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.
The 'live the life' side of the game encasing the racing has also been improved. Your career from rookie to world champion is brought to life with the same host of features as last year. As well as a computer full of emails from important people in the FIA, your paddock comes complete with its very own reporter, who perpetually loiters outside, looking to shove a microphone in your face for a quote or two at every opportunity. For the 2011 season, a new press feedback system allows the player to suck up to their bosses or slag off their team-mates to a much greater degree than before. As before, this has the potential to affect future contracts and how other drivers react to you on the track.
Getting from paddock to track is an arduous processes. A calendar hanging off the wall keeps track of where you are in the season, allowing you to move to the next location when you're ready. The shift from one country to another is separated by one lengthy loading screen, followed by another screen showing off various press clippings from the previous race. Yet another screen is sandwiched between the paddock and the garage, then there's a bit of farting about before you're actually able to get out on the track. A new Grand Prix mode on the main menu allows you to jump into a quick race - or long race weekend - without all the guff in between, however.
Codemasters is the first to admit that the multiplayer side of the game was lacking in 2010, and bringing out this side of the experience has been of chief concern to the studio this time around. The game now supports 24 cars on the grid in multiplayer - 16 real-life drivers, and 8 AI. The netcode is as robust as you'd expect, taking the strain of all those car models well. The objective system knitting together the single-player career also makes an appearance here, rewarding players that meet certain requirements - qualify 10th or above, for example - with precious XP.
Perhaps the most significant addition to multiplayer is a co-op career, which lets two players team up for a season. While you'll drive for the same manufacturer, the fun here is derived from the rivalry between partners - the constant battle to become the boss' favourite. I'd originally planned to enlist the services of my F1-mad father to help test the feature out (he helped me review F1 2010, after all), but an opportunity didn't present itself this year.
Those - like me - who are enticed by the prospect of proving their worth against a parent or sibling at home will be disappointed. The co-op career is limited to online play only, and doesn't support split-screen. Presumably this is because a potential 48 cars on the screen at any one time is simply too much to handle. Still, it's a shame that it's missing. Racing head-to-head with a friend can of course still be done locally, continuing the split-screen trend racing games have adopted in the last few years.
More important than anything else I've mentioned thus far, Formula 1 2011 introduces the safety car, which will interrupt the race after a more serious vehicular altercations, stop all overtaking, and lead the pack single file around the track. It's not much fun for speed freaks, but it's what the fans wanted - nay, demanded. If you're the type of person that plays at 20 per cent race length or more, on hard, with damage on, chances are you're the type of gamer that will appreciate such a feature. For everybody else, be thankful it isn't available on other settings.
Formula 1 2011 fixes things that were broken, adds things that were missing and iterates wherever possible. It's the little things that the core F1 audience will appreciate: the oscillating body work, revamped pit stops, improved tyre degradation, a dynamic cloud system. While casual players might question whether much is different a year down the road after 2010, those in the know - those whose second home is behind a steering wheel - will agree that F1 2011 is the most complete representation of the sport to date.