"We think that the obvious thing to have done would be a cartoony, Mario Kart type of game," suggests Codemasters' F1 brand manager Paul Waters. "But we actually think there's an appetite not only for Formula One fans, but also for the Wii audience, to have a game that's more authentic and less cartoony."
The Britsoft veteran's acquisition of the F1 licence last year was cause for celebration amongst racing fans for several reasons: Codies' expertise in the driving genre, most recently seen in GRID and DiRT; the resurgent popularity of F1, particularly in the UK; and the prospect of the first non-Sony exclusive F1 game in years.
Which leaves expectations high for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 instalments of F1 2010, currently in progress and due next year. In the meantime, the 2009 season is getting a run out on Wii and PSP, courtesy of Sumo Digital, another UK studio with a glowing reputation behind the wheel stretching back to its sublime 2004 Xbox conversion of OutRun 2.
If the fear is that Codesmasters is simply using the 2009 games as a practice lap for next year's main event, the publisher is determined to demonstrate how seriously it is treating the sport on every platform. Hence the unprompted defence of the Wii version's integrity on a platform that, yes, isn't well known for detailed simulations of anything other than standing on one leg on a plastic tray.
F1 2009, then, as you'd expect, is focused exclusively on the season currently dominated by Jenson Button and the Brawn team. The debate Codemasters is having about double-decker diffusers is instructive. Pre-season, some F1 teams included these in their cars to enhance performance, while others didn't bother, assuming they'd be made illegal. Then the FIA decided they were okay and everyone without them scrabbled around with greasy spanners trying to catch up.
"That will be reflected in the game," says Waters. The team hasn't quite figured out how; but it's just one of the many '09-specific details being fretted over. Car designs and details are being updated down to the wire so the final product is as accurate as is practically realistic. "We're cutting off about now in terms of how the cars look and they perform," says Waters, speaking to us between the Spanish and Monaco GPs.
This is part pursuit of authenticity, and part dealing with the uncompromising, WAG-like demands of a strutting FIA and its teams. Codemasters is far too polite to say it out loud, but it's obvious that getting anything to do with F1 approved is teeth-grinding agony of a magnitude far greater than anything the studio has experienced with its rally games. But that's not to say the F1 teams haven't been helpful.
Codemasters says it's visited every team at least once on research and data-gathering missions, with "cars up on cradles testing engines so we can get audio for them," as Waters puts it. "Their engines pretty much break our audio equipment every time. It's just so, so noisy."
In-game, all this is reflected in a vast and comprehensive set of options to fiddle with. If you care about such things as front anti-roll and spring strength, there are status bars for you to adjust to your heart's content. If your appreciation of mechanical engineering extends no further than "Ooh, that's a pretty car!", then you can happily ignore all of this and race with presets.
To bridge the gap between ignorance and expertise, we're told your pit crew will explain in real terms the difference any fiddles and tweaks actually make. Which, if handled correctly, could offer valuable insight to the less tech-savvy F1 addict.
This also has a wider impact on presentation. "One of the things we want to move away from is this TV approach to F1," explains Waters. "We want to take the drivers' approach. For example, when you're driving along, instead of hearing commentary like you would on TV, the main information you get about the race is from your race engineer. We've had a number of the real F1 race engineers who put their hand up and said, yeah, we'd like to be involved in that."
The easiest way to look at the game is that F1 is there in as much or as little detail as you care for. You can choose tyre types, and change your fuel stop strategy, for instance. "If you qualify at the back of the grid, you might want to go heavy on fuel, only do a two-stop strategy," says Waters. "We'll have all of that in-game."
Or simply let the game take care of that for you. There are 15 driving aids, each of which can be manually applied, from a racing line indicator, to vehicle damage. And this being the Wii, concessions are of course being made to the yoga hardcore.
There's a Fair Race Skill Balancing system - essentially the team's take on rubber band racing. "We like the idea of father and son playing together as team mates trying to win the championship together." Together, since on Wii you can race split-screen not just head-to-head, but in full-season co-op. Meanwhile, the PSP version will support four players via ad hoc.
And despite the conscious avoidance of TV-style presentation, Codemasters wants to capture "the full drama of the race weekend". Which means in practice that you can take part in all the testing, practice sessions and main event of a full racing weekend from Thursday to Sunday. Can't be bothered? Then skip straight to the Sunday GP, but if you dodge qualifying, you can't get into the top six on the grid.
One of the strangest additions to this season's F1, to the wizened gamer at least, is KERS - Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems. Strange largely because, in a fabulous case of life imitating art, it's basically the videogame nitro boost made real. That's going into F1 2009, although Codemasters is still figuring out how to reflect the disparity between teams existing from the season opener in Melbourne.
And if the F1 chiefs had only consulted Eurogamer sooner, we could have told them that night racing - introduced in Singapore - looks awesome on a telly.
"All the tracks, all the cars, all the stars," is the team's mantra. And you can race as any one of this year's crop of drivers, or create your own racer (limited to name, nationality and a choice of helmet). Outside the main F1 season, Challenge mode serves up 170 different tasks (10 per track), from "boss encounters" and fast laps, to scenarios and elimination races.
On Wii, all the standard control options are supported, including the Wii Wheel, Classic Controller, nunchuk, d-pad and Logitech steering wheel.
If all this detail is moistening your racing leathers, you're probably wondering how it plays. Well, we got a brief go on Monza which, while far from conclusive, was enough to form early impressions. First, it's fast. Very fast. Good, since this isn't Formula Sinclair C5.
With that in mind, on-screen indicators aren't massively helpful in their current guise, with corner arrows appearing too late to be of use, and the track segment visible in the map could do with zooming out so you can see further ahead. But plenty of time to change those.
Switching between driving aids makes a huge difference. With everything on, the main thing you need to worry about is braking for tight turns; with everything off we pretty much spun out at every turn, pirouetting aimlessly with the grace of a You've Been Framed clip. That's because we were rubbish, obviously, but does suggest encouragingly that's there's a steep learning curve for the hardcore to master.
The biggest letdown's the visuals. For all its speed, this is not a pretty game, resembling an average PS2 title at best. Switching to the in-cockpit view makes matters worse, with a stark lack of detail present on the dashboard and your driver's arms. And the game does struggle to keep up with the breakneck pace at times, the frame-rate stuttering here and there with or without other cars on the track. We didn't get to see that game running on PSP, but would assume that the smaller screen is a more flattering stage.
The team has to be commended for cramming in so much detail. We're not in a position to judge whether this translates into a deep driving model, but for now we're willing to give Sumo the benefit of the doubt based on past performance.
Assuming hours spent elbow-deep up an exhaust pipe actually makes a difference, it's a shame there are no online leaderboards included, which would have been the ideal way to parade your technical genius and krazy racing skillz.
All of which brings us back to where we started. F1 2009 is by definition a practice lap for next season's big beast while Codemasters feels its way into the licence. How high up on the grid it finishes we'll find out in a few months.
F1 2009 is coming to Wii and PSP in the autumn.