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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?

So round four of my F1 2009 Wii Edition career was at the Bahrain International Circuit, and I wasn’t at all confident following practice and qualifying. China had been a race of good qualifying followed by going backwards. Bahrain was shaping up to be bad qualifying and a bad race.

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This is very a track made for speed. I had thought this would suit me but I was very, very wrong.

Turns 8 and 10 were the trickiest for me here – I would either run wide at those turns or be too cautious going into them, with the end result being plenty of lost time. I could only qualify in 16th (my worst qualifying of the season so far), and I suspected I would wind up with no points.

Instead, I was able to surge by several cars on the first corner, taking advantage of the AI’s tendency to be hard on braking (especially when close to other cars), and I got past some more across the opening lap. A generally controlled race saw me ultimately finish a very satisfying 3rd, which might have even been 2nd, but for a rear-left puncture, that scuppered that possibility.

Still, 6 points gained after a disastrous qualifying session was a result!

After mixed feelings following the Malaysian Grand Prix (disappointed  to need brake assist, pleased to come from 13th to 5th), I took on the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai.

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In practice I was generally able to go pretty fast and put in some very competitive lap times. I dare say I enjoyed this track, which featured some meaty corners and good straights to really put the hammer down. Turns 9 and 10 were a good test (9 being fairly slow but leading into a deceptively fast turn 10), and turn 16 is one you think you can attack quickly but you do need a healthy application of the brakes!

Qualifying went extremely well. I secured my 2nd pole of the season (a tad to my own surprise), but the race was not as great. I didn’t have a great start, and was somewhat clumsy on more than one occasion, running wide here and there. I also taxed my tyres too hard (especially my soft tyres) which hindered me considerably.

5th was the best I could achieve, which was a bit disappointing considering my qualifying performance. Still, three points-scoring finishes in three races was quite good!

So, onwards to the second part of my F1 2009 Wii edition career! Round two was at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia:

SepangThis was my first experience of a wet race – and I didn’t enjoy it! My practice sessions didn’t fare too well, but with a clear track ahead of me I was able to cope reasonably well.

The problems arose when other cars were on track.

My chief issue was with the spray. Being unable to see the cars ahead, and not being able to judge exactly where they were, meant going off track quite horribly or collisions. Combine this with problems at turns four, nine and 14, and things were set for a disaster!

I can’t recall exactly where I qualified, but it was no higher than 13th, a big difference from Melbourne (where I’d managed pole). With the race being a wet one, I struggled through the first few laps, and after a while I had no choice but to turn braking assists on.

You might think this was better for me overall, and in some respects it was (after all, I stayed on track!), but the assisted braking on this game is pretty conservative, leading to you braking earlier than you might otherwise be prepared to do, and it certainly makes it hard to out-brake other cars. I was able to fight my way to an eventual finish of 5th, and four valuable points, but I wasn’t pleased with myself. Not only did I not manage the race especially well, but I wasn’t able to complete the race with the assists turned off. I aimed for better things at the next race, in China.

BMWSAUBERSEPANG(art imitates life – the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix was indeed a wet one!)