You're screaming towards a rather terrifying-looking chicane at 180mph. The car shakes, the V8 engine roars, and the trees, barriers and spectator stands either side of you form a messy grey blur. You've played F1 2010 to death, though, so you'll be fine; coming out the other side and nailing pole position is second nature to a seasoned driver such as yourself. You tap Y, activating that newfangled DRS that's all the rage these days, and within seconds you're bathing in a haze of dust kicked up from the gravel pit, the front of your car buried firmly in the tyre wall.
The bodywork remains largely the same for Codemasters' second attempt with the Formula One license, but under the bonnet there are several fundamental changes to the engine. The Birmingham-based developer has tinkered, tuned and chucked in whole new components this time around, the resulting game being a largely different beast to its predecessor. It's like learning to drive all over again.
They're not the biggest additions to the game in the grand scheme of things, but the changes to the cars themselves have the most profound effect on the experience as a whole. Vehicles are less skittish than last year - heavier, that is - and require a greater degree of skill to tame. While putting more pressure on the player might seem like a step backwards, it's a much more faithful representation of car handling, rewarding those who use the whole depth of the right trigger and not just the two extremes. There are more interesting changes than how the game responds to your inputs, however.
With the 2011 season comes the 2011 rule book, which now permits the use of KERS and DRS. If these acronyms elude your comprehension, know that the Kinetic Energy Recovery System and Drag Reducing System will both shake up the way you play the game considerably. Tapping on LB (in the 360 version tested) during a straight will activate KERS, giving you an extra 80bhp for as long as the button is held. It's a boost, essentially, and while you're only permitted 7 seconds-or-so per lap, those using it properly will notice a dramatic effect on their times.
The effects of DRS are more subtle - unless you activate it at the wrong moment, in which case things can quickly turn ugly. The Y button is reserved for opening a flap on the rear wing, giving trailing cars the extra oomph needed to overtake a car up the field. Under race conditions, DRS is limited to when you're a second-or-so behind a competitor, and can only be used after a certain number of laps. In practice and qualifying, however, there's no holds barred, and you'll soon rely on the technique to shave off time wherever possible. Be warned, though: failing to use it in the right situations will cause your back-end to fling out in front of you - so no getting over-friendly with the Y button when high speeds, hairpins and last-second braking is involved. While skill behind the wheel plays just as an important role as ever, there's a much greater degree of strategy and planning involved this time around.
Couple this with the usual ensemble of car-related tinkery available in the (revamped) garage, and a new team-feedback system - which informs you what's happening elsewhere on the track as you race - and you have a much deeper driving experience than what was on offer last year. Even annoying things like mechanical break-downs contribute to the authenticity of the experience, forcing you to pay attention to that technician jabbering away in your ear.
Graphically the game has taken another step towards realism, too. The tracks have been treated to a graphical overhaul, with a host of impressive new textures and shaders. (Incidentally, Buddah International and Nürburgring have joined the circuit roster for this season, bringing the total number of tracks to 19). It's a fantastic-looking game, still boasting some of the best reflections and lighting effects the racing genre has seen. Throwing your vehicle around the circuit as the heavens empty their contents onto the track is still one of the most impressive things I've seen from the cockpit of a virtual car. The droplets of water rolling down the screen, the reflection of trees and banners shimmering in the wet-sheen of the track, the spray kicked up from the car in front - it's a nightmare to drive in, but good grief does it look good.