Golden Lap Is A New F1 Game Driven By Vibes, Not Petrol

Golden Lap Is A New F1 Game Driven By Vibes, Not Petrol

As the last few laps of Circuit de Casino loomed, one of my drivers complained that his focus was waning and that he was about to put in a terrible lap. I told him to gun the engine of his LaBrahn and “push push,” a civil stand-in for “Get a f**kin’ wriggle on.” He did, finding another four-tenths of a second in lap time, barely holding onto his hard-won third place against a pair of screaming Chapmans desperate to get by him. By the time he crossed the line, his engine was ready to blow, and his tyres were worn down to nubs from the effort of trying to keep them both behind, but he kept his podium. His teammate trailed home to take 6th, still in the points.

I didn’t actually see any of this on-track drama take place, of course, because Golden Lap doesn’t go into that kind of detail. Rather, it gives you everything you need to imagine the drama and high emotions of an exciting race weekend in your mind’s eye.

Golden Lap is an upcoming racing management sim by Art of rally studio Funselektor and Strelka Games. Unlike the more modern F1 Manager games, Golden Lap harkens back to a much less complex period in Formula One, the 1970s. The cars are barely controllable rockets on wheels, the drivers a grid of fearless daredevils and party animals. Driver safety wasn’t yet the concern it is today, nor did the cars have the kind of technology or telemetry they have now. In 2024, the drivers have almost complete control over every aspect of their car, from brake bias to rear wing deployment in DRS zones. Almost none of those systems existed in the 70s. The cars only had two modes: Fast, or Crashed.

Golden Lap attempts to capture the simplicity of the age by offering a vastly less complex race management simulation than F1 Manager or Sega’s older, well-loved Motorsport Manager. Each race weekend comprises three sessions — practice, qualifying and the race itself. Practice allows you to send your two drivers out to put in fast laps before bringing them back in and using a star-based system to optimise their car’s setup. Getting this right allows them to find those precious extra thousands, hundredths, and tenths of a second in laptime. Qualifying sets your position for the race, and if you’ve dialled your setup during practice, you’ll want to aim for as high up the grid as you can get over a single, blindingly fast lap. Finally, the race, a long run of up to 40-50 laps that must be carefully managed to ensure the best possible finishing places.

golden lap
Image: Funselektor

The controls for managing your race are incredibly straightforward. You can tell your driver to aggressively, neutrally, or passively. You can also select which engine mode you’d like them to use — gun it, neutral, or back off. These controls can be used in combination depending on what the situation calls for. Off the race start, you can tell your drivers to turn the engine up and get aggressive. Once they’ve made it seven or eight laps into the race and a rhythm is beginning to form, you can tell them to settle down a bit. You can tell them to drive aggressively but hold their pace steady if you need them to defend from a driver behind them, or you can tell them to back off if their tyres or fuel need to be conserved. Upgrades are purchased between races with the money you make from competing. The higher you place, the more you’ll earn, and the more you can tip back into your team.

Your view of the race track is that of the pit wall. You’ve got a map of the track, and an array of coloured dots move around it, displaying where each car is. Cars are numbered by their position in the race, but your two drivers are always highlighted so you can find them easily. On the left is your timing screen, showing the current lap times across the field and the time gaps between them.

Understanding that games like this often possess all the riveting energy of reading a spreadsheet, Funselektor has leaned into a beautiful, retro art style that perfectly evokes the era and the carefree attitude of the sport at the time. For a game about watching dots go around a track outline, Golden Lap is remarkably beautiful to look at.

Every part of the demo seeks to bring minimalist expression to a famously complex, maximalist genre. Sports management sims are stressful experiences by design, but Golden Lap, somehow, remakes it as a chill, vibes-driven experience that can still deliver drama when the stars align. It makes the very wise move of letting you fill in a lot of the gaps with your imagination. I don’t know anything about my driver’s personalities beyond the things they’re good at and for which I hired them. Their on-track performance tells me a lot about who they are, though. I can clearly imagine how they are reacting to certain events or strategies at any given time. Over time, a story begins to form, one you’ve invented yourself that exists only in your head, making each race all the more enjoyable.

Golden Lap is already a special game, and I can feel that coming through the demo. If you are a fellow F1 enjoyed like myself, or you just like a good management sim, this is a Steam Next Fest demo well worth checking out.

Preview conducted on PC with pre-release demo code provided by the developers.

Image: Funselektor

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