Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Talking About Minecraft #3: Dancing With Wolves

[Part of a monthly series of posts discussing indie sensation Minecraft. Today, a simple addition in a forthcoming update which could change the game significantly.]

Minecraft’s beta status means that it gets updated frequently. Some updates are so minor -- bug fixes, code updates, etc. -- that we as players don’t even notice while others such as the Nether update or the addition of beds are important because they change the dynamics of the game. Instead of waiting the night out before resuming our giant construction project, these days we set up a bed, click on it and wake up the next day ready to commence work once more. The Nether, as freaky as it is, was arguably a disappointment not because of what it brought to the table -- Glow-stone has been wonderful and, as far as building is concerned, Nether-rack and Soul Sand aren’t bad materials either -- but because after the initial buzz everyone (seemingly) went back to whatever they were doing in the ‘real’ world. Recently, a video popped up on YouTube showing off a forthcoming addition to the game that could potentially change it completely: wolves.

At first sight Wolves appear to be nothing more than yet another mob update, joining the likes of Ghasts, Slimes and Zombie Pigmen as creatures added to the game during different updates. Indeed, they are just a new mob and will likely join all the others as just another facet of life in the never-ending wilderness. The difference with wolves, however, is what they can do, and what they will mean for the game going forward.

During that video it is shown that upon your request, wolves can and will attack for you. Are those cows and their incessant mooing driving you mad while you build? Give them a punch and the wolves will take care of that for you. Looking for some pork chops but don’t want to waste your sword’s durability killing them? Again, get the wolves to do the job. Such an action is simple and won’t change the game too much, but it’s just another feature that will come in handy at certain times during play and benefits the player, yet again, in ways that weren’t possible previously. Wolves hunting on your behalf isn’t the only thing possible, however; the addition of wolves means the addition of pets, essentially, as wild wolves can be tamed and once they are they won’t de-spawn, no matter how close or far away you happen to be from them. Pets are a feature many players constantly request for Minecraft and feature prominently in the various mods made by the community. Wolves perhaps aren’t the first animal to come to mind when desiring a pet in Minecraft but it’s good to see that, once again, Mojang and Notch are listening to the community and satisfying their fans. The best thing that will come from the addition of pets however is that exploring in Minecraft or living in the world generally won’t feel as lonely anymore. Players won’t feel so isolated and, perhaps more importantly, won’t feel as cautious when they do come across company. Instead of panicking at the sight of a Creeper or jumping when they get pushed from behind only to realise it’s a silly chicken, players will feel comfortable knowing that whether it’s when they go out into the unknown or return home from an expedition, there’ll be something around, a companion, to make them feel safe and not alone.

This difference may only be minor in the grand scheme of things, but when you consider just how big Minecraft is and how lonely it can get, it will certainly be a welcome one. Besides, it’s the simple things that make life special.

Note: This post was unexpected but important, I feel, because of how it illustrates just what regular updates can potentially do for a game. I had originally planned to talk about what Minecraft has inspired inside of me and how it’s changed me as a person, so now I’ll discuss that next month.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Core Concerns

Earlier in the week news surfaced about the cancellation of a sequel to the highly regarded N64 title Perfect Dark, as well as its prequel Perfect Dark Zero. While not surprising, the cancellation brings with it some interesting tidbits about the direction of the abandoned game, and suggests that it wasn’t going to embody what it means to be a Perfect Dark title.

The first clue to this is the implication that Perfect Dark Core (the sequel’s working title) appeared to be a much darker game than the previous two, its tone more moody in atmosphere and its direction seemingly in pursuit of a realistic experience. You know the sort, a game that isn’t actually realistic but pretends to be in some vain attempt to be ‘mature’. Word has it that Joanna -- no longer the protagonist but relegated to a sidekick or companion -- was to lose some of the elegance and grace that made her so compelling, and instead she’d be more flirtatious and do things like smoke. This alone suggests an ill-conceived direction for the now defunct title but furthermore, it implies that Joanna was being changed to cater for the masses by accentuating her sexuality and giving her some attitude, because obviously that’s supposed to appeal to everybody (read: men).

The next issue was the aforementioned shift to a male protagonist, Joanna working by your side rather than by your button presses. Changing protagonists in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can offer a unique and different perspective to what everybody is used to, but in this instance it sounds like it was being done in an effort to broaden the franchise’s fanbase -- and the sales that go with that -- by putting players in the role of yet another male figure willing to shoot anything that moves, no doubt exhibiting some attitude along the way. In other words, it seems like the change was being made to make the next Perfect Dark game like most shooters already on the market, because clearly it sells and after Perfect Dark Zero’s lackluster performance god knows it needs some sales and attention. This is concerning simply because it appears to be a backwards step, one not only unnecessary but also rather strange after the efforts made to ensure Joanna was a classy, compelling female character. The addition of mechs also seems to prove the point, suggesting the game was going to be even more action-packed than its predecessors already were. Futuristic vehicles aren’t a new concept to the series, by any means, but mechs imply violence a lot quicker than any vehicle that existed in Perfect Dark or its prequel.

Concept art (such as the one of Joanna in this post) and video footage* also demonstrate a direction that, while interesting, doesn’t correlate with the personality of the Perfect Dark franchise, separating Perfect Dark Core from its predecessors even further. Obviously the game’s cancellation means all of this is now irrelevant, but I felt compelled to write about it anyway because the original Perfect Dark is one of my favourite games and because, as a franchise -- regardless of whether it garnered success or not -- it was smart, if not in design than certainly in concept and ambition. Joanna was a clever character, elegant and capable; the sci-fi story and elements were rich and believable; and in a lot of respects, the game was ahead of its time -- for better and for worse -- ensuring that it was worthy of attention, if not direct praise. Any new direction the franchise could take should be carefully considered and, like the recently revealed reboot of Tomb Raider, approached with respect to the past but with an aim to revitalise the future. Perfect Dark Core, based on what has been revealed about the project, seemed to be aspiring to none of those things and instead, appeared destined to pander to a demographic that the videogames industry seems so intent on catering to, but continually fails to recognise that it doesn’t actually exist. As a fan of the series and of the medium of games as a whole, such a direction is disheartening, which is why as much as it hurts to hear that what is essentially a Perfect Dark 2 has been canned, I’m glad the game was abandoned. I can only hope that in future, any other potential Perfect Dark games are approached with the same grace and intelligence that defines the series and made it so popular to begin with.

*It's also intriguing that some of the footage is particularly reminiscent of Mirror's Edge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Life I Live

When I purchased F1 2010 I bought it excited to finally be able to play a racing game based firmly in the realities of a real life sport that I love. I was eager to re-live some of the moments that made the real 2010 season so amazing, and ready to drive on both tracks I’m familiar with -- but don’t get featured regularly in other games like Monaco and Albert Park in Australia -- as well as venues completely foreign to me, like Abu Dhabi or Singapore. It was an opportunity to do something different, again, after years of familiarity in games like Forza or Gran Turismo. Never in my life did I expect it to enlighten me to things I was oblivious to previously, or for it to completely change my perception of the genre or, indeed, change me as a player. By approaching the game like I have, by living the life (so to speak), F1 2010 opened my eyes to a whole host of things and, now that the series is under way and I’ve demonstrated my commitment to it, I thought it was time to discuss just what they are.

One of the first things I realised by playing the game the way I do was that I was telling a story; that I was giving the events that unfolded weight and meaning. Instead of engaging it as a series of tracks and menus like it actually is -- like most racing games are -- I was giving each race, each event, a purpose, and realising that was fascinating. Thinking about it some more, I started to recognise that I wasn’t just telling this story as it happened (what you see here on the blog), I was actually creating it by living it. I wasn’t taking what took place and repurposing it to post a story afterwards, I was going through the events as they occurred, reacting to and dealing with them as if they really happened and that amazed me. It wasn’t a case of a spin just happening and me forgetting about it by the next corner as in other games, that spin was important because it was a mistake on my behalf, affected my current round’s progress directly and impacted on my overall impression of my performance(s) for that event. Basically, I was thinking like a driver rather than a player and as a result, acting like one too.

In any other game, this would be considered role playing: I’m intentionally playing in a particular way to benefit my desired experience, and to fulfill an activity that, as much as I’d like to, I can’t do (professionally, at least) in real life. Videogames have an entire genre centered on this act, on our assumption of doing something we can’t or won’t do in our real lives, but no one would ever expect a racing game to be an RPG -- even games like Test Drive Unlimited 2 wouldn’t be considered as an RPG, despite its leveling up and general lifestyle (more on this soon) -- and I certainly never expected an F1 game, of all things, to deliver such an experience. In some respects, it doesn’t -- my approach is what makes this story, this particular role, possible, not the game itself -- but the fact that, by living it myself, I’ve shown it can be done is significant, I think, and opens up a lot of possibilities for the future. In real life, racing can be hard to get into, requiring a lot of money to survive and, it has to be said, luck too -- I myself missed out because it wasn’t financially viable despite some unexpected support, so it’s not easy.* If racing games could enable people to fulfill their dreams as a racing driver in a virtual (and therefore, much cheaper) environment, then that could open up a lot of opportunities, not least of which is allowing people to live their ideal lives.

At the end of the day F1 2010 may just be a series of menus and circuits like all other racing games, and I may just be pressing buttons on a controller, but if games in other genres can empower us to do things that are impossible in reality or take us to places we are unable to physically visit, then surely racing games can too?

I’ll have more on what playing F1 2010 in this way has revealed once the season is a little further along, so stay tuned.

*Yes, my love for racing could have become a professional reality if I had the means (read: money) to make it happen. I didn’t, however, so virtual racing -- among other things -- satisfies a void that my real life circumstances could not.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Living The Life: Monaco

[Part of a series of posts in which I detail the events that occur during my first championship season in Codemasters' F1 2010. These will be written in a diary-esque form describing my thoughts and reactions as I participate in each event.]

Well it’s that time: the moment in the Formula 1 season that everyone -- drivers, crew members, teams and fans alike -- anticipates every year, and the highlight event on the calendar. The Monaco Grand Prix is easily the jewel in the F1 racing crown and while I appreciate the enthusiasm and share the respect, if I was to be honest, the circuit probably won’t be my favourite. Don’t get me wrong, I love street circuits and this one in particular is probably the world’s best, featuring extremely tight turns and very narrow passageways, but even so I just get the feeling that while I’m sure driving around this track will be a pleasure, it won’t become my favourite on the calendar. Having said that, I’ve never been here so it could surprise me and by the end of this (extended) weekend, I may be eating my words. It does look like a driver’s circuit, though -- most street circuits are -- so I look forward to seeing if I’m right about that, and if I’m able to respond to that challenge. After the last round in Spain, however, I enter this weekend with no expectations and the hope that things go a little more smoothly this time around.

Thursday Morning, Practice One; Wet

Heh, we finally arrive at the famous Monaco street circuit and it rains for the first session. That should make things interesting, particularly for those of us who are rookies and have never been here before. Virgin are running some performance tests this weekend and expect me to beat a time of 1:36.784 within six laps for the possibility of reducing rear tire drag by around 5.0%. I plan on doing it a little later in the session, once I’m comfortable with the circuit.

Due to the rain my first run was on Intermediate tires and, surprisingly, went alright considering this is my first time. It was enlightening, to say the least, simulators and videogames unable to prepare you for just how tight, bumpy and slippery (while wet, at least) the Monte Carlo circuit can be. It was a real wake up call. Also particularly amazing is the track’s elevation levels, the climb in the opening segment of the lap surprisingly high while the decline through the hairpins was both steep and sharp, almost as if driving on a mountain. Despite such a rollercoaster ride it’s also interesting how the climb feels really fast yet the fall is slow and gradual -- granted, the opening portion of the lap is at a higher throttle percentage than the twisty hairpins, but it’s still worth pointing out and considering, I feel. The first half of the track is also quite bumpy but from about the tunnel onwards it mellows out. Speaking of the tunnel, that thing is exhilarating at full speed. I brushed the walls a few times on my second proper lap and once on my in lap, no damage or anything though and definitely a byproduct of me learning the track and finding its limits. I also spun off the wet curb at turn 7 (straight after the infamous hairpin) on my third lap but, again, it was nothing. It wasn’t clear what the upgrades the team added to my car for this round (new side-pods and an engine cover update) were doing in this initial run, either, but I trust their judgement. The weather wasn’t too bad, quite light but there were still a few puddles to avoid on the track, particularly in the first half of the lap.

My second run (Inters) was where I decided to go ahead with Virgin’s testing requirements (to get them out of the way, mostly) and, as I exited the garage, I nearly connected with the wall because we’re so close to the exit lane here. I certainly wasn’t expecting to have to react suddenly like that in an area that is usually relaxed and blasé in practice sessions, but I got out of it so I can reflect on it as a learning experience -- as silly and small as it is -- as well as a unique trait of this Grand Prix. Once again I met the R&D requirements easily, achieving the time on my first lap. The run itself was flawless, too, until the in lap where I missed my brake point slightly at turn 5 and, due to the downhill momentum and no real run off area, I went straight towards the wall and connected with it gently. This gave me minor wing damage. Lucas (my teammate) and a Lotus (I didn’t see who) also had a collision in the pits due to Lucas having to wait for me to be pushed back into the garage. It was still lightly raining through that run but at the same time there were hints of a dry line forming, no doubt because my rivals were finished with their installation laps and were actually starting to complete some laps. The track, generally speaking, continued to remain quiet, however, something that surprised me as I would have thought my fellow rookies would have been taking the opportunity to come to terms with what is probably the hardest track they will ever drive around. Their problem, though.

Still daunting and thus, intimidating, my third run around Monaco (still on Inters) was a dud as the rain had stopped and the track was drying quickly. As a result, I came in and switched to Prime tires to begin my fourth run, which continued to surprise and enlighten me. It’s amazing how much faster and more beautiful the track gets once the sun shines over it, not to mention how severe the bumps become due to the quicker pace. I got wheel-spin off a bump exiting turn 4 which threw me into the wall, where I got a puncture and wing damage. Adrian Sutil, who wasn’t far behind, didn’t see me and collected my car, giving me more damage. It was quite hard nursing the car back to the pits afterwards, too, as the narrow track made it rather difficult to move aside when other cars were coming through. Luckily I only had to move in the famous Rascasse corner (turn 16), so it wasn’t too bad. When Monaco bites, it bites hard and the unfortunate damage I received was my initiation into how difficult this circuit can be, as well as a loss of progress for the weekend thanks to lost time in the pits for repairs.

Once my car was fixed, my fifth run (still on Primes) was also eventful, with it containing yet another missed braking point in turn 5, an ensuing lock up on one of the bumps in the approach, and another visit to the pits after meeting up with the wall yet again. This occurred on my second lap and, as you’d expect, resulted in more front wing damage that needed to be repaired. My sixth run (Primes) featured me going wide on my out lap in turn 7, where I happened to clip the wall and had to come in for yet more repairs. It was about this point that I recognised why everyone speaks of Monaco’s difficulty and just how harsh it can be -- I was certainly beginning to feel the pain of its torture.

My seventh run (Primes) was a bit better, though I still unintentionally cut turn 1 on my second lap due to coming in a little too hot (better to cut than to hit the wall, though) which naturally resulted in a warning, while my third lap was ruined by a spin exiting out of turn 8. I lost a lot of time here due to it being so hard to turn the car around in the narrow approach to the tunnel, especially as I also had to try and keep out the way of my rivals and off the racing line, a difficult thing to do when I couldn’t see when someone was coming around the corner and had to go by sound -- and, eventually, my team’s assistance over the radio -- instead. I made up for this spin on my fourth lap, however, as it was my quickest time of the session yet.

My eighth and final run (Options) was okay, my first proper lap being good and resulting in an improved time, while my second had to be aborted due to a much quicker Jenson Button (I let him through). On the third lap I got wheel-spin out of turn 1 and clipped the right hand side wall, obtaining minor wing damage yet again. Probably good in hindsight as I only put the Option tires on to try them around here and can now save them for a future session. The Options invite you to push like on any track but of course, Monaco has consequences so I need to remember to be careful. Despite a few minutes left on the clock I didn’t go out again, so the brief interlude as I waited for the session to end allowed me the chance to think about what had happened so far. I found it amusing how, by the session’s end, you couldn’t even tell it had rained, an unusual trait for a street circuit as usually it is the complete opposite -- water normally sticks around. I got 17th for the session on a 1:20.587 set on the Options, and did around 15 laps in total -- a lot less than I had planned. Monaco tricks you into wanting to go faster than is actually possible, the margin for error being extremely small; something that is perhaps emphasised by the amount of time I lost in that session. My agent reckons my bosses are happy with my season so far, despite its mixed results (a comment that surprised me after the shocking round that was Catalunya.)

Thursday Afternoon, Practice Two; Sunny

I elected to go out on Options straight away for my first run, wasting no time in getting acquainted with the tires around here. The run was good, too, as I beat the required time for those R&D tests on my first lap (those times are very lenient) and on my third lap I finally broke into the 1:19s, setting a 1:19.563. I did scrape against the walls a little bit but a few kisses never hurt anybody. I wanted to switch to Primes for my second run but apparently my allocated set was damaged -- I’m not sure how -- and as such I was forced to remain on Options. This limited my track time for the rest of the session.

The run itself was fine but I didn’t improve my lap time, either, something I was quietly unhappy with as I wanted to get a good time in early and before the tires became worn. They already started to show signs of age at the end of the stint, the back tires becoming a little unresponsive. This meant that at the time, I was feeling like they only had one more run in them as far as setting a decent time was concerned, and that anything after that would have to be at a slower pace. When I returned to the pits, my engineer informed me that the reason my allocated tires were damaged was because of my puncture in P1 -- I wore out the other tires we switched to after that incident and, as such, we fell behind with our stock for the weekend.

My third run was also fine with some consistent laps done and me coming quite close to beating my best time on a few of them. Despite no improvement I was pleased with this, as consistency is important -- particularly here -- and I knew the time would drop the better I got at hitting my current one. All four of my Option tires were showing signs of wear in this run and despite a 0% chance of rain according to the forecast, it was rather overcast and thus, quite possible for rain to be due.

My fourth run (still on worn Options) was very brief, a lock up in turn 1 sending me straight into the wall on my first lap. I’m not sure if it was my mistake or the tires but it was pretty obvious that they were beyond their lifespan so, unable to set any more decent times I came back in. For some reason as the session was close to finishing I went out again for a fifth run, thinking I’d just get some general practice in, especially since the clouds had cleared and it was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to take advantage of any weather by switching to newer tires. This was probably a mistake as in the run I received a 5-spot grid penalty for supposed dangerous driving after a spin exiting turn 7. Apparently I blocked the track while I was trying to recover, because it was extremely hard to turn around in such a narrow area. This was frustrating, definitely, as I didn’t need any penalties or things like that happening after my round in Spain. Overall I finished 11th for the session which was quite the surprise, that time of 1:19.563 set in the first run securing a relatively decent position all things considered.

Tomorrow is a day off here in Monte Carlo to allow the city's inhabitants use the streets and buildings, so I’ll be spending the day thinking about what remains for the weekend and making my necessary appearances at the various press events.

Saturday Morning, Practice Three; Sunny

Another Practice session and another instance in which Virgin would like to do some R&D tests. This time they expect a time of 1:42.874, an extremely lenient time and slower than the time they expected in P1. Naturally, I achieved this time on my first lap in my first run (Primes), getting it out of the way which suited me and satisfying the team’s experiments for the session. I had to abort my second lap after I missed the brake point at turn 5 yet again, but this time I was able to react in time and go down the escape road that’s to the left of the corner instead, saving me from obtaining any damage but wasting some time as I turned the car around in the tight area. My third lap was good while my fourth lap featured a copycat of my second with me going too deep into turn 5. Unlike that second lap, however, I couldn’t get out of it and collided with the wall, damaging my wing on impact. Back in the pits, I lost some more time as the team fixed the damage.

My second run (Primes) was also eventful, as I misjudged my entry into Rascasse (turn 16) on my first lap and clipped my wing on the left inside wall as I entered the corner. So close to the pits I came straight in, losing more time as my wing was, once again, replaced. My third run (Primes) was better, all of my laps good and clean. On around the second lap I noticed it was getting darker but after P2, I knew that it didn’t mean anything until rain fell on the circuit, if at all.

My fourth run saw me resume the drama, as I misjudged the chicane that makes up turns 14 and 15, otherwise known as the Swimming Pool. I clipped the inside wall as I took the chicane on my out lap and once again ventured back to pit lane for more repairs and more lost time. My fifth run featured more damage, this time because I went wide on the final turn (again on my out lap) and clipped the wall (gently) as a result. I was getting frustrated by this point, constantly having to come in for repairs, and it was obvious that I couldn’t get into a rhythm in this session, for some reason.

With ten minutes left on the clock I went out for my sixth and final run (Primes) and thankfully it was better though I still took a detour down the escape road of turn 1 on my first lap and also had a spin in turn 4 after accelerating too early. In both instances I was able to avoid damage (thank god) and on my second lap, I put down my best time for the session. This put me into 14th overall as the session expired, with only a meager 8 laps completed. Nowhere near enough, unfortunately, and like Thursday’s two Practice sessions this was one was full of setbacks -- a lot of which were perhaps unnecessary -- and lost time, not good at such a challenging venue like Monaco where you need all the track time you can get. Still, my engineer was happy due to meeting the team’s R&D goals and he also informed me that despite these issues my Virgin bosses are also happy with how things have gone so far. This reassurance was needed for me personally, as I was feeling a bit down after P3 ended and couldn’t help but think of what transpired in Spain a fortnight ago. I don’t know, it just felt (and seemed like) I was either having a strong case of bad luck or underperforming, and I guess I was letting it get to me still new to F1 and still trying to justify my presence here, not to mention still trying to demonstrate the talent that got me here in the first place. Interestingly neither Lewis Hamilton nor Nico Rosberg put down any times, suggesting that I wasn’t the only one dealing with some problems.

An interview post P3 asked about my thoughts on Monaco (“Is it as special for you as it is for everyone else?”), whether I’m getting on with my team and how I find the car. I responded by saying that I loved the challenge of Monaco -- despite my woes I do enjoy driving it; it’s a real driver’s circuit -- despite how daunting it can be, and that both my team and car are going quite well, the team especially.

Saturday Afternoon, Qualifying; Sunny

With Practice out of the way we’re now into the business end of the Monaco Grand Prix, a fact that is almost as daunting as driving around the track itself. I’m quietly confident for Qualifying, however, as I am relatively good at putting a lap together when it’s needed and that should bode well for my overall starting position. That said, Spain’s misfortune and our eventful weekend so far means that I’m not going into this session with any particular aspirations, though as per usual Virgin are as they expect me to qualify 15th or better. I’m still quite inexperienced with this circuit so really, I’ll take what I get.


My first attempt continued the issues we faced in the various practice sessions as right away I had to abort my first lap because of two cars who were exiting the pits in front of me. As I went around preparing for a second go, I also had a minor spin in the final turn which, naturally, hurt the potential in my second lap too. Luckily my third was better and I banked a time, though it wasn’t anything special. It’s amazing how much of a difference the Options (and a light fuel load) make around Monaco, the track feeling completely different (and, obviously, faster) than it does on Primes or other tires. It’s definitely something worth pondering, at any rate.

My second attempt wasn’t drama free either, as I cut the chicane after the tunnel ever so slightly on my out lap and was subsequently warned about it, then went in way too deep into turn 1, hitting the wall in the process and getting yet more front wing damage. This, of course, meant more repairs and lost time in the pits and, as a result, I made no improvement on my time and didn’t get another go in Q1. I did, however, still progress, my time of 1:19.379 decent enough for 13th. Of course that doesn’t matter as times get reset, but it was still nice to progress. Lucas didn’t, continuing his elimination streak out of Q1 once again.


I cut the corner of turn 1 -- a sticking point, it would seem -- accidentally on the second lap of my first Q2 attempt, which invalidated the time and promptly gave me a warning from the officials -- they’re still very quick to get on my tail, it seems. I then had to abort my third lap after scraping up against the wall exiting Casino, otherwise known as turn 4. I had a spin on my fourth lap -- which reminds me, I also had one on cold tires on my out lap at the Swimming Pool, but it was nothing serious -- in turn 12 as I exited. Schumacher hit me when he arrived and I got a penalty for causing the crash despite him not trying to avoid me, or being able to after the blind corner. This was annoying as I was awarded yet another 5-spot grid penalty, effectively ensuring that I’d be starting at the rear of the pack regardless of where I qualified.

The repairs after my incident left little time to have a decent second attempt so I didn’t bother heading out and instead I accepted the fact I’d be running around at the back tomorrow. Even so, I qualified in 17th with a 1:20.046, nowhere near my fastest time and not meeting Virgin’s expectations either. My 10-spot drop means I’m definitely starting last tomorrow, which further adds to the disappointment, and there’s definitely a feeling amongst the team (and for me personally) that I should have been much higher up than that. I guess it proves, once again, that when Monaco bites it bites hard, though the officials’ desire to prove just how much of a rookie I am certainly doesn’t help the matter. Based on how the weekend has gone so far, I don’t expect anything out of tomorrow’s race now as the event has been appalling so far -- just like Spain, then -- and, in some respects, I just want it to be over. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the track or driving around it, it’s just pretty obvious that things aren’t going my way at the moment. Things could change if it rains, but despite the precipitation earlier in the weekend I don’t expect anything tomorrow afternoon. Anyway, Webber got pole with his teammate Vettel following him for 2nd and Lewis Hamilton rounds out the top positions with 3rd.

Sunday Afternoon, Race; Sunny

I enter today’s race with no expectations as I mentioned yesterday, and nervous given how tight Monaco is (although I do love street circuits). I need to remind myself of the heavier fuel loads at the start of the race too, as I forgot about it (silly I know) in the last round and it definitely played its part in my poor race. Virgin expects me to finish in 12th for this race, a position I feel is completely unrealistic both because of our recent woes and also because we just don’t have the same performance as the front-running teams. The ubiquitous barriers and narrow corners could cause a lot of attrition which might put me as high as that position, but somehow I doubt it will happen and instead will have to rely on either weather, or a turn around as far as luck is concerned. Starting at the back practically makes it impossible anyway, as Monaco is notorious for minimal -- if any -- overtaking, obviously due to the tight circuit. My goal, if I could have any, is to finish in 20th or better, as that feels more realistic and might be possible if I get a good start or if a few of the others retire, but we’ll see how things go. The good news is that since I’m in last place I get more freedom in terms of when to pit and which tires to begin with, so after discussing it with my engineer the strategy is to start on Options and pit at around lap 25 or so (out of 78). Just like the previous five rounds I am just going to run my own race and see what eventuates, dealing with things as they come. Well, here goes nothing…

Race Start

My start was good with less wheel-spin than normal, though it was very slow in turn 1 as everyone tried to make it through cleanly. I managed to get up to 21st place by the tunnel due to the queue of cars all lined up and going slow through turns 4-8, though it didn’t last long and I went back to 23rd on lap 3 after locking up my front left in turn 5 and sliding into the wall thanks to the downhill momentum. This gave me minor front wing damage -- surprise, surprise -- though it wasn’t enough to require repairs and I was told to press on. I locked up again heading into turn 1 on the next (fourth) lap, which put me back to last as I recovered from the escape road. This lost time meant I was a small way behind now, proving that once again I’m not that good at dealing with the heavier fuel loads (inexperience, I guess?) and that this weekend wasn’t meant to be any good. I got a warning for cutting the quick left-right chicane before the Swimming Pool, turn 13, after I went slightly wide. Then I locked up into the final turn and gently hit the wall, but I was able to recover quickly and once again it wasn’t enough to require a visit to the pits. Both of these incidents occurred on lap 6. Unsurprisingly I was overlapped early into the race, on lap 8. Moving aside is nearly impossible so I had to back off completely on lap 9 heading into the tunnel and wait for a gap, ensuring my race was going to be at the back, slow and boring. Once the cars were through and I got back up to pace I received another warning for cutting turn 1 when I was trying to move over for another car on lap 11, then again on the same lap at the chicane after the tunnel (turns 10 and 11), this time because I misjudged it slightly. On lap 12 my right rear Option tire started to show signs of wear and by lap 17 I had been lapped by everyone other than my teammate Lucas, including the top three for the second time. Lucas got by near the end of the lap, basically securing last place for me unless anybody retired. It started to lightly rain on lap 24 but it had stopped again by the following lap, which was also where I pitted, on schedule, for my fresh set of Prime tires. Whilst in the pits I was informed I was in 22nd so, clearly, some people had retired like expected. Back out on track after a successful stop, I continued to run my own race until lap 28 where I came across a slow driving Lucas, which I promptly took advantage of by un-lapping myself from him. Unsurprisingly he retired on the next lap and by lap 30, I was in 18th thanks to more retirements. On lap 31 I got some wheel-spin out of the final turn, clipping the wall gently and getting minor wing damage again (my wing was replaced in my pit stop), but otherwise the Prime tires were appearing to suit me and my pace had picked up, as I found myself in a decent rhythm. I went wide in turn 12 on lap 42, brushing the wall which caused me to spin and bump into the opposite wall, increasing the damage to my wing and requiring an unscheduled visit to pit lane to get it fixed. Prior to that however I had a decent stint, my consistency picking up and the Primes allowing me to get quite comfortable with the circuit, despite how intense it is to drive. Moving aside for the frontrunners wasn’t as hard as it initially seemed, either, with places like the tunnel and main straight being fantastic chances to get out of the way of the quicker cars. On lap 58 I locked up heading into the final turn, hitting the wall in the process and yes, you guessed it, losing my front wing. Because it happened in the last corner, too, nursing the car back to the pits in the following lap was extremely difficult -- obviously due to my car losing its aerodynamic performance -- and exceptionally slow as I was careful to make sure I didn’t crash again and make things worse. I did make it back, though, and once the repairs were made I set out to finish my race. On lap 70 I spun off turn 7’s curb which also happened to be my final lap as I was eight laps down on the leaders and they had already finished. It took ages to recover and turn the car around due to how narrow it is there and the fact that I couldn’t see when anyone was coming, having to rely on sound again until my team helped me out over the radio. I did eventually get going again and finished the race in 17th place, which was last on track but ahead of those who had retired. Overall the race was terrible just like Spain was, and while this event was much more enjoyable it definitely didn’t go to plan and highlights to me just how difficult the Monaco Grand Prix is. Despite an expensive weekend for the team with all my repairs and Lucas’ own issues, as well as all the unnecessary mistakes I made and, of course, the penalties that ensured my place at the back, I’m happy with the race because it was an enlightening experience -- Monaco’s reputation is absolutely deserved -- and when I was able to drive on it properly, it was an absolute thrill. I feel like I mastered it mentally by observing its intricacies and learning how to deal with its bumps and tight chicanes and, should I be lucky enough to return for another season next year I definitely feel like I can translate that knowledge into a much better performance and result. Here’s hoping I get that opportunity.

Mark Webber won the race (it’s wonderful to see a fellow Australian win such a prestigious event) whilst Vettel and Hamilton rounded out the podium trio, coming in second and third respectively. I sit in 21st for the driver’s standings and Virgin, no doubt because of my recent woes and Lucas’ constant retirements, sit last in the constructors’ championship. Unsurprisingly, the team felt let down by my performance in the race and because I couldn’t meet their expectations, but as I detailed earlier I didn’t believe they were being realistic and so I’m not worried too much about it. If there’s one thing Virgin are good at, it’s putting things behind them and moving on to the next task at hand, which happens to be the Turkish Grand Prix in a couple of weeks. Let’s hope a change of fortune rewards their patience and optimism when we get there.

[Note: All images save for the course map were obtained from one of my favourite websites, Dead End Thrills -- check it out some time.]