So, having had something of a hiatus away from my F1 career, I thought I would finally revisit it, as the exhilarating Hungarian Grand Prix the other week reignited my desire to play the game.
The story of the season so far is – no points from Australia (engine failure ruined an almost certain victory), ten points from Malaysia (a crushing win for me, and my first for Ferrari), and an eight-point gap between me and the championship-leading Brawn of Jenson Button. What would China hold?
In practice I struggled to find a decent setup that gave me the right balance of speed and control. I never truly felt comfortable with the way the car handled, despite tinkering with the downforce quite a bit. I was typically around fifth fastest, and this was a theme that continued in Q1 and Q2.
In Q3, with the cars setup for race-trim, I found the much heavier car easier to drive, and actually managed to sneak – just barely – pole from Barrichello. I didn’t really feel that I deserved pole – but I wasn’t going to complain!
The beginning of the race saw me cut right across Barrichello (I wanted, for once, to try and retain track position!), and I fended him off, only for Mark Webber’s Red Bull to come surging by me on my left. I would be on his tail throughout the first lap, and slip by him as we began lap two, easing past him into the fast right-hander that is turn 1.
Webber would subsequently retire shortly afterward, promoting (quite surprisingly, given their cars’ performances of the time) Hamilton and Massa to second and third.
I would start to ease away, not been especially troubled, taking my first pit stop on lap 13 and sliding down to 8th (I had once more opted for a three-stop strategy, whereas most AI cars were going for a two-stop), but some reasonably straight-forward overtaking moves (and one quite satisfying move around the outside of Button at turn 11) and AI stops saw me regain the lead without too much trouble, and I would push on.
By the time of my second stop (lap 26) I was in a position to stop, and reemerge in the lead, albeit by a slender margin. I expected to have a straightforward run to my third and final stop, and expected to win quite easily from there.
Boy was I wrong!
On lap 27, at turn 12, the batteries in my controller died. I careened off the track and lost my front wing in the process, before the game paused itself automatically and prompted me to replace the batteries. I gave thought to restarting the race (my first instinct was that it wasn’t my fault), but two factors dissuaded me from doing this.
Firstly, I was 27 laps into a 56 lap race and didn’t want to have to rerun all those laps. Secondly, I thought to myself – it was my error. I knew the batteries were low when I started the race, and I took a chance anyway. I only had myself to blame, so I accepted my circumstances, limped back to the pits, and fell down to 15th.
It was time to charge back through the field. A significantly faster car than those around me meant I was able to carve my way through the pack (taking advantage of AI pit stops too), and eventually I wormed my way up to points-scoring places again. When I made my final stop on lap 39 for hard tyres (which I had yet to run), I was in fifth, enough for four points – not great, but better than none!
I would however move up to fourth, slipping ahead of the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel when he pitted – and then I would face pretty much non-stop pressure until the end of the race, with Vettel particularly seeking to pass me at turn 14 (the monstrous right-hander at the end of the long straight). I was fortunate that he was not able to close up too much elsewhere – I’m not sure I’d have been able to fend him off! As it was, I had to be careful not to make any glaring errors – otherwise he would have been through.
It would be fair to say I am not used to waging a defensive race, but Vettel was quicker, and on fresher tyres, and all I could do was hold on. Thankfully the last few laps saw the pressure ease, as backmarkers came into play, and I was able to sweep by them a little easier than Vettel, which saw me open up a small gap. I crossed the finish line fourth – five invaluable points, though arguably five points down on what I should have earned.
After three races, I have 15 points, which is half of what I should have. Australia saw me lose out on any points thanks to engine failure, whilst here in China I only took half of what I probably would have taken, and can only blame myself. Button is on 28 points, so I am 13 points down on him already – given the nature of the scoring system on the game, I am more than a race win behind Button already, and I could win the next six races and still not lead the championship if Button finished second in all of them. This is going to be a challenging season.