The best F1 games of all time

And it's go, go, go!

F1 2015 is upon us, bearing the weight of three decades of F1 games on its HD shoulders. Who could have thought in the heady days of Namco's Pole Position that one day we'd be looking at 60 photo-quality images made up of over 2 million pixels each zooming around on TVs the size of dinner tables? Recognisable 3D drivers, laser-scanned circuits it's incredible how far we've come.

But that doesn't mean previous F1 games should be forgotten forever just because the drivers in them have long-since retired (or worse) and their graphics look like Steve from Minecraft got given a racing overalls skin. Now, to be clear - I'm not just going to list all the classic ones like Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix, F1 World Grand Prix or F1 '97 because the truth is, while they were amazing at the time, they're not very good if you play them now. These are the other F1 games that still deserve to be played today.

12. Continental Circus (Arcade/PS2)

While the impressiveness of those scaling sprites has waned slightly, this F1-themed arcade sprint is still a ton of fun. The camera on the car is slightly off-centre, which immediately gives this a more organic feel than most 2D racers. In the arcade, this was exacerbated by the free-feeling analog steering wheel.

The crashes are over the top, with explosions and bouncing wheels, but there's a really nice pit mechanic. His name's Bob. No, I'm joking (sorry), I mean the way you have to pit in if you sustain damage, as your car smokes, then catches fire. Fail to do so and it explodes, but sometimes you can just make it to the finish line before it does. Risk vs reward it's classic gaming stuff.

11. Virtua Racing (Arcade, Genesis/Mega Drive, 32X, PS2, Saturn)

Officially licensed? No. Real tracks? No. Formula One cars rocketing around banked curves, flipping against rocks and scrambling for time bonus checkpoints? Hell yes. This may be best remembered for being the game that kick-started the 3D polygon era, but it shouldn't be forgotten that it is still an absolute blast to play. The handling is precise, the polygonal scenery flashing past still looks gorgeous and the three tracks are beautifully designed.

The arcade original remains the best version (with PS2's remake being a bit too slidey to be perfect), with silky-smooth and gloriously solid flat-shaded 3D. Smoothly switching between the four viewpoints is still more fun than it should be, and the difficulty level is perfectly judged, ensuring plenty of longevity. They don't make 'em like this any more. FOR SHAME.

10. Formula One '06 (PSP)

"You wot, mate? A PSP game? Naff off." That's what you're thinking. But this is, quite simply, the best dedicated handheld F1 game you can buy. It's essentially a shrunk-down PS2 game, complete with engine failures, damage (decent damage, at that) and extensive career mode. Your pit engineer even tells you how your sector times are compared to your opponents. It's the full F1 experience.

The graphical simplification is evident if you play it today, but that's where the compromise ends. The controls are wonderful. Cannoning along the flat-out chicane at Albert Park, picking your braking point for the right hander feels every bit as good as a full console game. The Vita version of F1 2011 is nowhere near as good as this. FOR SHAME.

9. F1 (Genesis/Mega Drive)

Domark's 16-bit racer remains one of the fastest video games ever made, particularly in 'Turbo Mode', which uses the graphics from the two-player mode in a single-player set-up. The scenery absolutely flies by at these speeds, with a little 'whoosh' noise every time you pass under a flyover.

It's got the official drivers of 1993 too, barring Ayrton Senna who must have still been under license with Sega at the time. While the technical accomplishment of having 3D grandstands and rotated sprites (without a Mega-CD to do all the work) has faded with time, revving the cat-like engine and gliding through these sparse environments is still fun especially when you clip the wheel of a slow-moving car and bunny-hop into an Agip sign.

8. Grand Prix Challenge (PS2)

To think I found this in a bargain bin. Using a bespoke game engine, Melbourne House managed to get the PS2 to shift 22 gorgeous-looking cars around at 60fps. Sure, the damage modelling is underwhelming and the handling is a little too simplified, but the atmosphere of the game and superb sense of fluidity is wonderful.

Best feature? Zooming down a straight in the slipstream of the car in front, watching vortices of air streaming off its back wing. If ever a game was ahead of its time, it's this. If you want to see a PS2 running a game that still stands up next to F1 on PS4, then this is the one.

7. F1 Race Stars (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

This one's pretty much vanished into obscurity already, but that's a real shame as it's arguably the best kart racer that isn't called Mario Kart. The drivers and cars may be recognisable (though 'super-deformed' with big heads and cartoon-slanted wheels), but the tracks are only loosely based on reality, with some recognisable corners that then skew upwards into the sky, with rollercoaster sections of excitement.

It's beautifully smooth and controllable (albeit lacking any kind of drift feature as F1 cars really shouldn't drift around corners), and only really let down by some disappointingly generic weapons. Yes, it has weapons. Trapping Jenson Button in bubblegum is an odd thing to do. But still, fun. You'll undoubtedly find it cheap pick it up, you'll enjoy it.

6. F1 Challenge (Sega Saturn)

Everyone remembers PlayStation's officially-licensed Formula One games, but Saturn had one too. It wasn't made by Bizarre Creations, instead appearing under the Sega Sports label. It also didn't have all the tracks, providing just three official circuits (Germany, Suzuka and Monaco) and a handful of playable drivers.

But this is a wonderful arcade representation of Formula One. One of the first console racers to feature a 3D skybox, simply turning the car fills your senses with an amazing visual effect as the sky arcs overhead. Cars spin, tyres go off and you can gamble on fuel between pit stops. It's starting to show its age, but get past the slight flakiness and there's a great racing game here, especially with the official Saturn steering wheel.

5. Nigel Mansell's Grand Prix (ZX Spectrum)

Now listen. I want you to know I am being absolutely serious and I'm wearing my 'nostalgia sucks' hat when I say this: Nigel Mansell's Grand Prix was made in 1988, but remains one of the best F1 sims of all time. You have to qualify within a certain time or you'll never see a real race. You've got to keep the revs within the power band to keep fuel consumption down and explaining instantly why I've always played racers on manual gears you have to learn to change gear or you won't ever leave the pit lane.

You have four settings for your turbo and have to manage fuel and engine temperature as you use it. If you do run out of fuel, weaving left and right will slosh fuel back into the pump in the engine - just like real cars of the '80s. You can catch spins, blow the engine or your tyres it's an amazingly faithful replication of the sport it just looks like your TV's broken, is all. Amazing job, Martech.

4. Formula One '05 (PS2)

How can a 10-years-old PS2 game still be one of the best F1 racers you can buy? Well, it's all in the handling. F1 '05's handling model is sensational. It also uses an increasingly shaky TV pod cam as you get faster, until 200mph really feels like 200mph. If you ever wanted to get your teeth into a fast, responsive, devilishly fun and controllable racing game, then this is absolutely it.

It also sounds incredible. The commentator suggests that you 'turn up the volume' while you wait for the green light, and you really should. There's also a 5-year career mode to get your teeth into. It's little surprise to note this game was developed by Studio Liverpool, of Wipeout fame. Now there was a team that knew how to make a great racer.

3. Super Monaco Grand Prix (Mega Drive/Genesis)

Despite the progress made by the sequel (and its now sadness-tinged Ayrton Senna license), it's the original that I would recommend most strongly, and the 16-bit version at that. The gameplay itself may be sedate by today's standards, but the rivalry system is perfect, allowing you to move up through the teams as quickly as you think your skills will allow or down if you fail to meet expectations.

The music is wonderful, and couples with a presentation style tinged with the romance of late 1980s-era F1. The 2D images disguised to look like TV footage in the post-race screens are achingly beautiful, complete with heat haze effects. Its a game to savour, and also one of the best games you can play on a Sega Nomad. Fact.

2. Formula One: Championship Edition (PS3)

Studio Liverpool's first - and last - PS3 F1 game is still beautiful. Running at 60 frames per second, it's only the 720p resolution that really betrays its last-gen status. But it's arguably more involved than Codemasters' subsequent take on the sport, thanks to QTE pitstops (way better than that sounds), parade laps to warm up your tyres, and commentary over the race action.

The handling model is more accessibly video gamey than true simulation, and you can even steer with the D-pad which is actually surprisingly sharp. Any game with Martin Brundle in it is automatically 20% better, so it gets marks for that too. Smooth, precise, exhaustive and with damage that actually sees a wheel falling off when you hit another car (I know, right?), this is still mightily impressive, 8 years on.

1. F1 2013 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

This may not have been the final last-gen F1 game from Codemasters, but it's by far the best. Firstly, you've got the result of four years of honing the formula (pun intended) and the amazing Ego engine, making this easily good enough to pass for a new-gen racing game. But if the main course (pun not intended) is good, it's the dessert that'll keep you coming back for more.

There's classic content featuring vintage cars, circuits and even drivers. The 1988 season is best represented (although sadly lacking the stars of that year the McLaren Hondas), but there's 1990s content too, offered as DLC or with the special edition of the game. And that's got Nigel Mansell's FW14B. I made a video series showcasing the best of this content, which you should totally watch. With such an authentic and slick main game made even better with such fan-pleasing content, it's clearly the best F1 game ever made. Unless F1 2015 can change that...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin worked on the GamesRadar+ staff for 10 whole years. Imagine that. Now he is a contributor, specialising in racing games, retro, and Sanic.
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