If you are a big fan of Formula 1 and also enjoy sim racing, you might struggle to find a good game that truly replicates the real excitement of the sport. That is because Formula 1 have a lot of strict licensing rules in place, but there are still a few good options out there.
The 4 best F1 simulators are:
Although some of the games on this list are not strictly F1 games, we will look into why they still serve as good F1 simulators. Some mods are required for a few of them too, and so we will go into more detail of what the games involve. But first we must define what makes a good F1 simulator.
What To Look For In A Good F1 Simulator
Number Of Cars & Tracks
As with any racing game, there are a few key things to look for in an F1 simulator. The first of which is the number of cars and tracks available. Accounting for the licensing rules in place, there are often not too many to choose from in a lot of games even with mods. However, a good F1 simulator will have plenty of options.
The driving physics of the game are also important, as if you are going for realism you will want to feel like you are really on the track. Good driving physics will make sure that you are able to control the car in a predictable manner, and they will make it easier to improve at the game as well.
Good driving physics are important, but they are even more important when it comes to equipment compatibility. A good F1 sim will be compatible with most sim racing rigs, as in order to get the full F1 experience you need to be able to use your wheel and pedal setup. This is key across all sims, but in F1 races in particular as they require a lot of fine control.
Graphics & Sounds
The graphics and sound effects also need to be up to scratch in an F1 simulator, as everyone knows that F1 is one of the loudest sports on the planet. The roar of the engines is a constant noise throughout every race, so if it doesn’t sound quite right, it can often make the game unplayable.
You also want the game to look good as well, as when you are travelling at speeds of 200+mph it can be easy for things to get a little blurry. A good F1 simulator will have excellent graphics that remain clear at every speed. These include the way the car looks itself, but the tracks and surrounding environments are also important to consider.
Finally, one aspect of most racing games that you might want to pay particular attention to is their playability. This includes things like the number of game modes you can play. You might be looking for nothing but time trials to see how fast you can go around your favorite track, or you might want a more extensive career mode with plenty of built-in progression.
All of these factors are important when considering which F1 simulator is the best, but you also have to consider in which ways F1 sims differ from other racing games.
How F1 Simulators Vary From Others
As we have said, good F1 simulators can be hard to come by. This is because Formula 1 uses relatively strict licensing of its cars and in some cases tracks too, which makes it hard for games to use them. Most games are only allowed to use one “modern” car at a time, with the exception being our number one spot on this list, F1 2021.
In order to get around these licensing rules, some games have left it up to the community to create mods and other additional content. This is why some games can have no Formula type racing in them natively, but still perform as reasonable F1 simulators when you have the right addons.
This can make F1 simulators less accessible to the mass market and can limit some of the games to PC users. However, F1 games can provide a unique racing experience that is unlike anything else. The speed and excitement involved at every corner sets F1 simulators apart from a lot of other different types of racing games. So, which ones are the best?
The 4 Best F1 Simulators
1. F1 2021
Platform: Windows, PS4 & Xbox One | Released: 2021
At the top of our list is F1 2021, which is the officially licensed game from Codemasters. This is perhaps the most expansive F1 game that they have brought out, and it tops our list for several reasons. As it is the only fully licensed game on the market, it has the most to offer in terms of cars and tracks. However, there are other features that make it an excellent F1 simulator.
The range of game modes in F1 2021 is one of its selling points, as it even features Formula 2 racing for those that fancy a different kind of challenge. The Braking Point game mode marks a return for narrative-driven story gameplay. There is also multiplayer racing built into the game meaning you can enjoy it with your friends, or you can try and race through the career mode or time trials.
The Cars & Tracks
In terms of cars, there aren’t as many to choose from as in previous games. This is because of the absence of classic cars, but the cars that are in the game – the standard team cars – look and feel excellent to drive. The sounds in the game will make you feel like you are really on the track, and when combined with the high-quality graphics, it makes for a truly immersive sim racing experience.
In terms of compatibility, F1 2021 is available on the three major platforms and so is highly accessible. It is also compatible with the biggest brands of sim racing equipment, which means you can use your sim racing rig to really feel like you are sitting in the F1 car. However, it is always worth double checking if your particular setup is compatible.
Diving more into the realism aspect of F1 2021, there are some solid driving physics to enjoy, with handling and damage much improved on previous generations. The force feedback can be tuned to make it feel even more lifelike, and when this is paired with the high-quality graphics and sounds, it really becomes a great simulator.
The realism from the graphics is boosted by the fact F1 2021 was made for next-gen consoles, although it can be played on PS4 and Xbox One as well. The competition that is built into the game makes for even more added realism, and if you are looking for an experience that truly emulates the real thing, F1 2021 is a top option.
- Plenty of realism
- The latest fully-licensed F1 game
- Extensive gameplay options
- May feel too similar to some past titles
- Lack of classic cars
Platform: Windows | Released: Originally released in 2008
iRacing is one of the most popular racing simulators on the market, and this is due to its ability to recreate the racing experience at a very detailed level. It was originally released over a decade ago, but it has seen multiple regular updates since then that make sure it stays very much a modern racing sim. Again, it is not solely an F1 simulator, but it does offer Formula racing.
Graphics, Sounds & Realism
The graphics and sounds of the Formula class in iRacing are great, but the real selling point of this sim is the realism of the driving physics. iRacing is the favored racing simulator of real F1 drivers, with stars like Lando Norris and Max Verstappen preferring it to the fully licensed F1 2021. The force feedback makes for very lifelike handling, a key thing to look for in an F1 sim.
The realism of iRacing can sometimes be hard to experience, with the subscription-based structure of the game meaning there are not always competitions to enter for the F1 genre. However, there is a reasonable selection of open wheel cars to try, making way for plenty of realistic Formula racing when you get the chance. Overall, iRacing is perhaps the most realistic F1 simulator.
- Very realistic driving physics
- Highly detailed racing experience
- Good selection of open wheel cars
- Not dedicated to F1 racing
- Can be hard to find suitable competitions to enter
3. Project Cars 2
Platform: Windows, PS4 & Xbox One | Released: 2017
Project Cars 2 has plenty of different racing options to choose from, and it has its own Formula racing mode. Although not licensed in the same way F1 2021 is, it makes use of its own equivalent that it calls “Formula A”. The Formula A cars are based off of the real life 2011 F1 models, and so although not quite up to date, it offers a realistic take on the world’s fastest motorsport.
High Level Of Realism
Project Cars 2 is already one of the best racing simulators and one of the most realistic, and this realism is included in the Formula game mode as well. You can experience realistic track dynamics with its LiveTrack 3.0 feature, which lays rubber on the track at the braking zones. This changes the racing surface, just like it would change in real life.
Things like track temperature and the weather will also affect the racing surface, which are aspects that have to be considered in real life as well. These features combine well with the large range of customization options in the game that can allow you to have even more control over your racing experience.
Although the F1 car selection is quite limited when compared to F1 2021, there are still several to choose from. The fictional Formula A cars handle like the real F1 cars, and there is a 2015 Formula Renault car that you can use as well. If you can get past the lack of licensing, Project Cars 2 can serve as a very good F1 simulator.
- Very realistic driving physics
- Lots of customization
- Works well with sim racing rigs
- Lack of licensed cars
- Not specifically an F1 simulator
Platform: Windows | Released: 2016
Automobilista is a racing game that is exclusively available on Steam, and although it is not a Formula 1 racing simulator in its entirety, it does have the ability to be modded to include lots of real cars and tracks. It lacks the licensing of F1 2021, but it does a reasonably good job of simulating the real thing if you are able to download the right mods.
Decent Level Of Realism
Automobilista does offer some decent track dynamism. This can help to make it feel more realistic, as Formula 1 racing involves some of the most intense racing situations, while also requiring a lot of attention to be paid to individual details about the racing surface.
Although the game features several Formula cars from different eras, it lacks modern counterparts that help to reflect what the real thing is like now. However, there are lots of mods available on Race Department that allow you to enhance the capabilities of the game and make the most of the active community that is passionate about F1 racing.
- Reasonable driving physics and track dynamics
- Several F1 models from past eras
- Can implement mods for more recent cars and tracks
- Not licensed for modern cars
- Not dedicated to F1 racing
That concludes our list of the best F1 simulators, and it is clear that they are often not entirely F1-oriented. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a realistic F1 racing experience outside of the fully-licensed F1 2021 and its predecessors, as iRacing shows with its high level of lifelike driving physics and detailed racing experience.
Other games like Automobilista have strong capabilities when it comes to modding, and so if you are on PC, you can really create some excellent F1 racing conditions. If you are on console you don’t miss out, as Project Cars 2 does have native Formula type racing. But if you want the full selection of licensed F1 cars and tracks, F1 2021 is the one to go for.