When it comes to racing games you can typically sub-categorize all of the available titles into one of two groups. There are racing games, and racing simulators. For example, most would consider the Need for Speed series racing games. Whereas titles such as Forza Motorsport (Xbox), Gran Turismo (PlayStation), and iRacing (PC) squarely fall into the simulation category. With racing games you can just pick up your Xbox controller and get a great experience. It will be fun and enjoyable, but not very realistic. For those who are into racing simulators a steering wheel and pedals are an absolute necessity. Fortunately there are many offerings for those looking to take their racing experience to the next level, and Thrustmaster, with their Ferrari F1 Integral T500, have a wheel that they hope will give you the most realistic experience you’ll find short of climbing into an actual Formula 1 car. This wheel works on PC and PlayStation 3, but for this review we only tested it with PC racing simulations (iRacing and Formula 1 2012).
Build and Design
As soon as you pull the Ferrari F1 Integral from the very large box that Thrustmaster has packaged it in, you realize that you’re not using a cheap toy. This wheel and its base pack some serious heft. Nothing feels cheaply made. Every aspect of the wheel feels very solid and well built. It’s hard to imagine what it would take to break this wheel, because it feels like it came off the same assembly line as a Sherman tank. Even the table clamp that holds it securely in place on your desk or wheel stand is very solid. The threaded bolt and handle are made of metal, not plastic.
The Ferrari F1 Integral is designed to look like the wheel used in Ferrari’s Formula 1 car. Thrustmaster has done a nice job mimicking the shape, feel, and look right down to all of the switches, buttons, and dials. While some of the switches are purely cosmetic, the wheel offers a vast array of options that can be mapped to whatever function you like. The handles are covered in a rubbery plastic material that feel great to the touch, and they will prevent your hands from sliding off even if they get a little sweaty.
One thing that really tends to separate high-end wheels from their lower and mid-level brethern is their force feedback. Many lower-tier wheels are often loud, have weak feedback, or suffer from a large dead-zone at the middle of the rotation that doesn’t offer any feedback at all. None of these are present in Thrustmaster’s Ferrari F1 Integral. This wheel is very quiet due primarily to it’s dual belt driven design. It also has almost no noticeable dead-zone. The force feedback strength is also completely customizable through the control panel. This allows you to dial in as much, or as little feedback as you prefer.
With the sheer number of available buttons, switches, and dials on the Ferrari F1 Integral it’s hard to imagine ever finding yourself wishing for more. Most of them are placed very closely to where your thumbs naturally fall. The dip switches located across the center-bottom section of the wheel are the only ones that might require you to remove a hand from the handles to reach easily. Many of the buttons are labeled as they would be on a real F1 car, and that can help in choosing how to map them. The button labeled for the pit lane speed limiter is located nicely near the left thumb and even if you go a few days without playing, at least you’ll know what feature is mapped to that button. However, some of the others only make sense in the context of Formula 1. The button labeled “DRS” is intended to activate a F1 car’s Drag Reduction System. That’s great if you’re playing a Formula 1 simulator, but for any other racing simulator you’ll be mapping that to something else as only F1 cars have such a system. With a little bit of use the labels won’t really matter though as you’ll memorize most of them after a few driving sessions.
At first it might seem ridiculous to think you would ever need this many buttons and switches, but when you find yourself engulfed in a race and are able to adjust the brake bias on the fly, without even taking your eyes off the road you quickly realize how handy they are. Another situation where they really come in handy is coming in for a pit stop. Are you nearing the end of the race and only want to take two tires instead of all four? Maybe you want to only put as much fuel in as is necessary to finish the race. I was able to do all of this, while cruising down pit lane (with the previously mentioned pit lane speed limiter engaged) without wasting any precious time tinkering with the settings while stationary in the pit box.
There are two sets of paddle shifters. One set offers very large paddles that are mounted directly to what would be the steering column. They are fixed in position, and don’t rotate with the wheel. They are similar to what you might see on many modern rally cars. There are also smaller paddles that are mounted to the back of the wheel itself. Being mounted in this way places them directly under your index fingers, and they are always available because they rotate with the wheel. I found myself using these paddle shifters the most. Both sets offered a very solid feel, but the smaller paddles also offer a rather unique feature. Thrustmaster calls them Push/Pull shifters. While most paddles only move in one direction (toward the driver) these paddles can be pulled and pushed. For example, typically if you pull the paddle on the right it would upshift the transmission. But if your left hand is busy operating the buttons on the wheel you can push the paddle on the right to perform a downshift. You might not actually use the feature very often, but it was nice to see it included.
Another thing that really sets the Ferrari F1 Integral apart from the competition are the pedals. Most pedals that are available have the pedals mounted to a horizontal base that sits on the floor. These can be used in the same way, but also have the ability to be flipped over. This places them in a more natural position as they are then being suspended from above your feet, just as the pedals in the car in your garage are arranged. This is a really unique feature, and you should definitely check it out to see how it feels. The pedals can also be adjusted in three ways: width, height, and slope. The base for the pedals is made from metal, and much like the wheel, is extremely solid. You’re never going to feel like you’re breaking it when you mash any of the three pedals. Unfortunately, for as well built as the pedals are, they just don’t offer the same experience as other high-end options. The brake pedals offers more resistance than the gas or clutch pedals as you would expect, but it’s a constant resistance. It also comes with a “realistic brake mod” that helps to stiffen the middle pedal even more. Other high-end pedals, such as the Fanatec ClubSports (which I already owned) are built with a load-cell on the brake pedal. This causes the pedal to provide more resistance the farther the pedal is pushed in. This makes the brakes work the way they do in a real car, and it makes it a lot easier to balance the car under braking. The pedals that come with the Ferrari F1 Integral are a lot nicer than those provided with low-end wheels such as the Logitech Driving Force GT, but you may still find yourself longing for a load-cell set before long.
If you’ve been into racing simulations for a long time, and have been considering an upgrade to your equipment you owe it to yourself to check out the Ferrari F1 Integral. The wheel feels great, offers more buttons, switches, and dials than you could hope for, and it never gave me an ounce of trouble. If you’re really into single-seater racing like Formula 1 or IndyCar then the shape of the wheel alone will really add to the immersion of the experience. If you’re more into sports car racing (like me) or oval racing, then the shape of the wheel may not be exactly what you’re looking for. In that case you might want to check out the Thrustmaster TRS500. It’s essentially the same wheel, but with a circle rim. The only other downside to that wheel rim is that it doesn’t offer nearly as many buttons. The lack of buttons on the base TRS500 would probably lead me to stick with the Ferrari F1 Integral though. The only thing really holding this wheel back are the pedals. If you’ve been using a Logitech wheel, or similar low-to-mid-end wheel then the pedals probably won’t bother you at all. It’s hard to justify paying $700 for a new wheel and pedals if the pedals don’t also feel like a giant step forward. That being said, I’ve absolutely loved the time I’ve spent with the Ferrari F1 Integral. It just didn’t take long for me to hook up my ClubSport pedals in-place of the Thrustmasters. Thank you to Thrustmaster for providing the wheel for this review.[amazon_enhanced asin=”B005PPOBVO” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00CP4IKHE” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]