Away from the vehicles, the tracks have also received a little extra love, making changes in location far more noticeable as you hop around the globe. There's a clear difference in vibe between the sun-drenched woodlands of Monza and the heavy monsoon air of Malaysia's Sepang Circuit. Increased detail beyond the tracks helps further differentiate places like Russia's new Sochi Circuit, which snakes around the former Olympic grounds, and the timeless classic Monaco, whose twisting continental streets are as picturesque to look at as they are nightmarish to navigate.
Unfortunately, it's also in presentation where F1 2015 begins to struggle. Visually it isn't the leap I expected from 2014, and it seems the PC version is actually the weakest of the three. Certainly there's a disparity between the promo shots on the game's Steam page and the actual visual quality of the game. Character models look particularly uncanny, with oddly exaggerated expressions and puppet-like animations. Everyone resembles old action figures left too close to an attic skylight on a blistering summer's day. And what on Earth is going on with this guy's FACE?
Graphical fortitude isn't an issue if a game has a sense of style about it. But aesthetically F1 2015 is less interesting than going furniture shopping with Lewis Hamilton. I'm actually beginning to miss the oddly sepia tones of F1 2010. At least it had something. Here lighting and colours are strangely flat and muted, and there's a slight blurriness to everything, as if your screen has been smeared with lard. Compared to the vibrant, petroleum-hazed atmosphere of Project CARS...well, it's no competition, really. It's also worth noting that technical problems have been reported on the PC version. I only experienced a single crash during my time with the game, and no massive performance issues. But I did notice that the loading times varied wildly from several seconds to several minutes, with no obvious reason as to why.
The most significant issue for the majority of people will be the lack of content compared to previous versions. Career mode has been jettisoned, replaced by Championship Mode, which lets you play a career as one of the real drivers from either the 2014 or 2015 season. It's a functional framework for stitching races together, but there isn't much life to it, as I'll explain shortly. Other shortcomings include the lack of a safety car during races, and no ability to run a full qualifying session for anything less than 50% race length. The excellent classic car mode from F1 2013 has also yet to make a return.
For me though, the biggest problem is that there's no soul to F1 2015. This is a criticism that could be levelled at the sport as well, but F1 2015 lacks the fire and passion of the best days of Formula 1. While playing, I often found myself thinking of the recent Ron Howard film Rush, and how good an F1 game could be if it somehow captured the human element of the sport. F1 2015 makes a few superficial attempts at humanising its races, but commentators briefly discussing how well a plasticine-faced facsimile of Sebastian Vettel is performing this season doesn't really cut it. F1 2015 still makes you feel like an outsider, despite the fact that you're supposed to be playing as one of the best racing drivers in the world.
A recreation of TV coverage isn't what I want from an F1 game. Instead I want to see bitter rivalries stirred by the media and then played out on track. I want to see team-mates risking their careers as they compete for the number one drive in their team. I want to see drivers throwing a hissy fit after a botched pit stop or an abrupt engine failure. I want some drama in my sport. To make a truly great racer, one that is actually different, that pushes the genre forward, I think we need to see more of what goes on between the races, a Career mode that actually involves dealing with characters you can see, rather than faux email inboxes or social media accounts. I don't know how any of this would work, being a lowly journalist. I only know that it would immediately catch my interest.
This isn't a dig at Codemasters specifically, more an observation of racers in general. But even if we look at the current field, it's difficult to recommend F1 2015 over something like Project CARS, which has more variety, style and substance about it than Codemasters' offering. F1 2015 isn't a complete write-off, but it definitely needed longer in the garage before Codies sent it off to the races.