It’s the Australian Grand Prix weekend, you’re Lewis Hamilton and you’ve finished a very unlucky 13th in all three practice sessions. The car seems twitchy and you just can’t find the grip you need to put in some competitive times. You enter qualifying and, despite still not feeling totally comfortable with you car, you mange to make it to the final round. This is it, you need to dig deep now and nail a lap or two, otherwise the finger wagging Sebastian Vettel will probably end up taking pole position. He’s been fast in all the practice sessions, very fast.
After spending in a minute or so in your garage, you head out onto the track and try to put in a decent time. Something feels different, even though this is your out lap, the McLaren feels more at one with the track. Still, you take it easy as you try to keep both the brake and tyre temperatures at a decent level. As you approach the start-finish straight and absolutely nail the acceleration in a bid to hit a good enough top speed. Whilst you still feel the car is a little twitchy, you mange to manoeuvre the McLaren nicely through the first corner, and again through the second and third. The first hot lap is done, and you’re ranked 5th.
Not bad considering your previous struggles, but you don’t want to stop there. The car seems to be coming good now, you feel like you have more grip. On that basis, you decide to immediately put in another hot lap, hoping the aggressive approach pays off. After flooring the car on the start-finish line straight again, you navigate the first three corners beautifully, perfectly even. Even though you’re pushing the McLaren to its limits, not only does it feel at one with the track, its feels as if it is part of you. You’re up in sectors one and two, now it’s all about getting the final sector right. Still pushing hard, you cross the start-finish line and you’ve done it, you’re in pole position. However, there’s still time left for you to be overthrown. That doesn’t matter to you right now though, as you head back to your garage and watch the times come in.
With two minutes left, Vettel puts in an amazing lap time and ends up in first place. Panic sets in a little, you immediately head out for another hot lap. Once again, the car feels great and you’re extremely confident of beating Vettel to pole position. You’re up on the German Red Bull driver in sectors one and two, it’s looking good. Disaster strikes though, as you push a little to hard on the penultimate corner, the car catches a little too much kerb and spins out. Thanks to your previous hot lap though, you manage to finish 2nd. After a race weekend that didn’t begin with too much promise, this is more than you could have hoped for and are looking forward to giving Vettel a run for his money tomorrow in the full race. Welcome to F1 2011.
If all this sounds like an F1 fan’s wet dream, well, it is. Whilst F1 2010 was a good racing game, it wasn’t really a good F1 game. Thankfully, it seems like F1 2011 seems will rectify that by providing a game for fans of the sport, rather than a racing game with an F1 license attached to it.
The team at Codemasters have taken on board fan feedback and improved upon F1 2010 in areas that matter. For instance, car physics and tyre performance seem to have been tweaked immensely, which means full concentration is required at all times when driving a car in F1 2011. You”ll find that factors such as weather conditions and car set-up will realistically effect handling, something which wasn’t so apparent in F1 2010. In fact, at times, it was possible to slam your foot down on the accelerator in full wet conditions with no repercussions at all. That won’t be possible in F1 2011, with assists on or off. Sure, you’ll have a bit more “help” if you have the assists turned on, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to go full pelt straight out of the garage and put in a perfect lap, not by a long shot. To get a good lap time in, you’ll have to feel out the car as well as the track. Finding that sweet spot where both car and track are one is key. You’ll need to find that grip and warm up those brakes if you want your car working to its full potential, it’s all part of the process.
However, even when you do tap into your car’s potential, a smooth ride isn’t guaranteed, especially if you’re not one of the top teams. Again, this is something that was lacking in F1 2010, differentiation between cars. For instance, a Lotus isn’t going to have the same performance or reliability as a Red Bull, the latter car and team is just far superior. Thankfully, F1 2011 seems like it will replicate the performance level between cars a lot more realistically than its predecessor. Stepping into the cockpit of a Lotus, not only were lap times slower than a Red Bull, but it seemed to be more error prone too. In fact, the Lotus didn’t even manage to finish the race, it crashed out quite early on after a rather epic spin.
Speaking of races, whilst they were incredibly fun and challenging (especially the wet ones), there was no real difference between the personalities of AI drivers. However, we are told this a known issue that will be addressed before the game is released later this month. One massive positive was the introduction of KERS and DRS, both worked just as you would expect them too. Not only do you have access to both systems, the AI drivers do as well, and they are not afraid to use them when necessary. This, of course, makes for some very interesting overtaking manoeuvres. Much like real races, fuel consumption plays quite a big role in F1 2011 and this represented via the new race strategy blade which you can access during gameplay. Here you are able to see how much fuel you have left, and adjust your driving style accordingly. Let’s face, no-one wants to run out of fuel one or two laps before the end of a race, that would be just a little bit embarrassing.
The on-track action in F1 2011 is complimented by some stunning visuals, it has to be said. Even though the game is still in development, it looks mighty impressive. Like F1 2010, the TV style camera is the way to go. Not only does it show the game off really well, it’s the best way to play it too. It seems like the development team have improved the visuals quite a bit, as driving in the wet at Monaco (or any other track for that matter) almost looks like you’re watching a re-run of an actual race.
Whilst it might not be incredibly welcoming to newcomers, going by the code we played, F1 2011 is shaping up to be rather special. Thanks to vast improvements to car physics and tyre performance, the game is a much better representation of the sport seen on TV every other weekend. If Codemasters can build a solid career mode and online experience around the driving mechanics they have in place at the moment, then F1 2011 might just be the game fans of the sport have been dreaming of for years.
F1 2011 is set to be released on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC in North America on September 20th and in Europe on September 23rd.