For as long as I can remember I have loved simulation gaming. All the way from the PlayStation 1’s Colin McCrae Rally I have arrived here today with Project Cars, Formula 1, and many more simulators. Heck, I was so enamoured with the original rFactor I wrote a treatise about it. To fully appreciate the advancement that gaming has made over time, especially racing sims, you need to be immersed in it. And in order for you to become immersed, you need to right gear. Fortunately, I have recently been privileged enough to get my hands on Fanatec gear.
Endor, the company under which the Fanatec brand is sold, is headquartered in Landshut/Bavaria and was founded in 1997 by Thomas Jackermeier. Through his own gaming exploits, Jackermeier appreciated the important role that input devices would have on the gaming experience. Armed with Masters degree of Business Administration and having recently sold his own business Jackermeier bought AB-Union, which he would re-name Endor Ltd, known today as Endor AG. Initially, Endor sold various PC products including the legendary “Command & Conquer Mission Controller” Trackball. Early on steering wheels formed part of the planning stages and culminated in the successful launch of the “Le Mans” wheel for PC and the “Speedster 2” in for PlayStation. Endor also worked with Turn10 in developing the first Forza Motorsport wheel for the Xbox.
The Fanatec brand today is completely focused on the sim racing market with a range of high-quality products including, amongst others, steering wheels, pedals, and shifters. They’ve coined the phrase ‘Germaneering’ which includes a network of highly qualified German engineers and technological partners as part of their product development team.
What was immediately obvious is that ‘Germaneering’ is evident throughout your entire Fanatec experience.
The gear arrives professionally and, importantly, safely packaged in specially designed boxes. All the products are well packaged with polystyrene for added protection. Further, the steering wheel and pedals are placed in a bag emblazoned with the Fanatec logo for extra protection.
The only item not included with the gear is the drivers needed to install them to your PC or console. However, these are easily obtainable via a quick and easy download on the Fanatec website.
Look and feel, quality
The aesthetic quality of the Fanatec gear is right up there with anything on the market if not the clear leader. The Formula wheel, used in this review, has beautifully moulded grips covered in genuine Italian Alcantara, which is a suede-like material, normally found in luxury cars, that presents increased durability. It might ostensibly seem like a minor detail but the Alcantara grips make a big impact on the feel and level of comfort with the wheel. If you have, for example, ever played with leather stitched rim, for a few hours you would know how important the comfort factor is. After all, you can’t afford to be distracted when you’re trying to eek out that final half a tenth of lap time. What the Alcantara grips further illustrate is that Fanatec has left no stone unturned in production and every detail, no matter how seemingly small, is considered important.
ClubSport Steering Wheel Formula Black
Immediately out of the box the Formula wheel feels sturdy without being too heavy. It’s elegantly black finish and CNC machined and anodized aluminium front plate gives it a polished and well-designed look.
The diameter of the Fanatec Formula wheel sits at 26cm and is the perfect size to allow the flawless level of comfort throughout long races. The wheel is also fitted with a quick release system, which, while improving ease of use, certainly ups the realism stakes in terms of making you feels like you’re driving a real racing car.
The one feature that I was a goner for is the row of LEDs runs along the top of the wheel, which is utilized as rev lights. Formula 1 has been my greatest passion for a very long and I’ve been gaming for even longer than that. The one thing I’ve always wanted was a steering wheel with rev lights. It’s enough to reduce any open wheel racing fan to a geeky mess.
Coincidentally, Fanatec’s Formula style wheel is the only one of its kind that has this feature built into its wheel and if you’re an open-wheel racer you more than appreciate this addition. Directly underneath the rev lights is a full LED display ready to show all your telemetry ranging from speed, gear, and any other parameter you need during gameplay.
There are eleven programmable buttons, which are colour-coded in an arrangement of black, grey, blue, purple, and red. While the Formula Carbon wheel rim’s range of buttons are colour-coded predominantly in black and grey my personal preference is for the more colourful assembly as they are easier to pick up in your peripheral vision.
In addition to these eleven buttons, the wheel further includes a fully programmable analogue joystick and a 7-way encoder switch that has several different mapping options. If you needed proof that Fanatec considered every last detail the two paddle shifters, made of metal, are fully adjustable in terms of angle, distance and travel.
Not one but two vibration motors are integrated into to the wheel and are especially impressive in relaying the feeling from the tyres and circuit, down to the small bump on the track surface. This function, and several others, is directly adjustable through the wheel’s onboard menu that includes the ability to save up to five different profiles.
A word of advice would be to tinker with the setup of the wheel, outside of your preferred sims, until you find a combination of settings suited to your driving style and preference. Be warned now, Fanatec is serious gaming gear and if you’re Force Feedback is set relatively high it will have a physical impact in long sim racing sessions.
CSL Elite Wheel base
The front of the base has the Fanatec name emblazoned on it and is set in a beautiful mosaic-inspired design. The material used for the outer shell of the base is nicely moulded in high-quality plastic with the visual contrast of space grey and black.
The wheelbase is rather heavy but it makes up for it by being quite compact. Because it doesn’t take up a lot of space you can adapt it to fit just about any rig. Further, the base is absolutely silent with the exception of when the fan kicks in. But even then it’s barely noticeable and no louder than your CPU fan.
It’s effortlessly hard-mounted to a rig with its easily accessible mounting points at the bottom on the base. Alternatively, the base comes equipped with a mount for attachment to any desk. It’s as simple as lining it up and tightening the bolt to your desk.
The CSL Elite Wheelbase is compatible with PC, Xbox and can be easily switched between the two platforms with the use of the mode button on the front of the base. The wheelbase is also compatible with all other Fanatec wheel rims.
Arguably, the most important feature for any sim racer is precision. With the Fanatec Formula wheel and this wheelbase, a single belt driven brushless servo motor with 6Nm of torque, manages the precision of your inputs to the steering wheel. Because of this combination, the lack of dead spots or lag is non-existent and whatever you input is directly transmitted in the game. The smoothness is also instantly perceptible and no matter how many laps you rack up everything will continue to run pleasingly smoothly for as long as you can turn the wheel, which, by the way, is up to 1080 degrees of rotation.
ClubSport Pedals V3
As a gamer, nothing is going to make you happier than taking these pedals out of the box. The entire assembly is made from CNC machined aluminium and there is no denying that this is a gorgeous piece of gear that looks racy before they’re even hooked up.
The high-resolution pedals include 12bit resolution and have a pressure sensitive brake with 90-kilogram load cell sensor. However, if you feel that the brake stiffness is not to your preference it’s easily modifiable but adjusting simply turning the knob directly on the brake pedal. In addition, the stiffness of the throttle pedal can be adjusted by exchanging the spring in the pedal with a stiffer provided spring. But Fanatec didn’t stop there because not only can the stiffness of the pedals be adjusted but the brake and throttle also include vibration motors, which simulate wheel spin and locking tyres. It is important to note though that these vibration motors are not compatible with all sim racing titles and may require third party plugins or software in order to coax them to life.
But what if these pedals aren’t comfortable? The great news is that regardless of your requirements these pedals can accommodate any preference thanks to the fact that they are completely adjustable. From the position of the pedals to the angle can be fiddled with. And if you don’t like the custom pedal plates Fanatec even includes a full set of D-shape pedal plates as an alternative. Didn’t I tell you that they thought of everything?
Fanatec’s “germaneering” is most definitely extended to their pedals too. Often times gear can be adjustable but actually making changes require a degree in engineering. It’s not the case here though and many a sim racer will appreciate the thoughtful engineering that went into it and the simplicity of making changes.
Naturally, there was quite a bit of fiddling with the stiffness of the throttle and brake pedal. While the throttle was adjusted to my liking pretty quickly I found that I just wasn’t getting the feel from the brake pedal that I wanted. But fear not, should you find yourself with in the same scenario Fanatec does offer a brake performance kit which allows you to configure your brake pedal just the way you like it.
While I did alternate between the two sets of pedal plates I didn’t note a major difference between them. I ended up reverting to the stock pedal plates just because they look, to my eye at least, racier than the D-shape plates.
Overall the performance of the pedals cannot be faulted. And no matter how hard you stamp on the brake pedal there is no fear that it’s either going to be damaged or fail at any time.
Even though this is high-level sim racing gear it’s still as straightforward as simple as plug and play. You can choose whether to attach the pedals straight to your PC or plug them directly into the wheelbase.
While you can easily switch between PC and Xbox all Fanatec wheel rims are also compatible with the wheelbase and easily interchangeable with the quick release system.
For most PC games you will need to download FanaLEDS in order to make the rev lights on the wheelbase and the wheel, as well as the LED display function.
The good news is that FanaLEDs is a third party software program that is freely available for download. It allows you to customize the display on your wheel to your own preference. Configuration ranges from setting the REV light sequence, to programming each individual LED to your own preference.
Once I’d set up the wheel to a spec that I was comfortable with I ran about 200 laps on Project Cars and roughly 400 laps on F1 2016. The Fanatec showed no signs of laboring at any point. In fact, it was clear that it would keep running as long as I did.
I’ve never been known to be kind to pedal sets but despite my consistent hammering of the brake pedal it never once complained. The same goes for the Formula wheel and CSL elite wheelbase and, in my opinion, if I were to find fault with any of the components I’d be nitpicking and there genuinely isn’t anything to be dissatisfied with here.
Will it make you a better and/or quicker driver?
In truth, there is no racing gear in the world that will make you a quicker racing driver if you don’t have the basics down. Speed comes from an inherent feel, an understanding of just when to start applying throttle, how much steering angle to input, or when to start bleeding off the brakes. What the Fanatec gear will give you though is incredible feel and precision. Feel through your hands and feet that will allow for finding the cars limit a bit easier, to feel where the grip is and when you’re on the limit of the braking potential.
It will also allow you the ability to be marvellously precise. With the Fanatec wheelbase and Formula rim, there is no lag whatsoever, meaning that whatever input you put through the wheel is instantaneously replicated in the game. With this set-up, you can catch the back-end if it steps out slightly, correct a slide, and even feel the tiniest bumps in the surface of a circuit. It is this level of staggering precision which sets Fanatec apart from the competition.
While it may not make you better and/or quicker it will provide a sim racing experiencing that is unparalleled in terms of immersion and enjoyment.
Finally, while all of these components deserve to stand and be lauded individually the most impressive aspect is not in the Fanatec Formula rim, or the v3 ClubSport pedals, nor is it in the CSL Elite wheelbase. Instead, the most impressive aspect is in how well all of these components combine to deliver a simulation experience that every gamer dreams of. Fanatec gear is quite simply sim racing art.