G’day! Welcome to the Land Down Under for the 21st round of the 2021 Championship – and a break with reality.
In fact, this is not the first break from the real 2021 F1 season, but for the life of me I can’t remember the other one! In the real season there were 22 races, on the game there are 23 races, and yet there is no Qatar Grand Prix – instead, there is the Australian Grand Prix, which did not take place in reality. Incidentally, this means the F1 2021 game is the last occasion to race around the original Albert Park track, as the circuit is getting a makeover for 2022.
Given Australia’s usual position as the opening race of an F1 season, it is a course that a lot of players get a lot of practice at. On F1 2009 it’s the track where I began to properly understand how to judge racing lines without the benefit of the racing line assist, or steering and brake assists. You could say that Albert Park is where I cut my teeth when it comes to racing simulations. The track is quite fast and features a number of sharp right-handers that can feel intimidating, especially at turn 3, where on the 2009 edition of the game I would often run wide. Turn 5 is a fast kink and turns 11 and 12 even more so – get turn 12 wrong and you’ll take too much kerb, spin at speed, and clout the barriers. Turns 13 and 14 aren’t too bad, but it’s still possible to run wide and onto the grass, which ruins your lap. Finally, turn 15 can feel like a beast when the car is heavy and unresponsive, as can turn 16.
I didn’t have high hopes here. Whereas the car had been very good in the twisty and wet conditions of Interlagos, I was slower here in practice runs, and was therefore a bit surprised to end up in Q3, though I qualified 10th, and never threatened to qualify higher. 10th became eighth owing to grid penalties for Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo, but I slipped to 11th at the start after getting boxed in, and clipped my front-wing after a rather reckless lunge on Ricciardo into turn 3. I had minor damage but it was enough to stop me from getting after Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri, and I had to absorb pressure from the Aston Martin of Stroll, though he never really troubled me, and then Norris hit trouble, falling back behind everyone, presumably due to damage to his own front-wing, for he pitted very early.
I’d started the race on soft tyres (I had to, due to using them successfully in Q2), and these were a used set, which I was grateful to lose for mediums, and a new front-wing restored my car to full performance. Despite this I could not catch the cars around me on softs, so had to wait for other cars to stop whilst their tyres fell off the cliff. I was trying a two-stop strategy against the three-stop strategy many others were using, so I had to make my mediums last.
In the meantime two things happened that demonstrated the AI cars can and do make mistakes. First Raikkonen nearly turned me around at turn 13, having tried to squeeze up the inside very late. All he succeeded in doing was to spin himself. Later Norris did exactly the same thing, and he received a five-second time penalty for his error. Whilst all this was happening, I did enough on my mediums to put me within striking distance of Stroll for the final points spot, once I’d put on soft tyres for the final stint. Stroll offered little resistance and then it was a case of chasing Tsunoda. He was some way up the road, on medium tyres that had worked hard, though my softs would be in a similar state by the time I caught him. However, catch him I did, and I got by on lap 56 of 58 to claim ninth place. Alonso was too far ahead to catch, so ninth it was.
At the front, Hamilton took another win, and also the fastest lap, and in a dramatic twist Leclerc’s Ferrari split the two Mercedes. With Bottas reduced to third, Hamilton established a 23-point lead with two races remaining. A win for Hamilton at in the penultimate race in Saudi Arabia would give him the title, no matter what Bottas did. Will he accomplish this and take an eighth title (in video game land of course)?