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I haven’t posted an interview in a long time, but decided it was time to jump back on the wagon. I like to highlight people from the industry that we don’t often hear about, but are hugely responsible for what we enjoy.

David Greco has been an integral part of the Codemasters Formula One franchise for almost nine years and gradually fine-tuned the driving feel of the games to give users a believable yet rookie-friendly feel. After putting in some final work on F1 23 he has now moved on to new pastures for an as-yet unannounced startup. Let’s meet him…

David, thank you so much for doing this. Let’s start by you telling us more about your home and family, then perhaps what led you to have an interest in racing?

I come from a very humble family in a town called Civitavecchia, in the Lazio region of Italy. My father was a carpenter and worked hard since he was a child because his father passed away at a young age, leaving his mother, brothers and sisters alone. My mother was also in a difficult situation that would take too long to explain, but since I was born she chose with my father to stay home and take care of me, and eventually my younger brother. Thankfully my father managed to get an office job at the ministry of foreign affairs and in a few years he progressed and got sent to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to work at the consulate.

We moved to Sao Paulo as a family in 1996 when I was 10 years old and my brother six. My parents did everything to make us feel positive and rented a flat very close to the school, which was bilingual and had double certificates for the Brazilian and Italian government.

My father always gifted me model cars, RC cars, and a special gift was a ride-on Ferrari F1 car that I would use to drift inside our house at the expense of my mom’s heart and mind. 🙂 I learned after a few months that the legendary Ayrton Senna was buried less than a kilometre from our flat. I would go pay my respects, often before any karting weekend.

What led you to get into sim racing as a hobby?

I started karting in Brazil in 1998, but I was into racing and gaming since long before thanks to my father, who was very passionate about computers, consoles and racing – mainly Ferrari and Gilles Villeneuve (my hero as well). I was probably about four years old when I started “sim racing” with Grand Prix Circuit, and I remember I was already faster than my father on one track, the beautiful old layout of Hockenheim. We were lucky to have a PC and Commodore 64, Amiga 500 and 600. I am now trying to lead my daughter while giving her freedom to choose, and often, she chooses cars, so there is hope. 🙂

I have never lost my passion for sim racing since those early years, but never really did anything competitive against other people until later in life.

Your real-world racing career looks to have been limited by finances once you graduated from Karting. Did sim racing fill that need for you?

Mainly limited by finances, yes. I will never know if I was really good on talent alone to make it all the way. Sadly, this is the way motorsports goes; I have met so many drivers with immense talent and even less finances than me.

Sim racing was a good way to keep that hope alive. I really used it to practice for real racing if, somehow, I would ever have got a shot at it again, but sim racing cannot fill that need completely or give you the rush you get from real racing. Surely now is better and more realistic than ever, but it will never be close enough.

You worked on vehicle dynamics with Ignite GT three years and then Codemasters for almost nine. How were you hired for that role? Did you need any specific qualifications or experience?

I was winning most of the competitions at SimRaceway and the company decided to invite me to their studio, I believe in 2009. From there, thanks also to the help from rFactor Central contacts, I convinced them to give me a role making setups for their cars/events. Thanks to my experience in real racing, where I learned a lot about vehicle dynamics, they saw I have very good understanding and gave me the role of handling designer. I remember the SRW CEO often still asking me if I had done the setup for whatever new car they had licensed and I had to explain to him that it wasn’t just a simple setup anymore. 🙂

Did that lead directly to the Codemasters hiring?

Yes. At the time the creative director Stephen Hood, aided by Lee Mather (now the Senior Creative Director of the F1 franchise) were testing the SRW simulator and particularly liked the way the handling on the F1 cars was modeled, and at first tried to contact my colleague and friend Marco Conti (now my boss 🙂), but he had already signed for Playground to work on Forza Horizon 2. This then led to me being contacted by Stephen directly. A couple of months and interviews later I was given the job, but more importantly started a friendship with both Steve and Lee that lasts ’til today.

What exactly does a person do, apart from a ton of driving, when fine tuning handling in the way you have?

I can only tell you the way I always worked with both companies because I am not sure how other companies do it, but I always worked very closely with Physics programmers. I don’t know much about programming, but I know a lot about physics and vehicle dynamics, plus I also know how to drive real racing cars – well at least I hope I do!

I would often design the physics feature needed, say for example the roll center, the migration of it, the impact it has on the handling, what then impacts the roll center, and where and how to calculate it. All this, and for any feature like this, is research and study, whether it is from video or a book like Race Car Vehicle Dynamics that I used a lot in my career.

After this step of design I would then work side by side with the Physics programmers to make sure it was coded in the right way, then I would test it, and iterate as often as needed until it felt as it should with every effect corresponding to what it should actually do. Only after that would I fine tune the feature.

Once every physics feature was in-place I would then make as many passes as needed on whatever car I was developing until I reached a good feel. I always try to use as much real data as possible for the handling, but many times it’s not possible, and so, a lot of research goes into it and a lot of time is spent on study of onboard video.

I’ve always felt the F1 titles did a decent job for believable physics while retaining accessibility for users of varying skill levels. Was there a constant consideration for rookie gamers and sim racers in the work you did?

The most important aspect of the F1 titles has always been the accessibility but also the authenticity of the F1 cars, and to be honest this is by far the most difficult job I have ever had, especially when the development cycle is very short, as is the case of any annual release game. As a former esport/sim racer myself, I wanted to give as much realism as possible for the hardcore community, while keeping it as accessible as possible to everyone. Sometimes I got it mostly right, sometimes less so.

I felt gradual improvement in physics year on year from the F1 titles, especially since F1 2016, but 2022 saw major changes in car handling because of regulation changes in Formula One and for many, including the real-world drivers, these new cars were a lot less fun to drive. You worked hard to explain these changes in a series of YouTube videos. Do you feel you got things right? What were the challenges in developing an “untested” and unknown car?

This is probably the year I got it less right to be honest. There are things in the tire model, throttle model and aero model especially that did not turn out to be good enough for these ground effect cars. Having had very little time to develop these cars, we couldn’t improve the physics engine in all these areas in time, but at least we could implement a good foundation for the future titles. No one knew anything about these cars and I’d like to thank EA for giving me all the tools, including sending me to winter testing, to make my work as close as possible in the time we had.

I can’t say very much about F1 23, but I can say I mainly worked with the physics programmer to fix all the issues we had in F1 22 and therefore feel like I have left the company with a very strong platform to develop future handling.

Which F1 product was your favorite?

On an emotional level, 2015, because it was my first and the game was 100% focused on the handling and track experience. It was fundamentally very important to make it as fun as possible, while improving everything we could from the previous titles.

Did you work on any other Codemasters titles?

Yes, but not on vehicle dynamics. I did the voice of the Italian and Brazilian-Portuguese co-driver/navigator in the first Dirt Rally.

I was sad to see the historic cars dropped from the F1 franchise, did you get to work on those?

I was sad as well, because I enjoyed working on them and I would have loved to improve them with better physics features.

The Ferrari F2004 in F1 2020 might be my favorite car in a Codemasters product, but I’d say my favorite historic sim is still Grand Prix Legends. Excluding sims you’ve worked on, which had the biggest impact on you and what was special about it?

The Grand Prix series by Geoff Crammond, Grand Prix Legends, rFactor, rFactor 2, they all have had a big impact for me. They all were ahead of their time, and that is what was special about them.

Every title you mentioned was truly groundbreaking in one way or another. What do you think is missing from sim racing today?

A clear vision and some organization of ideas to best move the genre forward. But, honestly, I don’t think it could be any different to how things are now; Everyone looks for their own interests and makes the most out of it. Maybe we sim racers should appreciate each sim more and enjoy pure old fashioned racing, without putting each simulation at a competition with each other. Maybe this way developers would listen more to us and each one improve in the respective weaker areas. There is no perfect simulation or league, but we could help to improve all of them and have a better community as well.

Again, I agree. I don’t like the tribalism we see and always felt that sim racing would move forwards faster if feedback could be more constructive and perhaps looked towards a specific goal rather than taking the form of “this sucks, I’m going to go play this instead”. This sort of feedback makes it impossible to learn what problems affect the user if you never experience it yourself.

You recently left Codemasters to work for an “unannounced startup” – are you able to give any more details on what you’ll be doing?

I can’t say anything about it, but my job is still related to vehicle dynamics.

Edit: David has subsequently announced a role as Principal Vehicle Dynamics Designer at Lighthouse Games, a studio formed by Gavin Raeburn, former co-founder of Playground Games. The studio has announced it is working on a new AAA intellectual property.

With that, David Greco ends his time (for now, at least) with Codemasters and Electronic Arts. Having felt the physics in the Formula One titles significantly improve with F1 2016 onwards, without knowing who might be responsible, I’ve no doubt that David moved the titles in the right direction and made a positive impact on the genre.

What’s sad, at least for me, is that within the past year or so almost all the F1 franchise titles have been pulled from stores where only F1 2021 and F1 22 remain at the time of writing. An entire body of work is almost hidden away.

As we anticipate the upcoming release of F1 23 it’s important to look back on where it came from, because as time goes by no doubt we won’t be able to see it anymore. Perhaps it’s fitting, therefore, to count David’s father – who worked to support a family from a young age and gave him the opportunities and interest in cars that helped him navigate life – among all the other developers who made a soon-unseen difference.

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