For years now the Codemasters Formula One games have let the player begin their career in any car they like, and for years I’ve donned the caps of the sport’s slowest teams. That says a lot about what I want out of the game: a rags to riches story told in plucky points- paying positions and an eventual contract signing to a championship- winning team, rewarding my hard graft and obvious prodigious talent. This year I signed for Toro Rosso, the Red Bull feeder team who were once Italian minnows Minardi, and have a single victory (Vettel’s 2008 wet Monza drive) to their name.
Except, there’s a bit of a problem. In their continuing efforts to add depth and authenticity to the game’s flagship career mode, the Codemasters devs have made my favoured path to ascendancy particularly difficult this year. And by particularly difficult, I mean I’ve bellowed in impotent rage at Chris the R&D guy, my condescending agent, and Romain Grosjean multiple times, and I’m only a few races in.
The first problem – and this is a strength of the game, really – is that my Toro Rosso’s internal parts appear to be made from eggshells, ice sculptures, and those Samsung Galaxy Note 7s that kept catching fire. After three rigorous practice sessions my various engine parts are already showing serious wear, and by qualifying my race engineer is warning me not to drive over apexes or shift gears too many times in case something busts. Nursing my car through Melbourne’s 13 turns like a Fabergé egg courier on a unicycle, I manage a respectable midfield qualifying position.
Then two laps into the race, I lose fourth gear. Grosjean and his Haas smell blood behind me, and he’s soon within DRS range and lunging down the straights, drawing level in the braking zones. Taking some creative lines and testing the definition of sportsmanlike behaviour, I manage to stay ahead, but now there’s an embarrassing queue of five cars forming behind me. By the time we’ve all made our pit stops each of them have got ahead. I take the chequered flag dejected and out of the points.
And that’s all fun and games, until Chris the R&D guy sits me down before practice 1 at China two weeks later to tell me the reliability upgrade I spent 1,000 points on has failed. Do you know how hard I worked for those 1,000 points, Chris? Do you? I decide to channel my anger into my driving and once again put in a decent quali performance, this time on all-new engine and gearbox parts. The next day, something extraordinary happens at the Shanghai International Circuit. A race that begins wet but which dries out around halfway through offers a tempting tyre gamble. The race engineer is on the blower asking if I want to come in for ultra soft dry tyres now, before anyone else has dared to try it. In P13 and with nothing to lose but the sight of Nico Hulkenberg’s rear wing, I go for it.
No one else pits in for three more laps, most waiting even longer. When they do go in to change to dry tyres, I inherit the race lead by default. And then... no one comes and takes it back from me. Not Vettel or Raikkonen in their charging Ferraris, nor the Mercs. And certainly not Grosjean. Somehow I become Toro Rosso’s second ever race winner just like that. Just as well too, because after my engine blows up the following race in Bahrain, I’m almost ready to hand in my notice.
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.