A Childhood Captured: F1 World Grand Prix
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
The year is 1998. I am 6 years old and I am mad about F1 and Michael Schumacher. A Ferrari fan through and through I would sit and watch the ITV coverage in wait, hoping my favourite driver would pull off another famous win. While the Schumacher/Hakkinen rivalry raged on my Dad brought home a copy of a game that would change my life, who I was as a gamer and solidified my love of F1. With the release of F1 2019 on PS4, Xbox One and PC today I want to talk about the game that ensured I would always be an F1 fan.
F1 World Grand Prix released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998 was the first F1 game developed by Paradigm Entertainment and published by Video System and was later ported onto the Dreamcast, Playstation, Game Boy Colour and PC. Featuring all the drivers (except Jacques Villeneuve), tracks, cars and the famous Tag Heuer timing screens from the 1997 season, it allowed players to be their favourite and for me there was always one choice.
For a 6 year old the game was hard, very very hard. Paradigm Entertainment decided to scrap the arcade feel of F1 Pole Position, released by Human Entertainment in 1996, and focused on a simulation style racer, rare for the Nintendo 64. This meant that the difficulty across each team was real, a Ferrari would easily beat a Minardi, but the other way round would be a staggering task to accomplish. Damage simulation punished mistakes and your car could experience mechanical issues such as gearbox failure or a drop in oil pressure. You would see visible tyre wear and feel the loss of grip across a Grand Prix all the while hearing the roar (admittedly a very repetitive roar) of the F1 cars. You even had 1st gen Jeff giving you live updates on the race, who was in front, behind and whether you set the fastest lap.
The instruction manual gave further details into each respective team providing stats and charts regarding Front and Rear Downforce, Engine Power, Engine Reliability and Pit Crew capacity to highlight the significant differences across the large and small teams. The game allowed for the first time detailed set up choices based on each track, with Monza and Hockenheim needing a low downforce setup and Monaco and Hungary very high. All these settings were there to be tinkered with, changed and tweaked to find the perfect setup to tackle the steep difficulty of the game. While it might be hard to believe a game from 1998 allowed such customisation it was a staple of the game and incredibly important to the success or failure achieved.
While players could tackle the 1997 season in full, produce flying laps in Time Attack or play Split Screen with a friend the real draw of the game was its lauded Scenario mode which allowed players to tackle 15 challenges across 3 categories, Offence, Defence and Trouble, with trouble arguably the most difficult challenges to face. It was a mode that offered an opportunity to recreate scenarios from the 1997 season and brought the player into the difficulty and simulation of an F1 season. The mode gave a new dynamic to the F1 racing game, producing specific examples that delved deeper into the world of F1, for example, highlighting the battle between Goodyear and Bridgestone and gave context to each scenario with high quality presentation and text before each challenge. The mode gave the opportunity to show battles across the whole field rather than just the front runners and provided a wide variety of scenarios that never became boring or dull.
Also added in the game was a setting the allowed the game to provide all the weather, crashes and events that took place during the 1997 to happen during season mode. It again added a layer of depth that is hard to fathom from a game so old yet F1 World Grand Prix achieved it with Scenario mode. The mode was surprisingly never re created until F1 2012 introduced Champions Mode and the recent F1 games offering scenarios via Esports. Even the recently released F1 2019 doesn't have a mode recreating scenarios from 2018, though admittedly it would be a very big ask.
I loved the F1 games on the N64 so much that after renting its sequel F1 World Grand Prix 2 from Choices (RIP) I would compare lap times in my note book from each circuit between the two games. I was obsessed and would write enthusiastically in my school diary about how my weekends were spent playing the game, even drawing an awful recreation of the N64, controller and game. While other more famous N64 games took its place F1 World Grand Prix was for a brief and happy period of my life the thing that inspired me, drove me and made me obsess about the sport I still love today.
While the sequel released developed and improved many aspects of the original game, the way the first iteration of the series captured me is one I will never forget and even now writing this I still feel those same moments of joy and elation winning a race always gave me. While I take off my rose tinted specs and see the game for what it really is, in 1998 I was Michael Schumacher and that was all that mattered to me.