F1 24: Lee Mather On Developing An 'Interesting And Exciting' Game With Max Verstappen

Exclusive: Alex Harrington interviews creative director Lee Mather on F1 24.

Not only can fans of Formula 1 look forward to the iconic Monaco Grand Prix this coming weekend, but it will also soon be time for the latest F1 game to be released. F1 24 is hitting the market on 28 May, and it promises to be the greatest yet from the series. Coming from Codemasters, a software company that sits under the EA umbrella, creative director Lee Mather and his team have been hard at work to create an even more realistic and improved gaming experience that builds on the title's past success.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Lee to discuss what such a project entails. He was kind enough to give me details on the behind-the-scenes of developing the game alongside the likes of Max Verstappen and other drivers both real life and sim, and what it takes for him and his team to keep up with the challenges of releasing an annual game that continues to innovate.

A huge thank you to Lee for his time. If you want to pre-order F1 24, check out EA.com.

Alex Harrington: Can you talk me through the challenges you face having to bring a new game to the market each year while keeping it innovative and new for the players?

Lee Mather: Yeah. So if you look back in 2019, we decided to split the team so that we'd have a better chance of delivering a bigger title annually, because it's challenging to create a title of the scale of F1 annually. There's a huge amount of work that goes into just creating the official season, the drivers, the cars, the tracks. And as you say, we want to keep it fresh and interesting and exciting every year.

So if you look back to '19, when we split the team, that was the year when we brought in the introduction to F2 with a little bit of story, which built into '21 where we did Full Braking Point - '23 had Braking Point '20, had My Team, you know, '24, now we've got the new Driver Career and that's possible because we split the team to give ourselves more of a chance to get a head start.

So we have the bulk of the team working on the game that's about to be released. And then we have a smaller team working ahead, on the next title. So the challenges are something that we've learned to work around really effectively by structuring the team in that way. And that allows us to deliver the scale of title that we do annually with the scale of the updates and the game modes that we actually add.

Alex Harrington: The 2023 season gave you a lot to work on. It gave you the new track in Las Vegas, and this year you've done a lot of updates on tracks - is there a reliance on F1 bringing you something different

Lee Mather: I think it helps. I mean, it certainly helps when there's something significant going on in the world of Formula 1, but we can't rely on that. So we obviously set out to create a feature set that we believe is going to be compelling, whether there's new tracks, new drivers, new teams, driver moves. Any of those things. So we always set out to create a feature set that we know is still going to be compelling. And we see that as sort of like the icing on the cake, almost when you get a new circuit or a significant driver move.

Alex Harrington: The game's coming out 28th of May. Talk me through the pressures that you're feeling right now from not just releasing the game itself, but also making sure the game reflects the current performance of teams and drivers.

Lee Mather: Yeah, so it's something that we've put a process in place several years ago to handle this. Because by and large, we can generally get a good read of where the teams are going to sit at the start of the season. And the last few years have been very consistent, but then occasionally you get one seriously wrong and you need to readjust and that requires a significant amount of work. It requires a lot of driver training for the AI to be able to drive those cars differently in previous years. It's a bit of a turnaround now.

McLaren are obviously looking incredibly strong, but a few years ago, we had McLaren performing way better than they actually were that particular year. And we had to make updates that came out post-launch to resolve that. But we always try and run up to the last possible opportunity to take full advantage of how much of the season we can see.

We'll speak to experts in the field. So we'll speak to a lot of the pundits who will have an idea of what's likely to happen. But ultimately, until we've seen that first race weekend, you've got no idea where the cars are going to sit. I mean, this year, obviously Red Bull is still at the top, but Ferrari and McLaren have significantly closed the gap.

And I think by the end of the season, I think they're all going to be competing for wins.

Alex Harrington: How does the game physics compare to real life? Can you tell me about driver feedback you've had? And do you need to adjust the driving physics so mere mortals can play the game?

Lee Mather: So we have a philosophy around the handling model, which is 'the closer it is to reality in the majority of ways, within reason, makes it more approachable'. Because if you have an understanding of how a car is going to behave, that makes it easier to drive and more approachable and that's ultimately what Formula 1 drivers want.

They need a quick car, but a predictable car. They need to know exactly what that car is going to do to any given input. So we build a model, which reflects that as effectively as we can in the game. We also take on a lot of feedback from the drivers, the majority of which is incredibly relevant to making it not only more authentic but also a more approachable experience.

I wouldn't use the term accessible because driving a car is always going to be challenging for somebody who's maybe never driven a car, but we do put a suite of things in place to allow anybody of any skill level to be able to play the game. So for a player, who's never even driven a Formula 1 car, we have all of the anti-lock brakes, traction control.

We also have steering assists. We have the dynamic racing line. We automatically control the energy recovery or the, the drag reduction system. And then for players who do have a better understanding of driving a car, they can scale those back. So we take a lot of feedback from the drivers and process it in a way that is relatable to the players.

So for example, in recent years, something that we've heard from several of the drivers has been traction isn't good enough in-game and that a Formula 1 car's traction is way more impressive than anybody could possibly imagine out of a corner and that it's very rare they ever break traction out of a corner, unless it's a particularly slow corner.

Or they're being overly aggressive or the tires are worn or cold. So traction is an area that we've really focused on, which kind of comes a lot from not only the changes we've made to the tire model, but also the suspension kinematics and the changes in weight, the center of mass location. So now the weight transfer to the rear.

The fact that the suspension can cope with anti-dive and anti-squat, you know, it allows for the anti-squat, for the contact patch of the tire to be more effective. So all of those things, very, very real world, very simulation, but they actually feed into having a car that's more approachable.

Alex Harrington: How open do you find the drivers and teams are on giving you feedback? And in your opinion, who has been the driver who's been the most helpful?

Lee Mather: So we've had lots of anecdotal information from drivers over the years. It's normally when we're doing something like they'll be doing a hotlap for us and we get the opportunity to sit and chat. I did have the opportunity last year to spend an evening with Max Verstappen where it was really just a chance to, because he's obviously one of our ambassadors and he's the cover star of the Deluxe.

So I was really lucky to get an evening where I was able to take down a very early version of '24 and some future changes that we're considering for the physics and get his feedback on the direction that we were going, which is massively valuable.

What are the other areas that we've had great value as well? In fact, there's two, one has been the Esports drivers. Because they give really good insight as well. So do a large number of our community as well. We have a lot of people who race in leagues. They give really great insight, but the engineers on some of the teams as well, they've been fantastic.

They've they won't share their data with us, but what they will do is they will look at our data, compare it to their data and tell us where there are areas where we might need to make some changes or where there are some discrepancies and that's been incredibly valuable.

Alex Harrington: What is Max Verstappen like to work with on this kind of stuff?

Lee Mather: So I've been lucky enough to work with Max on several occasions. And I remember back in 2016, he was a very different character to what he is today. Today, he's the complete package - a fully-fledged Formula 1 driver. He's massively successful, but he is unique in that he's also an incredibly successful sim racer, and he's still very, very active in sim racing.

And that's such a unique talent to be in both of those camps, equally as passionate about both of those fields, and then to be able to relay that feedback to us in a way that's relatable and understandable because he understands the physics beneath a lot of these racing titles and he understands what we're trying to achieve and what's relevant to the game we make.

Alex Harrington: Would you rather reach out to drivers who do have that overlap of the two worlds?

Lee Mather: No, to be honest, I think any feedback is valuable feedback because there's only 20 drivers on a Formula 1 grid at any one time. And obviously, there's the reserve drivers and so on and so forth, but active 20 Formula 1 drivers, 20 drivers. That's a small number of people who have the experience of a modern-day Formula 1 car in a race situation.

Alex Harrington: Can you talk me through what a session with a driver testing the game looks like?

Lee Mather: It kind of depends very much on where we are in the development cycle. So it could be recently, you know, where Lando played F1 '24. And through that, he's obviously giving constant feedback, but also while we filmed the piece, he's giving feedback to the people doing the filming. So that's very much a big part of it. These are the areas that you could maybe look to refine a little before launch.

Because that's quite towards the end of the development process. What Max saw in '24 was very early in the process. So there were several things that I would highlight to him were obviously incorrect, and he would be able to sort of relate that to as welll: 'Yes, I agree completely. I see where you're coming from, yes I understand those problems'.

And he would focus on the areas that we've been working on and give feedback very specifically on those areas. I wouldn't say it's the most formal of processes. It's really conversational, which is really nice because it gets across what they're experiencing there and then live.

And also it gives me the opportunity to talk about why things are as they are, because there's always a reason at that given time, as I say, you know, it could be that we're very early in development, we're experimenting with things and it just helps with that direction.

Alex Harrington: This is dream job territory, right?

Lee Mather: Mixing your worlds with these incredible drivers... Oh yeah, a hundred percent. I mean, I've been a Formula 1 fan my entire life. So yeah, it does very much feel like living the dream.

I got back from Miami at the end of last week after spending the weekend at the Miami Grand Prix. And that was phenomenal. Got to meet some great people, have some really good conversations. And again, that's things that we'll carry forward with us with the game.

Alex Harrington: How deep do you want to go with the game? What does the perfect F1 game look like to you?

Lee Mather: Ooh, so that's a good question. I think the perfect F1 game is a very difficult one because there are different audiences, there's different people coming in through different routes these days. And that's something that obviously we're really interested to continue to pursue and to do more things with.

So if you consider now that there's people coming in who've watched Drive to Survive, there's people who are fans of the drivers through their socials, there's traditional Formula 1 fans like myself, who've maybe grown up with the sport because maybe a parent or something. Or a friend was into the sport and they introduced me to it.

So we try and offer a game that offers a broad spectrum of experiences for players. So for somebody who just wants to be able to drive the coolest cars on the coolest tracks and be a Formula 1 driver, you can have that experience, or you can go into the intricacies of being a Formula 1 driver for a team in Driver Career, or even create and run your own team in My Team. And then not to take away from any of the online experiences as well, where you can go on and race more casually, or you can go on and do divisional play or even race in leagues.

So I think we cover a lot of bases already. If I knew what the perfect Formula 1 game was, I would be a very successful individual, but I think we do a great job of covering a lot of bases and covering many different player types and people who've come in with different directions into the sport.

Alex Harrington: You mentioned Drive to Survive. It's had a huge impact on F1. Have you been inspired at all by Drive to Survive?

Lee Mather: There's certainly been a lot of touch points where we relate to Drive to Survive. And it's certainly been part of the overall journey that we've been on with the game as well, which is that there's a new audience out there, there's a younger audience out there, and Drive to Survive certainly helped to attract a different and a younger audience as well.

And we found that we actually started with Braking Point before Drive to Survive became the big success it was. So we were already taking the game in that direction. And then obviously you'll, if you've played Braking Point: Part 1, you'll certainly know that there's a few scenes in there that are inspired very much by real-world events that would have come to light through the series as well.

So it's certainly something that we felt like it was very well aligned with a lot of the things we were trying to achieve with the game.

Alex Harrington: Staying on the game development for now. Are you limited by the system the game is being developed for? Is this something you're currently battling against?

Lee Mather: It depends on which way you're looking at it. So in terms of the systems that we currently ship on, obviously we ship on Xbox Series, Xbox One. We ship on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.

But also because on PC, there's a huge wealth, a whole huge breadth of configurations that people could run. We've got a very scalable engine. So that means that anybody who's playing on any of the platforms that we support, will get a really good experience. That's really important to us that we have that breadth to be able to run on a relatively low-spec PC all the way up to the latest and the greatest.

Alex Harrington: I want to talk about the workload. The F1 calendar is record-breakingly long. Has this changed your team's workload at all? And are you feeling a similar fatigue to the drivers currently?

Lee Mather: No, not all. Like I said, we made a big conscious decision in 2019 to restructure the team because it would be very easy on an annual franchise to have fatigue. And again, it depends on the scale of the team and the makeup of the team. And again, the type of title that you're creating and the type of feature set that you're supporting.

Obviously we have a large amount of the sport that we recreate, but we restructured the team in 2019 to actually avoid that, that level of fatigue and it keeps the team feeling fresh and energized. Myself, it's, I mean, I've been working on the game since 2010 and my enthusiasm and energy for it has never changed. It's, it's grown, if anything.

Alex Harrington: Do you have any tips for new players?

Lee Mather: I always say the best way to get a grip on the new game is to go in and just do a few laps in Time Trial, just get an understanding of which assists you might find you need, if any, and then go and do a Grand Prix, get a feel for the performance of the AI.

Decide what sort of level of AI you want to go in at, what sort of experience you're looking for, because if the next thing you do is going to be Driver Career or My Team, and you want an AI level, that's actually realistic - so if you're driving a midfield team, you're finishing midfield - you know, or a team at the back and you want to finish to the rear and work your way to the front... do a few races in Grand Prix, Get a feel for the level of AI that you might want to race against, and then take that jump into either sort of My Tea or Driver Carrer.

But of course, I'm sure there's a bunch of very experienced players out there as well who will get straight into online and want to race with real people online, and I think that's going to be really interesting to see how that new dynamic plays out with the way the handling's changed, but also the impact that the ERS changes will have as well on that racing.

Alex Harrington: You must be so proud of the community you've built around this game?

Lee Mather: Yeah, it's great to see. And the nice thing is it's a really, again, a broad audience these days. I think when we started out, it was very much a core of you would say relatively hardcore racing game players, but now we've got a real breadth of different style of play, different levels of skill, different levels of play.

And that is really good to see, because that's something we've wanted to achieve for a long time, is allow anybody who wants to play a Formula 1 game to be able to play a game at a level that's comfortable for them.

Alex Harrington: From the guy behind the game, what does your sim setup look like? And what tips do you have for someone looking to start their own build?

Lee Mather: So mine's incredibly modest. I don't live in a particularly large house, so I need something that I can fold up and store away. So I won't name any brands, but I've got a very flexible setup, which has got a seat and a built-in stand for a wheel.

And it folds up conveniently so I can store it under the stairs when I need to have my lounge back. I've got a couple of different wheels that I use. One's a specific one for PlayStation, one specific for Xbox and PC. And I do have a Formula 1 rim, which I use when I'm playing the F1 games. And I think something that we've seen over the years, we actually had threads on this on our socials for a while was people showing us their rigs and we've seen some really inventive ones.

I mean, for years, I used to play with my wheel attached to a coffee table and a bean chair, and it was fine. But you know, now I've got something a little bit more solid because the wheels are a lot stronger than they used to be, but we've seen people using ironing boards, for example, to mount the wheel too.

So get creative and find a way to do it. But ultimately now, since we've started with the F1 series as well, the breadth of wheels and devices that are available to players has grown significantly as well. Now when we first started out a belt-driven or a gear-driven force feedback wheel was the pinnacle. And now you've got direct-drive racing wheels that are very accessible to people. And entry-level steering wheels that give people that first opportunity to play a game with a wheel.

Alex Harrington: I suppose in that case, the question is, do people need to spend a lot of money to build a rig that they're going to enjoy?

Lee Mather: Not at all. No, no, I think just using a wheel, it instantly elevates the experience of any racing game, in my opinion. I enjoy using a wheel. But for me, I always at... When I buy an expensive controller and people say, 'well, why are you spending that much money on a controller?' It's like, the amount of hours that's going to spend in my hand, I'm going to get every penny's worth of value out of that device.

And I'm going to want something that's comfortable and effective and helps me. Even if it's just a placebo effect that I think I'm going to be a little bit better at the game. I think it's a benefit. And I think it's the same with wheels and pedals. If you're a person who plays racing games, then invest in the hardware that gives you the best experience.

Alex Harrington


Alex is the editor-in-chief of F1 editorial. He fell in love with F1 at the young age of 7 after hearing the scream of naturally aspirated V10s echo through his grandparents' lounge. That year he watched as Michael Schumacher took home his fifth championship win with Ferrari, and has been unable to look away since.