I love Formula One the sport. And I love F1 2012 the video game. I don’t think there exists another road racing game that has a speed as fast as a F1 simulation. Recently, I have crossed the 100 hours play time. One friend asked me, “What do you get out of this game with so much time put in? Do you grind for experience points or currency to unlock faster cars?” He is from a FPS and MMO background whereby unlocking gears is part of the game. I chuckled and replied, “Not at all. F1 is a skill game. The only thing you need to unlock is your talent in playing a racing game”.
I am not a hardcore racer. Fortunately, with the assist features this video game has offered, F1 2012 is accessible even to the most casual racer. All-assist function is good. It makes the game a lot less frustrating for some and the game play emphasizes on steering, a little bit of braking, sticking to the racing line, and making the most out of DRS and KERS technologies. On top of that, it is a good introduction to the format of a F1 race. The practice and qualifying sessions, yellow flag, pit stop, tire wear management, tire choices, penalty system, championship point system, racing rules, and more.
All-assist is good. But as one gains proficiency on racing with the assist features, one may crave for deeper challenges. F1 2012 offers a great depth to just that. Turning off the assist features one by one rewards achievements or trophies, much faster lap time, predictability, and general satisfaction.
We love to stay in our comfort zone. But if you decide to have a little adventure to see how far you can go with no-assist, I hope this article may inspire.
#1 Turn Off Brake Assist
Brake assist is the number one pace killer. That is true. By turning this one feature off, I have gained 3 to 5 seconds per lap.
Brake assist works best when you stick to the racing line accurately. The moment you deviate from the racing line, brake assist kicks in. This feature also slows down the car cautiously during corning. It kills pace.
Turning off brake assist requires you to observe the brake markers on the side. Depending on the turns, some have markers all the way from 400 meter ahead of the turn. Finding the correct braking point for each turn (and each circuit) is important. You may start with the very first sign you see. And if you over brake, you may adjust accordingly.
Don’t over train on this part of the journey. Once you are comfortable with braking function for a couple of different circuits, it is time to progress to the next one.
#2 Turn Off ABS and Traction Control
Personally, I feel ABS and TC (traction control) go hands-in-hands. Allow me to provide a bit of background here.
ABS, like in road car technology, helps to prevent wheel locking in a heavy braking situation. In F1 2012 in-game racing, ABS increases braking distance and stop front wheels from locking. Locked wheels have no grip and it makes the braking non-effective.
TC helps to prevent rear wheels spinning. Rear wheels spin when the engine rev exceeds what the wheel’s grip can handle. This happens in a couple of places: starting grid, during turning (such as exiting a corner too aggressively), and wet weather condition. When rear wheels spin, the car loses control.
Because ABS increases braking distance and TC reduces aggressiveness on gear shifting, turning them off improves lap time. I can decrease the lap time for up to 2 seconds by turning these off, which is substantial, when added onto the no-brake assist gain.
To drive without ABS and TC, you have to be aware of grip condition. Also bear in mind that down force is proportional to the square of speed. Hence, as your car slows down, you have to gradually release the brake pressure or else suffer front wheels lock-up. As you accelerate out of a corner, you may need to be gentle with the throttle or else suffer rear wheels lock-up.
Again, don’t over train on this setting.
#3 Use Manual Gearbox
Losing that auto gearbox, believe it or not, is not as bad as it sounds. If you are using a console controller, you may wish to remap the DRS button (on top) to gear-up button (on bottom). The default setup is neither comfortable to the hand nor intuitive.
Using manual gearbox – in some circuits – may gain lap time. Especially places like S-Curves in Japan, sector 3 of Korea, and turn 3 through 7 in USA whereby engine braking is more effective than wheel braking, less frustrating than the auto gear hunting that goes up and down through a turn. In other circuits, I may struggle matching my previous best lap records. That is OK because manual gearbox provides better predictability in corning speed. Also, once you go manual, you won’t go back to auto.
The best way to learn how to work that manual gearbox is to watch how F1 professional racers lap a circuit on YouTube. The strategies are as follows.
For down shifting from say a long straight at 7th gear, first, apply brake at the correct braking point. After a second, quickly drop down 3 gears to 4th. As you approach the apex, further drop down the gear to 3rd while releasing the brake. For sharp corners, drop the gear to 2nd, and if need to, 1st. Observe any sign of wheel lockup so as to further adjust the brake release timing.
For up shifting, the best time is when the engine hits the rev limiter (purple). Holding the gear for too long kills speed. However, you may notice shifting the gear up at high rev during corner exit may cause rear wheel spin (with no TC). Hence in this case, you have to be gentle with the throttle. Or shift gear a little bit earlier to keep the engine rev at a manageable state. It is also a good lesson on why you have to use every inch of the circuit in opening up the exit. Because the sharper the turning, the harder for you to be aggressive.
Of course, during wet weather condition, you have to watch out for engine rev.
By turning off brake assist, ABC, TC, and gear assist, it is time to really learn each and every of the 20 F1 circuits. Use the brake markers and banners as braking points. Find out the best gear choice for each chicane. This is the most rewarding journey for me.
One area that needs to address is race start. It is not easy without traction control. The trick is that before the 5-light goes out, gently hold the throttle to green zone. As you see the car moves forward, step onto the throttle. Hold 1st gear till the speed is beyond 90 kph. Then shift gears up as and when the rev limiter hits the purple zone. Put in KERS if need to.
#4 Turn Off Racing Line
This is a person choice, more for immersion. I don’t believe that turning off racing line would greatly help with lap time. Especially when it is raining cats and dogs on track and visibility is terrible.
For some circuits like Brazil, I am comfortable in turning off the racing line. For others, I am still learning my way. Turning off racing line also forces you to really learn the track, and perhaps find a better racing line than the game suggests.
#5 More Challenges Ahead
If you are into beating lap time, i.e. time trial mode, you can explore the detail car setup feature for each track and fine tune your vehicle. If you are into racing, i.e. career or quick race, you can turn on full damage simulation (and have a chance to see safety car!) and turn off the flash point system. That is to say, mistakes can cost a great deal. This game does not have hardcore mode. You may even discipline yourself not to use the race restart function and take what it comes.
That is part of F1 racing.
PS. First season of my amateur F1 racing career can be found here. Next season, I am planning to play with no-assist.