mode out there and some of the most enjoyable pick-up-and-play track racing every year.

It sits right in the middle between iRacing and Assetto Corsa Competizione at one end and Forza Horizon and Mario Kart at the other. It's a nice place to be, but the tension within its player base could drag the series away from the middle ground and into a space that doesn't work for it.

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