“And it’s lights out, and they’re at a standstill since 2019…”

F1 2019 Proper

F1 2019 (2019)

You’d have thought I left this one a little too late, but as it turns out, the 2019 F1 season is the last selection of top-class racing we’re gonna see for quite some time. Mind you, I wouldn’t have been all that gutted about it, if the second half of the 2019 season had mirrored the first half. Five Mercedes one-twos, an unprecedented run. And I’m telling you, it was getting as tiresome as the bad old days of 19 other lads turning up on the weekend to follow Michael Schumacher around – the only times I’d ever turn a Grand Prix off.

Even when an out-of-sorts Sebastian Vettel managed to bag himself a win in Canada, the stewards conspired to take it away from him, and the Mercedes misery continued. So there you go – even when Ferrari come first, they actually finish second. That particular event did at least lead to Vettel throwing the head, to use an Irish phrase, and it was probably the most exciting moment of the season.

Beyond that, not too much to shout about: it was a Hamilton walkover once more, and he must be ever-so-grateful that in Valtteri Bottas he’s landed himself a teammate with half the personality (if you can believe that) and ten times the compliance of Nico Rosberg. Over in the Italian stable, Vettel’s humdrum performances began to get even more badly exposed by the baby-faced Monegasque Charles Leclerc, although both of them were undone more than once by their own team.

There were still some welcome spanners in the works thrown by Max Verstappen (21) alongside that usual snide desire to see him fail. Poor Pierre Gasly (15) couldn’t seem to get going in the big boy Red Bull car, prompting Brit-Thai Alex Albon (12) to come in and immediately pick up the pace. It was all an effort to replace the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo, whose move with Renault hasn’t quite looked justified although it’s early doors and that was perhaps to be expected.

What he wouldn’t have expected was for his most memorable moment of the season to occur quite literally in the first few seconds of racing. There he was, pulling away at the start of the Australian Grand Prix when a treacherous piece of turf – perhaps planted by his ancestors – plotted against him and smashed his front wing right off. Wasn’t smiling then, was he?

The season did pick up, but you had to make your own fun really because it was a foregone conclusion. The problem, naturally, lies with Mercedes. There’s no point in attacking a team for being the best – after all, this is the so-called pinnacle of motorsport. I’m just saying, by the time we got to summer 2019 I’d gone beyond performing rain dances before every race (which never work). I started to do meteorite dances in the hope that a big Armageddon jobby would strike the front row, maybe the whole Top 10 at that, to allow Williams in for a few points.

It took until Monaco for Mercedes’ run of consecutive 1-2s to come to an end, and even that was only because a wild Max Verstappen appeared. He laid a further blow against them in Austria in one of the best winning drives I can remember, loathe as I am to say it. In any case, come the end of the season Red Honda Bull still weren’t quite there yet and Ferrari didn’t seem to want to know, though they did seem intent on crushing Leclerc underfoot with each race. You remember the line in 1984 about imagining humanity’s future as being like a boot stamping repeatedly on a human face? Yes, replace that boot with Ferrari.  After that, it was a much better showing for McLaren fans, comme-ci-comme-ça for Renault types and Sunday afternoons in hell for Williams aficionados.

But anyway, if you want further educaton on all of the 2019 season, you can head towards the latest Drive to Survive series on Netflix. It’s lost some of the novelty somewhat, but at least it’s a lot less dramatised this season – no out-of-place screaming V8s, or disingenuously edited footage of crashes that sound like bombs going off. I know Drive to Survive brought about a legion of new watching fans, but I wonder what impact the series had on sales of the F1 2019 game? In addition to the game being as-seen-on-TV (well…), there’s also the fact that it possesses the feeder category Formula Two for the first time, plus a slightly expanded legion of classic F1 cars from the times when you needed earplugs or risk having your teeth vibrated out every lap.

I try not to fall victim to the old FIFA curse of buying iterations of the same game every year, so I made sure to skip out on F1 2018. Decent season that it was, there were no notable driver changes and only a few classic cars had been added from the 2017 version, plus of course the carbon fibre sandal that is the halo. I thought I’d box clever and just pick up last year’s game instead, where I knew that the same old issues from as early as F1 2011 would rear their ugly head.

I was right, of course, but it’s odd with these games – I kick up stink about the things that never change, but when they do change, I need to have a go at them as well. First thing to note is that I play these games with a controller – I couldn’t be bothered with all this steering wheel and race seat setup. What if somebody walked in and saw me? A gamepad wouldn’t do for serious stuff like iRacing – that’d be like bringing a spork to Le Cinq. The Codemasters F1 games are not a simcade, which takes the pressure off them because then the game doesn’t have to a simulation nor must it be an arcade game, it can hit some sour-spot between the two.

Further taking the pressure off, and this will have really delighted those lazy buggers at Codemasters – instead of any original music the game just uses that cheaply American F1 theme in all instances. I’ll give them the credit though, the graphics are top notch even if my old TV sometimes gets a bit of screen tear. The sounds are good too, especially the classic cars. They’re still a bit too “clean”, of course, but they sound the biz and they’re possibly worth the price of entry alone.

But the modern cars in F1 2019 always seem to be dying to go into a spin. Plus, I could be mistaken but I’m certain that there’s even more insta-spin kerbs that throw you right off into the wall if you even breathe on the power while going through them. You can reverse the action and take yourself out of the wall with a quick flashback of course, and let me tell you – I’m like a Vietnam vet out there.

The most interesting change for me is that there’s now driver changes in the Career Mode. I’d always thought this kind of thing was a legal and contractual impossibility, but not a bit of it – you’ll quickly see Hamilton departing for Alfa Sauber. Yeah, they’ve probably gone a bit too far with this feature, but it was pretty interesting to see. There’s also a little story dynamic going through the game where two of your fellow mobile chicanes from F2 make the step up to the big boy league.

It’s good that there’s driver changes, but I’d like it to go a bit further. Let’s do the 1958 season and have a few deaths to your rivals midway through. A bit morbid I know, but think of the realism, the immersion. You could even have a life-ending crash yourself if you’re not careful – no flashbacks back then, only bedtime ones of your teammate dying in a hellacious blaze from his magnesium chassis. Hell, you might even try turning the Grands Prix into F-Zero X style Death Races, and gear your strategy towards taking out your rivals on purpose. Don’t mind their crying widows – their husbands knew the risks. That’s why they called it Drive to Survive.

1 May 2020

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