How realistic is F1 2019's new driver transfers feature?

The long-requested driver transfers feature has finally made it into the F1 2019 game. But how realistic is it? Valentin Khorounzhiy puts it to the test.

How realistic is F1 2019's new driver transfers feature?
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Have you heard the good news? The official Formula 1 game now has driver transfers, realising a feature that fans have requested for years and that has long been viewed as impossible due to licensing restrictions - until the sport and its stakeholders suddenly saw sense.

For dedicated e-racers, it likely makes no difference, but for somebody like me - who, despite an obvious F1 interest, has been largely neglecting the game franchise in favour of other sports games that have long incorporated this kind of thing - this particular announcement turned F1 2019 from 'wait and see' into a first-day purchase.

But did driver transfers add anything to the F1 2019 experience in the end, and does the game do a reasonable job of approximating the real F1 silly season? To help answer those questions now that the game is out, I've rushed through seven largely-simulated seasons of career mode. This is how they went:

F1 2019: Daniel Ricciardo (Ferrari) racing Carlos Sainz (Haas)

F1 2019: Daniel Ricciardo (Ferrari) racing Carlos Sainz (Haas)

Photo by: Codemasters

The first obstacle to this task is that the F1 game does not let you just fast-forward a bunch of campaigns as an onlooker, as the developers clearly designed this year's career mode with the assumption that you're actually going to play it. As such, I am forced to make one change to the real-life 2019 grid right away, introducing the player-controlled young Australian driver Chris Moneybag.

Over the following seasons, Chris will be an extremely peripheral presence on the grand prix grid, accomplishing not all that much of note yet always doing just enough to hang on to his place in F1. He will begin his career at Williams, taking the ride earmarked for Formula 2 champion George Russell.

F1 2019 gives you the option to start career mode with an F2 prelude, which then introduces fictional drivers Devon Butler and Lukas Weber to the F1 grid alongside your character. For the purposes of this 'analysis', I've decided to skip this – as, firstly, this keeps the grid as close to real life as possible, and secondly, being an F2 title contender is not very in-character for Chris Moneybag, who I choose to believe instead got his superlicence by winning back-to-back LMP2 titles.

F1 2019: Romain Grosjean (Renault)

F1 2019: Romain Grosjean (Renault)

Photo by: Codemasters

For the most part, the first season goes as you'd expect. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull monopolise the podium places race after race, and while Charles Leclerc wins the season opener for Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton goes on to dominate the title race.

But as the Belgian Grand Prix rolls around, the game decides to throw its first proper fit. Having scored just only half the points of his teammate Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo is released from Renault after half a year into what in real life is a two-year deal. He joins Haas instead, while Romain Grosjean goes the other way, reuniting with the Enstone team.

The swap does not work out for Renault, as Ricciardo strings together a great end to the season and helps Haas overturn a 36-point deficit to the French manufacturer in the battle for fourth in the standings.

Mid-season moves: Daniel Ricciardo (Renault to Haas); Romain Grosjean (Haas to Renault)

WDC: 1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), 3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

WCC: 1 Mercedes, 2 Ferrari, 3 Red Bull


F1 2019: Lewis Hamilton (Ferrari)

F1 2019: Lewis Hamilton (Ferrari)

Photo by: Codemasters

The first off-season rolls around, and we move further into bizarro-world. Hamilton moves across the F1 championship battlefield to join Ferrari, while Vettel goes the other way and suits up in Mercedes colours.

Haas moves for Nico Hulkenberg, fully recreating the 2019 Renault line-up within its roster. Hulkenberg's place at Renault is taken by Sergio Perez, and the French team also adds Kevin Magnussen – despite the hardly amicable end to his first stint at the outfit in 2016.

Off-season moves: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes to Ferrari); Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari to Mercedes); Nico Hulkenberg (Renault to Haas); Romain Grosjean (Renault to Racing Point); Kevin Magnussen (Haas to Renault); Sergio Perez (Racing Point to Renault)

F1 2019: Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Daniel Ricciardo (Haas), Sergio Perez (Renault)

F1 2019: Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Daniel Ricciardo (Haas), Sergio Perez (Renault)

Photo by: Codemasters

The F1 Gods rightly punish both Mercedes and Ferrari for their driver swap. Vettel delivers a couple initial wins for the former, but his form fades, while Ferrari goes winless despite having added Hamilton.

Max Verstappen takes control in the early stages of the title race for Red Bull, building up a huge points lead, but by the second half of the season the best car unequivocally belongs to Haas. Verstappen's form dips dramatically in the end, allowing Ricciardo and Hulkenberg to get within striking distance in the closing races.

But in the penultimate race of the season, Perez grabs Renault's first win, and Verstappen just hangs on to the title in Abu Dhabi despite a non-score, as the Haas drivers are denied, somewhat poetically, by Grosjean securing a maiden triumph for Racing Point.

Mid-season moves: None

WDC: 1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull), 2 Daniel Ricciardo (Haas), 3 Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)

WCC: 1 Haas, 2 Red Bull, 3 Mercedes


F1 2019: Lance Stroll (Mercedes)

F1 2019: Lance Stroll (Mercedes)

Photo by: Codemasters

If you reckoned securing Racing Point's first-ever F1 win would earn Grosjean a lifetime contract, think again. Both he and Lance Stroll are replaced as Racing Point assembles a superteam of Vettel and Verstappen. These are not words I was expecting to write at any point.

Magnussen is also on the move again, forming a genuinely surreal team-up with Stroll at Mercedes, while the Dane's place at Renault is taken by Valtteri Bottas.

Off-season moves: Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes to Renault); Max Verstappen (Red Bull to Racing Point); Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari to Racing Point); Romain Grosjean (Racing Point to Red Bull); Lance Stroll (Racing Point to Mercedes); Kevin Magnussen (Renault to Mercedes).

F1 2019: Starting Grid

F1 2019: Starting Grid

Photo by: Codemasters

The new Racing Point star line-up finishes 1-2 in three of the first four races, and Vettel wins seven of the first nine to mark himself out as the clear title favourite. But the mid-season monetum change strikes again, and the Hamilton – Ferrari combo emerges as the much more potent force after the Austrian GP.

Hamilton wins 11 of the 12 remaining races (with teammate Leclerc triumphant in the remaining one) as the title race fizzles out.

Former giants Mercedes and Red Bull are now struggling badly. The Silver Arrows go almost the whole season without silverware, before Magnussen picks up a pair of podium finishes in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, while Grosjean and Pierre Gasly combine for a measly 14 points for Red Bull.

Meanwhile, with Williams seemingly making no tangible progress, our driver calls it time eight races into his third season, moving across – in a straightforward driver swap – to fellow backmarker Toro Rosso, which is also yet to accomplish anything of note in this career mode.

Mid-season moves: Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso to Williams)

WDC: 1 Lewis Hamilton (Ferrari), 2 Sebastian Vettel (Racing Point), 3 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

WCC: 1 Ferrari, 2 Renault, 3 Racing Point


F1 2019: Nico Hulkenberg (Mercedes)

F1 2019: Nico Hulkenberg (Mercedes)

Photo by: Codemasters

Mercedes responds to a poor season by making another full change to its line-up. Stroll and Magnussen are ushered out, with Vettel – who makes his fourth switch in four seasons – returning to partner Hulkenberg in an all German line-up.

McLaren makes its first change in this career mode, shipping off top scorer Carlos Sainz to Haas to replace him with Stroll. This move leaves Alfa Romeo as the sole holdout, as the Italian team perseveres with Antonio Giovinazzi and the now 42-year-old Kimi Raikkonen.

Off-season moves: Sebastian Vettel (Racing Point to Mercedes), Nico Hulkenberg (Haas to Mercedes), Kevin Magnussen (Mercedes to Racing Point), Carlos Sainz (McLaren to Haas), Lance Stroll (Mercedes to McLaren)

F1 2019: Valtteri Bottas (Renault)

F1 2019: Valtteri Bottas (Renault)

Photo by: Codemasters

The season follows a familiar pattern. Renault has the best car to start things off, and Bottas wins five on the trot, but he and teammate Perez run out of steam around Hungary. Vettel and Hamilton return to the forefront instead – and while the Briton's resurgence comes too late to impact the title race, Vettel bags the WDC by 49 points.

The Verstappen-employing Racing Point is back in the midfield after its stint as a top F1 team, but is at least faring better than the Dutchman's real-life outfit Red Bull, which has just a single point to show for the 21-race campaign.

Mid-season moves: None

WDC: 1 Sebastian Vettel (Mercedes), 2 Valtteri Bottas (Renault), 3 Sergio Perez (Renault)

WCC: 1 Mercedes, 2 Renault, 3 Ferrari


F1 2019: Daniel Ricciardo (Ferrari)

F1 2019: Daniel Ricciardo (Ferrari)

Photo by: Codemasters

After four seasons with the same roster, Alfa Romeo becomes the final team to make its first driver trade. But of course, the veteran Raikkonen goes nowhere – instead, Giovinazzi is replaced by Daniil Kvyat.

The only other change comes as Ferrari calls up Ricciardo to replace Leclerc. Only Raikkonen, Gasly at Red Bull, Robert Kubica at Williams and Lando Norris at McLaren remain as drivers who have stuck with their original teams,

Off-season moves: Daniel Ricciardo (Haas to Ferrari); Charles Leclerc (Ferrari to Haas); Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso to Alfa Romeo), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo to Toro Rosso).

F1 2019: Standings

F1 2019: Standings

Photo by: Codemasters

Despite a couple of 'resets' in the tech regulations, most teams are now either at or close to the maximum level of performance - or at least so the game tells me. Despite this, the season turns out horrendously one-sided (seemingly not helped by most of the races being simulated, as this doesn't exactly introduce a ton of race-to-race variance).

After Verstappen wins the opener in a Racing Point 1-2, Hamilton wins a mortifying 16 races on the bounce. This is obviously an F1 record, as are Hamilton's end-of-year tallies of 18 wins and 508 points.

Midway through this fairly dispiriting campaign, I try to nudge the driver market into life by taking Chris from Toro Rosso to McLaren. It does not produce the desired impact.

Mid-season moves: Stroll (McLaren to Toro Rosso),

WDC: 1 Lewis Hamilton (Ferrari), 2 Sebastian Vettel (Mercedes), 3 Daniel Ricciardo (Ferrari)

WCC: 1 Ferrari, 2 Mercedes, 3 Renault


F1 2019: George Russell (McLaren)

F1 2019: George Russell (McLaren)

Photo by: Codemasters

After his all-conquering season, Hamilton returns to Mercedes, while Vettel retakes his place at Ferrari. It's as if they were both on extended loan.

Despite some moderate successes at McLaren, I take Chris to Alfa Romeo, which vacates a seat for none other than Russell, who had been denied his original F1 chance by my initial choice of Williams. Now, having patiently waited for over five years after his F2 triumph, he is finally on the grand prix grid. Go get 'em, man!

But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and Russell's arrival has come at the expense of Stroll, who drops out of F1 amid the shuffle. Raikkonen, now 44, not only outlasted the Canadian, but has moved over to Williams to form a delightful veteran driver pairing with Kubica.

Off-season moves: Lewis Hamilton (Ferrari to Mercedes); Sebastian Vettel (Merceeds to Ferrari), George Russell (to McLaren); Alex Albon (Williams to Toro Rosso), Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo to Williams).

F1 2019: Valtteri Bottas (Red Bull)

F1 2019: Valtteri Bottas (Red Bull)

Photo by: Codemasters

Vettel, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg combine to win the first four races, before Hamilton regains form with his 'new' team and ruins the title race yet again, bagging 15 wins over the remainder of the season and adding his third career mode title.

The only driver to briefly disrupt his reign in this period is Grosjean, who drags the resurgent Red Bull to the top step of the podium in the Hungarian GP. But the computer in charge of driver transfers clearly does not like the Frenchman very much – and having suffered through three terrible seasons with Red Bull, Grosjean is replaced by Bottas the very next race after his Hungary triumph.

Mid-season moves: Bottas (Renault to Red Bull); Grosjean (Red Bull to Renault)

WDC: 1 Hamilton (Mercedes; 2 Vettel (Ferrari); 3 Ricciardo (Ferrari)

WCC: 1 Mercedes, 2 Ferrari, 3 Renault


All of a sudden, the levels of entropy are noticeably down in our career mode. There's a swap involving Perez and Gasly, and after just a season away from Alfa Romeo the now 45-year-old Raikkonen returns, but at the sharp end of the grid there is no movement. Perhaps, after six seasons, we have reached an equilibrium between Mercedes and Ferrari.

Off-season moves: Sergio Perez (Renault to Red Bull); Pierre Gasly (Red Bull to Renault); Kimi Raikkonen (Williams to Alfa Romeo); Daniil Kvyat (Alfa Romeo to Williams).

F1 2019: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

F1 2019: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

Photo by: Codemasters

All too aware that I'm headed for another season of Hamilton dominance - completely fine for the purposes of the experiment, but really not great for the purposes of content for the article - I throw a Hail Mary, setting up Chris with Mercedes, in the vain hope that the German team will either foolishly trade Hamilton away or be crippled by the player-controlled racer's very presence.

No luck. While Mercedes rather puzzlingly takes on Chris Moneybag, Hamilton is retained alongside him, and wins three of the next four races, at the end of which Chris is unceremoniously fired. The game makes him sign with Williams instead, which also results in Kvyat being sent to Mercedes.

The Russian is on the podium right away, but likewise lasts only four races, before being rather harshly replaced by Perez. Hamilton ends the season on 506 points.

Mid-season moves: Nico Hulkenberg (Mercedes to Alfa Romeo), Daniil Kvyat (Williams to Mercedes), Daniil Kvyat (Mercedes to Red Bull), Sergio Perez (Red Bull to Mercedes)

WDC: 1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 2 Valtteri Bottas (Red Bull), 3 Sergio Perez (Red Bull/Mercedes)

WCC: 1 Mercedes, 2 Red Bull, 3 Ferrari

2026 grid

Team Car 1 Car 2
Mercedes Lewis Hamilton Sergio Perez
Ferrari Sebastian Vettel Daniel Ricciardo
Red Bull Daniil Kvyat Valtteri Bottas
Renault Kimi Raikkonen Pierre Gasly
Haas Carlos Sainz Charles Leclerc
McLaren Lando Norris George Russell
Racing Point Romain Grosjean Max Verstappen
Alfa Romeo Kevin Magnussen Nico Hulkenberg
Toro Rosso Alex Albon Antonio Giovinazzi
Williams Robert Kubica Player-controlled

It's clear that chronicling the driver transfers over an eight-season span in career mode betrays a feature in its infancy. Real F1 is no stranger to shocks but a lot of these moves give off the impression of a random number generator throwing a series of tantrums, rather than an eco-system of numerous computer-controlled organisation that you'd find in something like Football Manager.

This is not helped by the fact the grid remains largely static throughout. None of the F2 drivers that are already in the game make an appearance, and the possibility of drivers retiring - touted by the player character's agent when she introduces the concept of drivers moving teams - isn't exactly realised.

Stroll is alone in dropping out, while veterans like Kubica and Raikkonen keep on trucking, presumably well into their 50s. Meanwhile, it also becomes clear that while the stats determining car performance change from season to season, the same cannot be said for the stats behind driver performance.

And yet, does having driver transfers in this form add anything to the game? Absolutely. Though a healthy suspension of disbelief is required, the addition of driver transfers easily makes this career mode the best the series has had to offer, simply by delivering the sensations of change and surprise that are such an essential part of the F1 fan experience - and were so sorely missing from the previous versions of the game. There's a certain strange delight in seeing a familiar driver in unfamiliar colours, even if it's just a video game version.

So now that this particular Pandora's box has been opened, fingers crossed that Codemasters get to add more depth and complexity to these mechanics. Certainly, for myself and people like me, that would make next year's game by far the most exciting iteration of the genre yet. 

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