First things first: I am not a gamer.  So much so in fact that the last console I had is a Sega Megadrive.  With the annual release of a new F1 game I’m tempted every year to get involved and see what all the fuss is about.  This time around temptation got the better of me.

Last week I picked up a second-hand XBox 360 and a copy of the Classics Edition of F1 2013.  You’ve most likely heard the fact that it’s out by now and read all the rave reviews of it too.  I’m not even going to pretend that I know what I’m talking about and so I’m not attempting to review the game here, instead just share my experience of ‘being an F1 driver’.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is the additional ‘classic’ content – I’m a fan of everything retro and so the idea of being able to jump in Damon Hill’s Williams and right some wrongs from 1994 or to find out exactly what it was like for “Our Nige” in his Number 5 Williams was just irresistible.

F1_2013_1988_Williams_004_WIPRetro-tastic

So the game loads quickly and I’m instantly drawn to try out the ’80s and ’90s cars.  Awesome fun, and the fact that the game looks ‘classic’ with some vintage filter makes it look fantastic too. Instagram makes great photos brilliant. The Classic content in F1 2013 is the F1 game equivalent.

It is a bit odd with some of the team and driver combinations not being correct and of course, it’s far from the full grid of 1994 or whichever year.  Instead it’s just a selection, and there’s often more Ferrari’s than any other car.  It would be unfair to blame this on Codemasters, as Glenn Freeman (Autosport News Editor) points out – it’s the F1 and rights restrictions that stand in the way of having a fuller game (subs only link).

Becoming an F1 driver (of sorts)

After some fun with the ’80s and ’90s machines, I decided to take on a 2013 F1 career.  I’m presented with an obstacle – you need to complete some tests, namely the ‘Young Driver’ test days before you can begin a career.  This annoys me at first, like anyone I just want to get on with it.

…but then I give this testing malarkey a go and it’s actually rather good. It may seem tedious to do straight-line tests, driving style lessons and the like, but they actually helped me a lot. After completing 2 days worth testing (that’s game time, not actual real time!) I have to complete a couple of timed laps, applying everything I’ve learned.

The difference is remarkable.  I’m cautious on throttle, steering smoothly, hitting the apexes and keeping it on the black stuff.  Oh, and I beat the target time too.

Rather than being annoying this whole testing pre-requisite is actually satisfying.

My first Grand Prix

With the tests complete I head to Melbourne for the Australian GP.  I should point out that after completing the tests, a number of teams are available depending on how well the tests have been completed.  I could have gone back and improved and maybe made Lotus an option, but I’m happy with Force India.  Jordan was one of my favourite teams back in the day, so that makes sense.

I quickly realise that modern F1 games are proper driving games, unlike Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP where left was left, right was right and braking was optional.  After being quite confident leaving the Yas Marina driver tests, I’m in the gravel and narrowly missing barriers around Albert Park.  Here’s a tip – when doing the career mode, choose the full weekend option, or whichever options gives you the practice sessions, they are invaluable.

Learning the track is probably the most important thing.  Albert Park is tricky to learn, but there’s no point in going straight into qualifying if you don’t know the track.  Yes, I tried. And failed.

In fact the whole first race weekend of my career was a case of trying and failing.  I got through to Q2, but that was lucky and I couldn’t get into Q3.  The race went well, I just concentrated on the driving and managed to resist temptation to try some daredevil Romain Grosjean style first lap moves (and yes I did do the pause > restart a few times).  Overall, by lap 14 of 15 around Albert Park I was running well in 14th place, which also happened to be my target objective for the race.  Nice.

Fuel saving and Pirelli tyre woes

Disaster. With just the final sector of the final lap to get through I lose power and notice that I’ve managed to run out of fuel.  My comfy 9 second gap to Nico Hulkenberg behind was decreasing rapidly and he was quickly on my rear wing as we approached the final few corners. I’ll be honest, if actual stewards saw my manoeuvres at this point, I’d have been out of F1.  Thankfully by positioning my Force India in such a way, when Nico tried to take my around the outside, he ran wide onto the gravel and I kept my 14th place.  The team were pleased and so am I.

F1_2013_007_WIP

I think it’s possible to change engine modes to help save fuel in a race, but I’m yet to figure this out. What I did figure out is that Pirelli tyres really are something to complain about. With 2 laps remaining of my first stint (10 laps) the rear of the car would step out meaning I was later on the power, over-correcting and losing time all over the place.  I would like to point out that I am very impressed with how the tyre wear is simulated.  While I can’t compare it to driving a real F1 car, it does seem realistic to what I hear on the team radios.  The cliff is a scary place, people.

One of the many nice touches in the Career Mode is that there’s an emphasis on beating your team mate, such as is actual Formula 1. My team mate Paul Di Resta beat me though with a solid 9th place in Australia.  Something I wanted to put right in future races.

Trying again in Malaysia

I read some “emails” in my drivers email inbox and proceeded to head to Round 2 – Malaysia.  It’s raining, pouring in fact.  This worries me, I can barely keep the car on the road in normal conditions.  I’m pleasantly surprised though, with an max downforce setup and full wets I post a top 5 time in practice and find that Sepang is a much easier track to learn and more fun to drive.

Qualifying – Q1 is wet. No problem. Q2 is damp, drying but I manage to get through (Di Resta doesn’t – ha!) and in Q1 the sky is blue and the track is dry.  I get P7 on the grid.  Come race day and it’s monsoon weather. Racing in these conditions for 15 laps is tricky, tiring and hard work, but I cross the line in 8th, scoring 4 points and take over my teammate in the tables. Result.

Malaysia was still a learning process though, I ran out of fuel again – despite switching my strategy to ‘Cautious’ and my prime tyres were useless 2 laps before my scheduled stop, which was also on the cautious side. The final lap was spent running on fumes and pretty much bald option tyres. I somehow kept Jenson Button and Mark Webber behind me.  Not sure how, but watching Hulkenberg in Korea must have made an impression on me. Note to self – figure out how to sort the fuel usage settings.

And so now I’ve spent more time playing video games in a few days than I’ve done for the last 10years.  It’s fun and I’m massively impressed with F1 2013, it’s mind blowing for someone who’s last F1 game experience was a friend’s PC and Geoff Crammond’s ‘Grand Prix’ series.

My tips for playing F1 2013:

  • Complete the Young Drivers test. It actually helps.
  • Look after your tyres, you’ll really miss them when they’re gone.
  • Figure out how to change the engine power/fuel usage.
  • Do the practice sessions to help you nail the track.
  • Use assisted breaking (medium) to help learn the track.
  • Set the AI to be ‘amateur’ to begin with. They’ll destroy you otherwise.
  • Leave the race distance at 25% – that’s more than enough to give you hand ache.

Have you got any tips for playing F1 2013?  You’ve read a lot about me and my experience, how are you getting on with the game and it’s various modes?  Let us know in the comments…