I played only three games: F1 Challenge ’99-’02, F1 2010 and F1 2011 (5 if we count F1 2002 and F1 2009 which I only played for a matter of minutes). I’ll start with:
F1 Challenge ’99-’02
I enjoyed that game: the graphics were quite realistic and the features were many. You could drive the car in the pit lane; you could jump the start; you could lose a wheel and continue; you had all the sessions of a Grand Prix, a grid walkthrough, mechanical failures, aggressive AIs (if you had a certain difficulty level – admittedly, when you were alongside, they dived out of your way), AIs crashing, tyres wore out, fuel decreased, your speed increased as your fuel reduced and your traction decreased as your tyres wore out.
The weather was consistent throughout the sessions (if it rained in FP1, FP2 was wet) and you could drive on a wet track with the sun.
You could choose any race length from 5% to 100%, and any number of opponents.
You could activate/deactivate settings and assists in-game, replays were saved automatically and you could capture screenshots.
You had your engineer talking to you rather than a TV commentator, definitively a step forward in my opinion, although I often dreamt of having Ivan Capelli (who now is a commentator in Italy) as my engineer, to have a familiar voice.
You could also swap to an AI view, during the race or in a replay, and see what he did.
There were (on the PC version) further enhancements which were deactivated by default, and that you could turn on not from the game menus but from the player files, which included:
Out-lap before a race to join the grid;
In-lap after a race to return to the pits;
Timer at the end of the race if it exceeds the two hours;
Your own car seen in the mirrors;
LCD options which gave engine/brake temperatures;
Increasing/decreasing the probability of seeing a lightning in the rain;
Smoke/rainspray/fire flowing over the cars;
On board camera slightly rotating when turning;
Up/down views as well as left/right;
Allow all cameras everywhere;
Increase/decrease time after which a stationary vehicle/debris is removed.
Once, I had a bug for which all the engineer audio files were repeated in succession: I discovered the original plans had more precise damage factors, more types of mechanical failures, and generally more specific information regarding your own car or others’.
In a few words, this game could have been awesome, but I guess these extra functions were abandoned due to the limited performances the computers managed at those times.
I also played many mod[ification]s of the game: seasons 1978-2010, GP2 seasons 2005, 2008-2010… The graphics showed clear improvement, with HD liveries, tyres and helmets, and updated OSD and HUD (which I made by myself). There were amazing groups which modded the game and created incredibly realistic cars (some better than others) and especially the RH team which developed new menus (used in almost all later mods). I modified the game myself, updating the liveries and helmets, the menu icons and backgrounds, the loading screens, the track sponsors and textures, the driver/pit crew suits, the reflexes, the HUD as I already said, and so on. These mods, I believe, really gave an exact picture of the awesomeness of the game which, in 2003, was hard to express fully.
There is in particular a 2010 mod which uses the cars from F1 2010 (Codemasters) and HD helmets (both design and actual shape – Arai, Bell and Schuberth) which is just amazing.
The more I think about it, the more I prefer this game to F1 2010/2011, which, 7 years later, didn’t really show enough of an improvement.