Earlier this week Formula 1 announced it was cancelling the Canadian grand prix, originally scheduled for July 13, in favor of a return to Istanbul Park in Turkey on the same weekend. It’s pretty much a repeat of what happened last year, which marked Turkey’s first F1 race in nine years. But neither Istanbul Park nor any of last season’s pandemic-prompted substitutions were accounted for in the F1 2020 video game, because they were decided too late for the developers at Codemasters Birmingham to include them.
Likewise, Istanbul Park will once again miss out on F1 2021's track list, and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal won’t. YouTuber and esports competitor Benjamin Daly confirmed the news on Twitter.
F1 2021 is scheduled to release on July 16, the same weekend as the British Grand Prix (which will also be one of the three races designated for sprint race qualifying this year.) The game’s track roster will be based on the calendar F1 originally agreed on for 2021, so regardless of whatever additional substitutions may come between now and July, the list isn’t going to change.
On a separate but still relevant note, Codemasters has told Jalopnik that sprint race qualifying won’t be included in F1 2021's championship modes.
Of course, COVID-19 has been a source of myriad logistical challenges for F1, so it’s little surprise some of those have carried over to the sport’s virtual product. Building a track for a racing game takes months, and it’s getting longer all the time as gaming hardware becomes more advanced, offering new opportunities to create more detailed environments.
To get an idea of how long the process takes, consider that Imola, Portimão and Jeddah are slated to be added to F1 2021 as free content after the release. The development team didn’t even have time to get those tracks into the game after it shipped F1 2020 last summer.
This excerpt from a Gamasutra interview about F1 2016 with Codemasters’ Andy Gray lays out everything that goes into creating a track for a modern, licensed racing game, step by step:
The track creation process is a lengthy and involved process that involves multiple disciplines from art, design, photography to production, licensing and legal. This initial phase involves gathering as much reference as we possibly can to faithfully recreate the track.
We normally hire a photographer to take numerous photographs of the location prior to the race. Formula One Management and the circuit engineering departments provide us essential additional information for us in the form of CAD drawings and architectural renders. This contains information such as the width and height variation of the track, rumble strip positions, locations of key race structures such as the pit lane buildings, grandstands, marshal lights, DRS markers and more. As the building process can be initiated well in advance of the actual track race, various features can still be unknown quantities. This can become an incredibly complex endeavour when both the digital and real-world tracks are built literally in tandem.
This information is all collated to work out an appropriate plan of how we build the track. We have numerous items to consider: the terrain, buildings, dressing vehicles, lamp posts, sponsors, trees, barriers, etc. This list can be quite exhaustive and we have to rationalize how to build this within the time frame and with level of detailing required to replicate it’s equally intricate real-world counterpart.
And it doesn’t end there. Once the circuit is constructed, programmers make sure replay cameras, DRS zones and racing lines appear and function as intended. Various departments, from legal to licensing, quality assurance and of course Formula 1 Management pour over the track model to ensure everything is up to code and nobody will get sued. And then designers still may be required to make last-minute changes to mimic what the circuit operators do in real life, so the end result is as accurate as possible.
It’s a massively involved, multidisciplinary process — which is precisely why “add all the new tracks in as DLC” is not a feasible solution, or at least not for an annual franchise like F1.
Unfortunately, it leads to weird situations. Consider that F1 2020 included the Hanoi Street Circuit for the 2020 Vietnamese Grand Prix that never happened and may never happen. Nevertheless, that track was still immortalized in last year’s entry. Meanwhile, Mugello, which was subbed in for a race in 2020 but didn’t appear on F1's confirmed 2021 schedule, isn’t featuring in any F1 titles, even though it’s way more interesting and deserving of a calendar spot than Monza. (Sorry, but it’s true).
Turkey’s in that similarly weird limbo where, because it’s been a replacement and not a first choice, it’s not winding up in F1 games. Which is a shame, because it’s a great track and it’s been far too long since players have had the opportunity to virtually experience Turn 8 and imagine its neck-straining G-forces.