The answer is to smoothly coax the car through the turns with smaller movements of the wheel or stick. Drive with this in mind, listening or feeling for the moment the tyres lose traction, and suddenly 140mph corners are no effort at all. And the fast chicanes of Maggotts and Becketts at Silverstone are now frightening as you hurtle into them - you know how to make it stick, but it really better had.
Above: Keep the tyres in good contact and the cars are amazingly responsive
It’s a massive, fundamental difference to the way the game plays. It takes some practice, certainly, but when you drive the game properly it’s one of the deepest, most rewarding handling systems in any racer ever. You can push its limits, but must respect its boundaries. And driving properly also has the added benefit of conserving your tyres.
The new Champions Mode has been well-documented as it allows you to compete against each of the six world champions racing in F1 this year (Button, Hamilton, Raikonnen, Alonso, Vettel and Schumacher) in turn, before facing all of them in a single race at the enjoyable new Austin track. Each challenge has three difficulty tiers, and the bite-sized four and five lap races are the sort of thing you restart until you succeed. It works really well.
But for all the fanfare around Champions Mode, it’s Season Challenge that's undoubtedly the best new addition. Taking its cues from legendary racing games like Super Monaco Grand Prix, this mode sees you selecting a rival before the race. Beat them twice in three races and you get signed for their team in their place. Not only that – you even get to wear their clothes! We beat Grosjean, then his name was on our racing overalls in cut scenes for the next race. Perhaps it’s another punishment for causing that accident at Spa…
Above: This slightly off-centre TV Pod camera is a new, playable addition this year
Season Challenge condenses the action down in almost every area. There are 10 races taken from the regular season’s 20, with each race preceded by a single qualifying lap. This one-lap qualifying is an option for online races too, and shows a ghost of the fastest car at any one time. So you might be following Vettel’s ghost through Eau Rouge, then suddenly it’s Alonso as the Red Bull’s lower top speed gives up the position down the straight.
With races only lasting five laps, playing and restarting each race like you would an arcade-styled videogame fast becomes the norm, not to mention heavy use of the now familiar ‘rewind’ button. It’s so engrossing, we finished the whole mode in one evening. But again, maintaining that video game sensibility, you’re awarded a score based on qualifying and race positions, urging you to play through again and beat your record for the season.
Above: If you can beat Schumacher, you get his car... and he gets nothing! Mwahahaha...
It’s not quite a full-fledged ‘arcade mode’ as it’s still very much grounded in simulation-land, but turning on the assists can make it start to lean that way. It’s entirely possible to win on Easy without using KERS or DRS, so add in automatic gears and anyone can play the game and have a good time.
A few spots of rain
The weather system has been overhauled. While we haven’t see anything to support the claim that it can be raining on one section of the track and not another, that doesn’t mean the feature’s not in there. What definitely is a feature is variable track conditions that change so realistically, you don’t see it happening.
Above: Hard to imagine this drying out, but it will do, given time
For example, we started one race at Monaco in blazing sunshine but on a wet track. After a few laps spent trying to avoid the barriers, the sun dried the track and suddenly we realised we were on dry tarmac - on the wrong tyres. Tyre choice in these conditions has a huge impact on lap times, so it’s more than just window-dressing.
Tyre degradation was one key area that turned out to be a long-term issue in last year’s game. At Codemasters’ own admission, the degradation was scaled poorly if you chose to race mid-distance instead of full-distance races. This year, not only do the tyres last easily until scheduled pit stops (if you’re driving properly as above, that is), you’ll also occasionally receive an email from your mechanics telling you what the tyres were like after the last race and how you could drive to better conserve them. That’s just brilliant.