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F1 2001 (PC) Review

Background Info
Many people thought F1 2000 was released before it was ready; probably rushed because of the release of GP3, which may have also been premature. Both games seemed to have a decent physics model, but the graphics battle was won by GP3. I wasn't particularly happy with either one, but looking for an F1 sim to play, GP3 stayed on my drive and was played for a while. Unfortunately, I never bothered with the patches for F1 2000. As far as I was concerned, EA Sports' slogan was wrong. IT (whatever "it" is) wasn't in the game. The "it" I was looking for was a total F1 environment.

Patches for F1 2000 were released, then came Championship Season, and now F1 2001.  I suppose the easiest thing to do in this review would be to keep comparing F1 2001 with GP3 or F1 2000. I'm not going to do that. When I first got the game for review, I was disappointed; but, when I installed the update it made all the difference in the world. A message to EA Sports: release the games when they're ready, not before. Had the update not been available when I did this review, the game would have been on my shelf along with my opinion of it, and of EA Sports. This review is based on the game with the update installed.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
I'd describe graphics in 6 categories with a basic breakdown as: terrible, passable, or good, but the "good" category can be broken down into sub-categories: cartoon-like, surreal, and photo-realistic. Sure, terrible and passable can have the sub-categories, but if the graphics aren't "good," it really doesn't matter. Whether it's better to have cartoon, surreal or realistic graphics depends on the game. Certainly Midtown Madness 2 is comfortable with cartoon-like graphics. A big part of the charm of Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed is its surreal, dream-like graphics as you zip down Zone Industrielle at night with the graphics enforcing the feeling of loneliness. Surreal graphics are mood setting. They are the way you remember an emotional event. The game "Unreal" is very much at home with a slightly cartoon-like and mostly surreal combination of graphics.

So, graphics immerse you into a game, and understanding this, the only type of graphics appropriate for a modern F1 sim is photo-realistic. And that, my friends, is exactly what you get with F1 2001. 

I tested the game with a Voodoo 5, 5500 and a retail Radeon 8500. Before I go on I should post my system specs so you'll have an idea of what to expect.

  • Voodoo 5 5500 OR Retail Radeon 8500

  • Abit BE6-II (1.0x) motherboard (440BX chipset)

  • Celeron 633E overclocked to 1071 Mhz 

  • Golden Orb fan/heatsink

  • 256 MB of PC133 cas 2 memory (Micron)

  • Sound Blaster Live XGamer

  • Cambridge Soundworks FPS2000 speakers

  • Creative Labs CD-RW

  • Creative Labs PC-DVD Encore Dxr3

  • IBM Deskstar 75GXP 46GB (7200rpm) hard drive @ ATA66 

  • Generic 3 1/2" floppy drive

  • SMC network card (for cable modem)

  • InWin 500 full tower case w/extra fans and cooling holes

  • ViewSonic 21" monitor with BNC connection

  • Logitech Cordless Keyboard and Mouse

  • Windows 98

For this review, I used a Thrustmaster Ferrari FF Wheel and Act Labs Performance Pedals.


As always, keep in mind that 'state of the art graphics' is very dependent on the release date of the game you're exploring. What's great today may be silly tomorrow. Also, visual graphics are an interpretation of the user.

That being said, I'd have to say that F1 2001 has the best graphics of any modern F1 sim, and probably the best graphics of any racing game. All the adjustments are there, and then some. To increase frame rates on slower computers, you can choose to decrease the detail level and/or decrease the image quality. Each is independent of the other. The adjustments for visual quality on the other cars, background scenery and your own cockpit are also all independent, as are special effects like dust, etc. I can't think of anything that's left out to give you the best possible image for your hardware. With the V5500, there were some anomalies. In the distance, the grandstands danced slightly as did a couple other things, but it didn't affect game play. By changing some graphics quality settings from Full to High, I was able to average over 40 fps at 1280, 16 bit resolution in practice. With a full field of cars, the rates did drop but further adjustments made it very playable. When the mirrors are turned on, both video cards lose up to 11 fps depending on where you are on the track. 

With the Radeon 8500 installed, the graphics displayed perfectly. It didn't bog down the way the V5500 did. Although I was able to easily run at 1600, 32 bit resolution, I ran at 1280, 32 bit so I could compare the video cards' frame rates equally. Most of my testing was done with the Radeon and the graphics were spectacular. If I have a primary gripe about modern racing sim graphics, including this one to some extent, it's that you can sometimes tell the tires are made up of polygons. They are not completely round. At times, even in F1 2001, this showed slightly. Not always, not much, but sometimes.

I can't stand racing with mirrors turned off, so I had them on for most of the tests. I'm also very picky about high detailed graphics, but was able to turn some things down in F1 2001 and still be more than satisfied with the results. I easily averaged 60 fps, and at times over 80 fps were seen. In other words, with my system this sim is very playable.

Most modern sims with decent graphics seem to specialize in either background appearance or car appearance. F1 2001 does both very well. The cockpits and steering wheels are different in each car. The default cockpit Field of View is set at 77. I preferred to set it at 83. (In the folder: \F1 2001\Save\default.cfg)

Fov=(83.000000, 62.500000)

There are other driving views including rear,  TV cockpit and bumper cam.

While all the tracks were, again, visually spectacular, their accuracy varied track to track. I'm going to guess that, like me, most of you haven't actually driven all of these tracks in a modern F1 car. However, we've probably watched tons of races on TV and have an idea of when the elevation changes take place and where, in general, things should be on the track. As long as a track is a good representation of the real thing, I'm not a real stickler on perfect accuracy. Let's suffice it to say that some tracks are more accurate than others, but all are done well enough to let me pretend they're the real thing. They all have the right flavor.

The weather modeling is all right, visually, but not spectacular. You do get the feeling of the weather, but you don't get good transitions from wet to dry surfaces. For example, if you're under the bridge at Suzuka (for example) facing the concrete on the side of the bridge, it's raining just as hard under the bridge as it is elsewhere on the track. One nice visual effect is that you can see changes to your setup. Not just wings, but ride height and camber, etc. are visually changed. So, while weather effects aren't portrayed perfectly, the overall graphics presentation is very good while you're driving. The only minor drawback I could see is that the AI cars in front of me disappeared too soon and reappeared abruptly when I closed in on them again. This happened with both video cards and with the draw distance set to maximum. I wouldn't be surprised if there's an unofficial fix for this somewhere. 

Naturally, the faster your computer, the more special effects you'll be able to turn on.

Presentation/Audio : 85
The audio portion of the game is complete, very good, but not great. All the sounds are there: engine, road noise, wind, everything. At louder volumes they are quite convincing. I didn't notice the difference in sound between the Ferrari and Williams, for instance, so I'm assuming all the engine sounds are the same. Increasing the the throttle, I could hear the intake and exhaust separately. Under the bridge at Suzuka, I could hear cars going overhead as well as those coming from behind me and on other parts of the track. I don't think I could give a perfect score for audio unless all the engine sounds from individual cars were modeled after high quality recordings. However, the sounds are certainly better than what you hear on a regular TV.


Interface/Options : 90
Once again, F1 2001 is pretty complete. Race options include Driving School, Test Day,  Quick Race, Grand Prix, Championship and Multi-Player . As you choose cars and tracks, they're featured, rotating in the center of the screen. You can grab them with the cursor and turn them to any angle. The vehicle setups are  done in simple and advanced screens so even beginners can have some fun trying different settings. The default setups for each track are good for a couple cars but not so hot for others. The advanced screens give you just about everything (I don't think I saw fuel mixture) for tuning your engine, gears, aerodynamics and suspension.  The force feedback options are sparse but, thankfully, you can tweak them to your heart's delight in the game files. The options for graphics quality are numerous and all options are laid out quite well. The choices for AI difficulty include strength and aggressiveness. Except for advanced force feedback settings which must be done in the configuration files and therefore lower this score, the only other thing that I can think of that's missing is the ability to control how fast your inputs (brake, gas, steering) go to full. You can slow down the initial input. If you think your brakes come on too quickly, you can adjust a slider to make it more gradual (non-linear), so 1/2 pedal travel is only 1/4 braking power. But, there is no back-side adjustment to make full brakes come on sooner, like full braking at 3/4 pedal travel. This adjustment can really customize how your pedals feel and I wish all games had it. One of the few games that does have this is NFS:PU. With it, I set up my brakes, gas and steering to feel exactly the way I want them to.

There's one other thing that could be troublesome. In the same way that the force feedback settings can be tailored in the game's files, so can the physics. It probably wouldn't be too hard to make your car handle like it was on rails on dry or wet pavement. I'm not sure if this could be a problem for people who take on-line racing a bit too seriously.

Replays are not done in full screen. You can save hot laps and entire sessions, but you can't edit them.

Gameplay : 90
EA Sports has done a good job making a racing sim that can be enjoyed by beginners and experts alike. If you were to turn on all the driver's assistance, I'd almost think the cars would drive themselves, but if you turn them all off, hold on. It's a totally different feeling and a believable experience.

The F1 2001 season is represented by all 11 teams and 22 drivers. If you turn their AI capabilities down, you catch them on the straights, but they're still pretty quick in the corners. If you are a beginner or just want to have some fun, try the 

driving school. It shows the lines you should take and gives you a ride in an F1 trainer (2-seater). 

With 1% added to the Dead Zone for the wheel, the steering was smooth and precise. This is a real driver's game. I made a few adjustments in the game files for the force feedback effects and they were just about perfect. A lot of time went into writing this part of the game. F1 2001 doesn't use iForce for programming force feedback. This had me baffled for a while. The effects were good enough to be Constant forces (Vector Forces in iStudio) but I could see the effects of some Spring force programming. This seemed impossible. Either I was completely off base or this was the best example of Spring Force programming I'd ever seen. Through SGN and my own sources, I was contacted by James Hawkins of EA Europe and then by Gjon Camaj of Image Space Inc. I don't want to bore the average reader with a lot of technical details, but in a nutshell, F1 2001 essentially uses a combination of both Constant Force and Spring Force programming. (Constant forces are updated several time a second. Spring forces are left on until they they are turned off.) The beauty of this combination is that less processing power is used for the force feedback. The effects are actually generated using a Direct Input periodic effect and offset periodic effect. In simple terms, they are like Spring and Constant forces. Periodic effects for things like walls and self-centering, and offset periodic for things that are updated during game play, like steering forces. The results are smooth, believable effects, fully customizable, without the "center hump" feeling in the wheel and with less processor usage. Those of you who know me and my work on force feedback wheels and settings on Tweaks & Reviews will understand my excitement over this. If you've been holding off on a force feedback steering wheel, this game is a good reason to get one.

Braking and acceleration effects are also transmitted to the wheel. Once you get used to it, this added sensation helps to  warn you when the car will spin on acceleration, for example. I tuned out most of the acceleration vibration, but left a bit in for the braking.

About the only aspect of game play I don't like is the absence of AI drivers in multi-player. Sometimes when you hook up with a buddy, it's nice to have a couple AI drivers in there to make things interesting.


Replay Value: 95
If this score seems a bit high, bear with me. The game stands on its own with several tracks to learn, vehicle setups to conquer, AI that can be set quite aggressive and multi-player capability. If you're a beginner, it could be quite a while from the time you go to driver's school to the time you can win races without driving aids against AI players that are set to over 100% strength and maximum aggressiveness. An expert driver knows he'll never master a track, so as long as he likes the scenery and feel of the cars, he won't mind spending endless hours trying to find the perfect line and chop hundredths of a second off his time. This, along with multi-player support should ensure that any F1 racing fan won't get bored with this game; putting it aside only when something better comes along.

Now, to further add to the replay value, there are free, 2nd party add-ons for new tracks, updated tracks and cars with added detail, new sounds and cockpits, and even a complete car set of FIA GT cars with their own physics. It's like having two games in one.

Overall : 91
F1 2001 is, to me, the best modern F1 racing sim to date. I'm fussy about graphics and I'm fussy about force feedback and how well cars drive. I expect a decent physics model, but if it doesn't look good, I won't play it long.  To paraphrase Enzo Ferrari referring to his racing cars, 'First it has to look nice, then we make it fast.' I like that attitude. A couple of oily rags in a tin pan on top of my monitor with a small fan blowing from behind and I was totally immersed. If you're looking for another racing game or wanting to try your first, F1 2001 is one you should consider. If you're into F1 racing and trying to decide which title to add to your computer, this is the one. It has beauty, but it's more than skin deep.

This time, EA Sports, it is in the game.

(As a little bonus, the force feedback settings I made for the TM Ferrari wheel can be downloaded  HERE )

By: Gary DeRoy (GTX_SlotCar) 1/26/02

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