I'm choosing to spend less time on the track and more time in the garage in F1 2021

An image of the interior of an F1 garage and McLaren cockpit.
(Image credit: Codemasters)

You might consider me a time waster in F1 2021, but I'm loving spending more time in the garage. I'll sit down for a grand prix with my wheel and pedals at the ready and rarely make it past the practice sessions. It's just all-too-easy to sink into the simulation; get lost in the breadth and depth of the car setup menus dreaming of a day when I can turn off traction control and keep the car steady for more than a handful of laps.

What I'm starting to realise is that, actually, those fiddly details are a big reason for why I'm there to begin with.

I'll likely never get the fastest lap on the leaderboard, but damn if I won't at least be able to set up my own differential.

Perhaps it's a confession of someone newer to the sim, or semi-sim, racing scene. If I see a setting I don't fully understand yet, I feel I must find out what it does, when it's best to change it, and what to change it to. That often means heading to YouTube to learn about an F1 car's differential, then onwards to some F1 2021 thread to find out what that actually means in-game.

All that, long before I even think about tweaking a single setting myself.

I'm not saying you've got to know how a modern F1 tyre and rim are constructed before you can better prep your own tyre temperatures in the game, but I've decided I want to. And that's helping me brave past the setup presets in F1 2021 and into the world of custom configurations.

Race on

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You can configure (or more likely misconfigure) fuel load, aerodynamics, transmission, suspension geometry, suspension, brakes, and tyres all from the in-game garage before a race. It's easy to get into the weeds in this menu—I've learned the hard way that even the smallest of tweaks could leave you in a gravel trap—but there's excess speed residing in those menus, and a lot of it.

The quickest way to unlock rapid track times is to download the profile of someone else with a fast time on a given track. That's a pretty simple process if you head to a time trial and check out the leaderboards, where all the top drivers offer up their custom profiles for nothing.

An image showing the cockpit of an Aston Martin F1 car.

(Image credit: Codemasters)

Be warned, though, while this is a great way to see how many tenths of a second a good preset will net you over the course of a lap, high speed can often come at the expense of stability. In the right hands it might look like it's bolted on-rails, but behind the wheel that car is likely on a knife's edge and one tiny misjudgement from limping home to the pits.

There's plenty of complexity embedded in the F1 car setup menu, but an easier way to get to grips is download a user submitted preset from the leaderboards. (Image credit: Codemasters)

Through over-analysing every in-game setting myself, I'm slowly piecing together a greater understanding of the virtual car at my fingertips. I'm also noticing small on-the-fly changes to differential or brake bias have the car responding in wholly different ways, and I have to feel like that makes it all worthwhile.

Granted, I've barely scratched the surface of modern day race car mechanics, and I'll probably never delve deeper than the paintwork. But what may have once deterred me from devoting more time to a racing game is now a big part of the reason I'm finding myself playing one regularly—with simulation-like settings I can get far closer to the ins and outs of motorsport than my real-life experience or knowledge would let me.

Image showing the rear of a Red Bull F1 car with Honda sponsor on rear wing.

(Image credit: Codemasters)

I've heard F1 drivers talk tyre wear, downforce, corner entry and exit, and brake response, but only through the game am I realising what that actually means to the feel of the car, as a driver. That speaks volumes to the quality of the F1 2021 experience, and through its immense depth I've been able to obsessively tweak with the settings in a way which I wasn't sure I would initially have enjoyed.

Though it still feels I'm a far way off that ideal setup, one that works wonders for my imperfect driving style, I am at least beginning to understand how I might tweak my car setup for the better and shave off a few tenths of a second over the course of a lap.  And the fact I'm even doing any of this comes as a surprise to me, most of all.

But I think I get what it is to try and master the meaning behind the mechanics of the car. I'll likely never get the fastest lap on the leaderboard, but damn if I won't at least set up my own differential.

Jacob Ridley
Senior Hardware Editor

Jacob earned his first byline writing for his own tech blog. From there, he graduated to professionally breaking things as hardware writer at PCGamesN, and would later go on to win command of the kit cupboard as hardware editor. Since then he's joined PC Gamer's top team as senior hardware editor, where he spends his days reporting on the latest developments in the technology and gaming industry. He also enjoys making short videos for TikTok and believes everyone reading this should go follow our account immediately.