It’s Christmas Eve, I am at work (yes, work – my employers know no mercy), and I feel exhausted after yet another early start, but I am heading into the big day determined that it will be a good Christmas. (Nearly) everything is wrapped, five-bird roast is bought and ready, decorations are up and we’re nearly, nearly there. To all of you, I wish you a merry, and safe, Christmas, and a very happy New Year!

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The tenth race of the 2009 season took me to the Hungaroring, the venue of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

I’ve often enjoyed this track on F1 games. For reasons I can’t explain, I find it to be an easy circuit to learn and easy to master as well. It was clear from practice sessions that I was quick. In fact, even on the hard tyre, I was around a second or so quicker than everyone else (which rose to nearly two seconds on the soft tyre).

This pace continued to be evident in qualifying, where I dominated each session, easily securing pole.

There are no real ‘problem’ corners here. The first turn is a big meaty right-hander that I attacked at speed and turned in earlier than might seem practical, but in actuality this let me hold the racing line heading toward turn 2, and the rest of the lap was straightforward.

My only concern was tyre wear. In practice the front tyres were wearing out quite quickly (the result of front brake bias being set to maximum), so some tweaking was required to reduce the brake bias and easy the pressure on the tyres just a little. However, I still had concerns that the tyres would hamper me if I tried to run a two-stop race – so I abandoned this strategy.

I also decided against any prolonged stints on the soft compound. The rate of tyre decay meant it wasn’t worth the risk. Instead, I opted for a three-stop strategy, with my opening, second and third runs all 19-lap runs on the hard tyre, and only one 13 lap stint on the soft.

At the start of the race I briefly lost out to Webber and Rosberg, but I was fighting with them around the first lap and out-braked Webber into turn 1 on lap two to retake the lead. From that point, despite carrying more fuel and being on the hard tyre, I was able to pull away quite easily, so that, by the time I made my first stop on lap 19, I dropped down only to fourth, and swiftly regained the lead as the cars ahead pitted.

By the time I reached the second stop on lap 38, I was able to rejoin the race still in the lead, by around six seconds, and easily built this up to such an extent that, come my final stop, I not only rejoined in the lead but I rejoined with a margin of at least 40 seconds or so.

I would ease to the finish, winning for the fourth time in the year, and I would win by 56 seconds. With Button claiming second place, my gap to him was back down to just one point.

Next stop – Valencia.

So, we rapidly approach the end of 2014. What sort of year has it been?

It has been a year of struggle at times, especially on the personal front, for reasons that I won’t go into great detail here. Suffice to say, what happens in my family will stay firmly within my family (I will never understand why some people choose to air everything online).

My daughter finished her year at nursery and in September started school, in reception. I really can’t believe how big she’s gotten – she now babbles away excitedly, and continues to make tremendous progress – being with other kids her age, and with some loving encouragement from mummy and daddy, she is astounding me.

She has had a busy year. in June she went on holiday abroad with mummy and daddy, nanny and grandad, her uncle and aunt. We went to Ibiza, to the very same resort that I went to with my mum, dad and brother back in the late 1990s.

It was weird – the place was familiar in many respects, yet obviously, with the passage of time, it had improved and changed. At one stage we were sitting in the lobby, and I could vividly recall sitting there, playing card games, the first time around. The pool looked exactly the same, the weather was gorgeous, and the hotel food was very good for what it was. After what had been something of an exhausting spell at work, the holiday was very much needed!

My daughter loved it – she was babbling away for ages about how she went on a plane, and how she went swimming every day, and how she danced every night. It was wonderful for her, and I hope to one day repeat that holiday – it would be great, when she is older, to revisit that same resort.

Work has been, at times, a real headache. Again, I will not go into all the details, but suffice to say at one stage I felt stretched to breaking point. There was a spell, in July, that tested me greatly, but, I dare say, it was the making of me. Since then, I have felt stronger as a manager, and whilst I know I still have work to do, I have taken some great strides forward.

As far as my beloved Liverpool FC is concerned, they came agonisingly close to winning the league title, but for heart-breaking results in the final few games – and sadly, this season is proving to be a disaster! Still, seeing the scum that is Man Utd flounder last season as a joy to watch!

Watching Lewis Hamilton win the 2014 F1 championship was also pretty special – after the troubles he’d had earlier in the year, it was nice to see him get the glory – he deserved it!

Finally, the World Cup provided some amazing entertainment – not for England mind (I watched one England game on holiday, and wish I could reclaim that time), but watching the hosts Brazil capitulate horribly against Germany in the semi-final is something I won’t forget in a hurry. That wasn’t the only memorable moment – but it was certainly the most memorable!

As one, last footnote – 2014 is the year this website began!

What does 2015 hold? I have no idea. What I want it to hold is good health and happiness for my loved ones and myself. Anything else is a bonus.

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After a British Grand Prix that was, frankly, disappointing, I came into the German GP in a more optimistic mood. The  Nurburgring was the venue and I rather enjoyed this track.

There were no especially difficult corners and in practice sessions I was posting competitive lap times, that I was able to convert into pole position. As ever though, I lost places at the start of the race, and whilst I was able to battle into 2nd, Button would win without really being placed under much pressure, to extend his championship lead.

The race was, to be honest, unremarkable, though it did make me think about changing my pit stop strategy from a 3 stop to a 2 stop for the next race. I need to put in some practice runs on the tyres to see how long I can stretch them for, and go from there.

Circuit_SilverstoneSo, having taken a trio of wins at the last three events (Spain, Monaco and Turkey), I came to Silverstone feeling moderately confident, despite not traditionally enjoying this track on F1 games (the fast turns from 2 to 6 in particular have a tendency to outfox me, and I would usually drift wide through at least one of them. The rest of the track is pretty straightforward, but for this race the extra variable of rain stirred things up.

In the practice sessions I didn’t fare too well, usually around 7th or 8th. I found the wet conditions to be tricky and even in dry weather, I wasn’t especially quick. I was able to get a better handle on the Becketts section, and was able to approach it at speed, meaning my sector times in the first sector were surprisingly good. Unfortunately I would lose time in the final sector (quite a lot of time in fact).

When it came to qualifying, this lost time was crucial. I managed to ramp up a good enough set of times to get into Q3, and somehow parked the car on 4th, but pole position was always going to be a forlorn ambition.

At the start of the race, I lost out almost immediately to end up in 5th, but some brave overtaking moves at turn 8 (a tight left-hander) saw me get up as far as 3rd after a few laps. Unfortunately I just didn’t have the pace to sustain a charge up the field, and the intermediate tyres wore out quite quickly, affecting my grip.

I would lose several places at each of my three pit stops, but crucially, was able to keep pace with Button’s Brawn, getting past him repeatedly and staying ahead of him as the race progressed.

Fuel was more of an issue. At each pit stop my fuel, which is normally guaranteed to be enough to make it to each stop, was critical. At the end of the race, I was worried that my car would grind to a halt on the final lap, but fortunately there was just enough left in the tank to get me over the line!

Silverstone2009(I was able to score points but a win was never likely)

Once we hit traffic I was able to lap the backmarkers fairly easily, but the same couldn’t be said of Button. He lost of a lot of time at one stage (I can only assume backmarkers were the reason) and ended up finishing down in 7th. I came home in 5th, comfortably clear of Hamilton but nearly a whole lap behind eventual winner Webber.

Still, in the end, I was able to close the gap on Button to just one point.

Standings after 8 races:

1st: Button 57 points. 2nd: Me, 56 points. 3rd: Webber, 46 points.

Next up is the German Grand Prix!

 

After a stunning second win of the season at Monaco, my F1 circus rolled into Istanbul Park for the Turkish Grand Prix.

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Few tracks in F1 run counter-clockwise, but Turkey is one of them. The track is fast, featuring one of Formula 1’s fastest corners, the long but quick turn 8.

There aren’t many areas where you need to be especially hard on the brakes here, as I learned during the practice sessions. Even turns 1 and 4, which look tight, are quite quick. Turn 9 requires a reasonable hit of the brakes, as does turn 12 (though even 12 isn’t especially hard, so once again I was able to push pretty hard here).

nevertheless, I was pipped to pole by Webber by a hairs breadth, so I was starting from 2nd. When the race started I slipped down to third, behind the Ferrari of Massa (who had astonishingly qualified 3rd), and spent a few laps having a bit of a struggle to fight past him, as the tyres took a few laps to switch on.

After that, I had to catch and pass Webber, but he was barely ahead of Massa, so it didn’t take long to ease past him too.

After my first pit stop I was all the way down in 8th, but crucially, the cars ahead were yet to stop and I emerged ahead of Webber after the first set of stops were done and dusted. I was able to catch and pass a few other cars prior to their stops, which was a plus.

I did have a brief but exciting battle with the two Brawns, closing in here and there but pushing a tad too hard every now and then, before finally making a move stick on the pair of them at turn 12.

From that point on I was able to build up a healthy lead. I was able to complete my subsequent pit stops and remain in the lead, such was my advantage, and would cruise to a third straight win. Button’s second place meant I reduced his advantage in the title race to three points!

It’s pretty much a requirement at every F1 race to concentrate. You need focus, and you need confidence. In order to have a good race, you need to put in a shift across each and every lap, because one lapse can ruin your afternoon.

Nowhere is this more true than Monaco.

Whereas the Spanish Grand Prix (among several others) has run-off areas that cost you time and only time, Monaco’s track has only barriers, waiting to punish you if you drift off the racing line or misjudge a corner. It’s the ultimate street track – a narrow circuit, a winding, bending track that features several uphill climbs and downhill turns. There’s not a lot room to overtake either – it is a huge test of man and machine for real F1 drivers, and winning this glamorous event is seen as completing one third of an epic trilogy of races (which also includes the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 hour race).

On F1 games, I dread Monaco. I usually wind up either crashing out, or winding up well down the order. To score points here on this F1 2009 career would mark a significant improvement on every other experience at this track, but I knew in order to achieve this, I would first need to put in some hard practise shifts.

MonteCarloI found the first sector to be reasonably straightforward. Turn 1 is approached at high speed, especially after the fast sprint down the track’s only true fast straight, and requires a sharp, hard application of the brakes. Turn 2 isn’t really even a turn in my book – you can hold a straight line through it without too much difficulty. Turn 3 doesn’t need an especially hard use of brakes, though I would tend to lift the throttle slightly here as well. Turn 4 is taken fairly quickly (if you want to get a good sector time), and then you hit the hard turn 5, which is immediately followed by a downward run to the famous Grand Hotel Hairpin.

Turn 7 is fairly slow, and Turn 8… well, you can take this one a little quicker than turn 7, but you need to be careful – the barriers will come up faster than you think (turn 8 is where Ayrton Senna famously hit the barriers at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, having been dominating the race but pushing too hard to set the fastest lap).

Next is the famous Monaco tunnel.

MonacoTunnelThankfully on the game, the glaring light at the end of this tunnel is not an issue – for real F1 drivers, they need to not only be mindful of the upcoming chicane, but have to deal with the sudden burst of bright light as they exit the tunnel.

Turn 10 and the subsequent sequence of corners represent the areas I had the most trouble with. You have to brake early to take turn 10 right and get into good shape to exit the corner at a reasonable speed. In my early practise runs I would struggle with this a little. Turn 12 however, was the worst one for me. It looks like you need to approach it tighter than you actually need to – and as such, it was usually here that I’d hit the barrier and damage my car. After a few attempts, I came to realise what I actually needed to do, and set about putting in better laps.

Turns 13 and 14 are where you need to be brave. My gut feeling was to squeeze the brakes but you can go through them nearly flat out, before braking hard for turn 15.

The final couple of corners were a tad annoying. You’re coming out of turn 16 quite fast, and suddenly turn 17 is right there, a tight, slow right-hander, and you need to keep bearing right as anything else sees you hit the barrier. Turn 18 leads right into a small dink that is referred to as turn 19, and this caught me out a couple of times.

Then it’s back to the main straight and another sprint to turn 1.

So, how did my race go?

I won it.

Yup, I managed to win at Monaco!

I managed to qualify on pole, the result of some very quick clean laps (I think the AI was too conservative on braking at certain points, which gave me an advantage), and, despite losing the lead to Webber’s Red Bull for a couple of laps, I was able to bully my way past him and race into a comfy lead.

I did lose my nose cone at one stage, and also got a stop-go penalty for hitting another car (which in my view was their fault, not mine, but the AI is not forgiving), but despite this, I won the race by two laps from Vettel and Button.

Yes, you read that right, two laps.

monacoI dare say I would have won this race anyway (it was by far and away my most composed performance at Monaco), but the scale of the victory was inflated by what I suspect were problems for the AI cars. They pitted far more often than I did, and I can only think this is because A: they were pranging their own cars and requiring new front wings every five minutes, and B: penalties. The result was a crushing win for me, my first ever on this game at Monaco, and 10 points that saw me close to within 5 points of championship leader Button. After six races, I have had four podiums, two wins and two fifth places. This is far better than I’d imagined, but I know tough races lie ahead!

 

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So the season entered its European leg with the Spanish Grand Prix at Catalunya. This track, like Bahrain, is crafted for speed, and I found it to be a great track to drive!

I was able to master the track quite quickly and began to post some pretty quick lap times, even on the hard tyre. There were no especially troubling corners (the tight turn 10 and the surprisingly quick turn 13, leading very quickly into a tight chicane, were a little tricky but also quite satisfying), and I managed to get my third pole of the season.

At the start of the race I lost out to Button, but was able to trail him quite closely, and I think it was around lap 3 (maybe 4) that I got by him.

Once in the lead I was able to push hard. I knew from practice how long both types of tyre could last and even on the hard tyre, I found myself opening up a good lead – so much so that I was able to pit and remain in the lead. On my two stints on soft tyres I was able to build up a very comfortable advantage, and even on my final stint on hard tyres, I was in control.

Yup, for the first time (with assists off), I managed to win a race!

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Was this the start of something wonderful?