Reassuringly, the 2015 Formula One season has kicked off pretty much how we expected it to: engine-blows have been two-a-penny, Mercedes' dominance still looks more or less total, Hamilton and Rosberg are already engaging in mind-games and so on.

But off the real track there has been a very unexpected turn of events, with Codemasters' announcement that the next instalment of its videogame representation of the sport, F1 2015, will go on sale as early as 12 June.

For decades, F1 fanatics have grown used to having wait until near the end of any given season before being able to emulate their heroes' exploits on their consoles – but, at last, Codemasters seems to have shattered that vicious cycle.

The impetus for that, according to Lee Mather, Principal Game Designer on F1 2015, who we interviewed at a pre-launch taster event, was provided by the generational switch from last-gen consoles to new-gen PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms: "We're quite lucky with this generation, because to make changes to the cars is no problem at all – we can give the cars the characteristics that you see in real life very quickly and effectively."

Which is just as well, since F1 2015 will have some evolution to undergo even after it launches. Codemasters announced that the game will include "bonus content" of all the 2014 cars, drivers and tracks, but the 2015 cars in the game, at launch, will have all the characteristics their real-life counterparts possessed at the first race of the season at Melbourne.

Characteristics which, for many cars, will change radically as the season progresses – the Honda engine in the McLaren cars, for example, is currently thought to be as much a 150bhp down on its true potential, and rumours from the paddock suggest it will be cranked up to 100 per cent at the Spanish Grand Prix on 10 May.

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Characteristics which, for many cars, will change radically as the season progresses – the Honda engine in the McLaren cars, for example, is currently thought to be as much a 150bhp down on its true potential, and rumours from the paddock suggest it will be cranked up to 100 per cent at the Spanish Grand Prix on 10 May.

Mather says such issues can be rectified through updates: "Not instantly – it's always a process. But it's something that's much easier for us to do on this generation of consoles. We can get the 2015 content up to date very, very soon after launch."

He adds that one big factor in that is that, thanks to the extra memory and number-crunching power of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Codemasters no longer has to rip up and reconstitute the artificial intelligence (AI) when the cars' characteristics change: "Because we've got so much more memory available to us, the AI knows everything – absolutely everything. So you can literally go: 'You're Lewis Hamilton', and it will have Lewis Hamilton's driver traits, then say: 'Here's a Mercedes, go and drive it', and it will drive it brilliantly. It means we can make these changes much later in the day and without any negative effects."

We managed to get some limited but illuminating hands-on time with F1 2015 proper too, in a specific scenario which illustrated one of Codemasters' chief claims for the game: that thanks to the consoles' abilities to run a massively uprated new physics engine, the cars' handling is much more true-to-life, and the car feel has improved dramatically.

Bravely, Codemasters rammed that message home by restricting hands-on time to the Singapore track only. Oh, and in the wet. As fans know, Singapore is a fiddly, narrow street-circuit which is only marginally less technical and low-speed than Monaco. Chuck in the rain and it's downright dangerous – but heaps of fun to play.

The very fact we did manage to win a race – albeit driving as Lewis Hamilton in a 2014 Mercedes, and admittedly with the traction-control driver aid turned up – left us in no doubt that Codemasters has indeed elevated F1 2015's car-feel to considerable new heights.

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The cars now feel really planted, even in the rain, and much more eager to communicate information about grip levels. The force-feedback, even via an Xbox One gamepad, felt an order of magnitude more realistic than that of previous iterations of the game – somehow, for example, it was able to replicate the sensation of sticking a wheel onto a low kerb, rather than the random grating of yore.

That improved car feel, and the commensurate greater connection to the amount of virtual grip on offer, will instantly make F1 2015 more accessible to those who aren't over-blessed with in-game driving skills. But there will be plenty more on offer for the hardcore. A new Pro Season mode which replicates race weekends in full, so you can drive full versions of all the practice sessions, qualifying and races, should you so wish. Slightly disappointingly, F1 2015 still won't quite accommodate a full grid of human players online – it's restricted to 16 players, with the final grid slots filled by AI drivers.

There was one other potentially controversial aspect, about which we felt compelled to query: because F1 2015 contains all the 2014 cars, it includes Jules Bianchi, still tragically in a coma after his crash in Japan. Mather says that Codemasters is in consultation with Bianchi's family and his old Marussia team, and will respect their wishes as to whether they want to leave him in the game or not.

As you would expect, F1 2015 is a visual feast: the Singapore track, with its lights and intricately modelled rain effects, showed off next-gen graphics impressively.

We got the merest taste, though, of another of the game's new aspects which Codemasters is claiming as a significant iterative leap: its general presentation, which closely apes that of Sky's coverage. In F1 2015, Anthony Davidson and David Croft introduce each session, and commentate on what occurs, building up a realistic summary of what has occurred in the season in which you're engaged.

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Other touches have been added to make the whole experience more like what you see on TV, such as grids studded with all the kit that you would see in real life. And, at last, there are proper virtual podium celebrations – a change made possible because, instead of playing as yourself, you play as one of the drivers.

Even with a limited amount of play time we had, it is clear to us that F1 2015 makes a big leap over its predecessors, as far as just about every respect of recreating the experience of driving Formula One cars on a console is concerned. But we expected that, thanks to the leap to new-gen consoles. 

What really impresses about the game is the mere fact that it will go on sale four or five months earlier than anyone would expect. If, in recent years, you've found yourself feeling a tad cynical about the prospect of the inevitable annual F1 game, F1 2015 might just rekindle your enthusiasm.

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