I Just Can’t DNF You

You weren’t really my type. I’d been around others like you, but I never thought I’d be caught in your clutches, not least as tightly as I am now. A quick glance turned into a prolonged stare, and eventually I knew you had to be mine. You’ve used me, abused me, spat me out and still I yearn for more, still I crawl back and still I find myself hopelessly enamoured with you. At least until a better, prettier version of you comes along.  I wish I knew how to quit you, F1 2012.

I’ve been a fan of Formula One since I was seven, and since then I’ve woken up early for every race I could, yelled at the screen and armchair commentated through every championship since ’98, yet I never quite fell into the snare of the yearly F1 releases. One of my first experiences was with F1 World Grand Prix, a rendition of the 1997 championship that I still occasionally find myself playing with friends today, despite its simplistic and foggy graphics, monotonous sound and physics engine that’d freak out as soon as we decided to side-slam each other off the track. Despite never finding myself enjoying the more realistic racers – instead sticking to the more fantastic series like Burnout and Mario Kart – I spent far more of my childhood than I rightly remember shut away attempting to pervert the course of history and become the ’97 Champion myself. Even now I have fond memories of snatching the title by a single point with Eddie Irvine (who I chose for no reason other than that we had the same name) or lapping every other car during a ninety minute waterlogged session at Jerez as Mika Hakkinen.

Then sometime during secondary school I was going through the CDs in the room where I’d basically commandeered the computer as my own and discovered Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix Manager 2. I’d played Grand Prix 2 with my dad on occasion, eventually getting frustrated with the joystick and never managing to get to grips with the steering wheel controller he’d eventually bought to play it, but it was with the management sim that I found myself growing to it the most. It didn’t matter that it was based on the 1996 season (making it outdated by at least half a decade) and had an interface that was ugly by any standard, because it allowed me to take any team I wanted and take them to levels of success only eclipsed by Schumacher’s insane run of five world titles in a row. Even though I’d be unable to put it down once I started, there were a myriad of problems with it – or at least that’s how I remember it.

Having multiple save files and the knowledge to save after practically everything you did was the best way of progressing, especially as players were often encouraged to spend the early stages of their career stealing from their rivals. At your behest, members of your team could be sent to infiltrate the bases of rivals, copy their car set-ups for the approaching race and steal the designs for any superior car parts they had that you didn’t, though there was always the risk you could be caught and face sanctions for it – hence why the save and load commands were used so frequently. Then there was the fact I could somehow never get the hang of managing the actual races themselves, as though I was eventually able to set up the cars so that they’d qualify more effectively and be able to give other drivers a run for their money, my team would always end up crashing out of the race no matter what I did. Eventually I sought not to oversee any of the race weekend and my lack of presence was what spurred my team to take home multiple titles and somehow never crash again. With employees like that it’s no wonder I ended up with self-confidence issues.

After years of success, critical acclaim and the fact I somehow couldn’t get it to run on my then newly-acquired laptop, I said goodbye to the world of F1 management and slowly slunk back to the consoles, still avoiding serious racing titles where I could, apart from a brief dalliance with Grand Turismo 4 – a racing sim so serious and po-faced it makes Beefeaters look like they’re dying to burst into a K-Pop dance number. Every now and then I’d diverge from my racing palette of Mario Kart and Burnout to return to my N64 and F1 World Grand Prix, but as the years went on I slowly found the genre falling almost completely to the wayside, save for the repeated urge to swear at some blue shells. That is, until F1 2012.

First laying eyes on it at E3, I was drawn in as I was told all about the litany of changes they were making to everything they’d already established, and when I had it in my hands it handled exactly as I wanted it to. Soon I had to leave and return home, but my excitement never wavered as I eagerly awaited its release. Finally, it was out in stores, downloading on my PC and ready to be blitzed. I smiled as I went through the mandatory Young Driver’s Test, aiming to collect all the gold medals so I could begin my career in a better car, lined up on the grid in a Force India and prepared to give the rest of the grid what for.

Australia passed, as did Malaysia, and I prepared to qualify for the third race of the season, already making a name for myself as a rookie outperforming his midfield car. I was ready to take the session by storm when disaster struck. As it turns out, the save file Steam had in the cloud was different to the one on my PC itself, and so I idly chose to download the save from the cloud, figuring that there’s no reason anything uploaded to the internet could be wrong. Unfortunately, doing so corrupted my save file and I was left to either abandon my career or start from scratch. So again I loaded up F1 2012, took on the Young Driver’s Test and left it at that, resolving to start my season the next day, only to find that once again it hadn’t saved properly, forcing me to start from scratch yet again. Reasoning that there was no point trying to recoup the six hours I’d spent already, I resolved to take my spare time elsewhere and resist its charms.

A month later and the F1 season was hotting up, with its imminent finale responsible for crowning either Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel as a third-time World Champion, and I found myself no longer able to resist. Once again, I logged onto Steam, opened up F1 2012 and navigated the Young Driver’s Test, intent on taking every gold I could, and after a struggle I found myself driving for the best team available, the former front-runners turned mid-fielders Williams F1. Striving for a greater challenge, I ramped the difficulty up to Professional and slowly made my way through the season once again.

Slowly but surely, it became one of my favourite racers, hours went by day after day as I’d labour over every practice session to make sure I had the optimum set-up, qualify again and again as I desperately tried to reach Q3, and I ended up doing every race so many times over I may as well have ran the full amount of laps for each race instead as I found myself occasionally running foul of the stewards’ decisions or flying off the track after a misuse of the DRS boost sent the back-end askew. Hours after hours of honing my craft, never once becoming bored of driving around the same circuit again and again, absorbing every corner, hitting every apex, feeling every single gear change.

Lap by lap, it stopped becoming a game, it became Zen. Everything slowly fell into place as I would find myself coming to every circuit and learning every twist and bend until the lap times fell. I arrived seconds behind the pace, now I’m qualifying in the top ten. I started off as a rookie, now I’m winning races, sitting on the podium, leading from pole, becoming the rainmeister, leading the championship, entertaining offers, settling scores against rivals, and seeing my name pop up time and again on the news coverage. Hours, days flew off the calendar as I set out to become the best. Soon, that title would grace my mantelpiece Soon, I would be Champion.

That’s not to say that my journey was a simple one. On the contrary, it was one fraught with repetition, frequent mistakes and defeat, but after fifty-eight hours of sitting inside a cockpit one starts to notice cracks appearing in the veneer. Rivals rocketing into the distance halfway through the first lap, never to be seen again. Setting the fastest lap of the race, only to see those ahead extend their lead on you by two seconds. Driver after driver losing their front wing after careening into your back-end during a DRS or braking zone. Your team only promoting you to equal status within the team despite scoring over a hundred points more than your heavily-sponsored Venezuelan team-mate by the mid-season mark.

The flaws were there, those wrinkles blemishing an otherwise beautiful face, but soon they became a part of why I loved playing so much. It may have become my personal garden of Zen, but those little problems were ways of keeping me grounded in reality, or tactics I could use to my advantage. They no longer became flaws, just quirks only I seemed to notice about my new love.

Soon the 2013 season began to get under way, and I wasn’t yet done. Despite having wrapped up the Driver’s Championship at an intense race in Korea and cementing the Constructor’s Championship at the inaugural American Grand Prix, 2012 needed to draw to a close as the new year dawned upon the pinnacle of motorsport. I’d bested the Season Challenge mode, I’d bossed the Champions mode, and now all that was left was to finish my first season of F1 2012. Brazil rolled up, and despite a rainy qualifying session I’d managed to fluke sixth on the grid. Throughout my season I’d discovered that all the other cars were massively slow off of the starting line, allowing me to use the KERS boost to leapfrog up to five or six cars by the end of the first sector, then letting any drivers ahead of me speed off into the distance while I saved fuel and held up the rest of rest of the pack, using the additional fuel I’d saved to blitz the later stages of the race when I needed to pit for new tyres. Before moving on to Red Bull, the Williams team and I worked through my strategy for the upcoming race one last time, and then-


I frantically waited for the power to come back on, I logged on to Steam, clicked the play button, and slumped in my chair when I discovered that the momentary lapse in power had corrupted my save file. Another fifty-two hours of my life invested in a game that had already stung me once, and I had as much to show for it as anyone starting it up for the first time. Once again, I’d managed to lose everything. My career went from Champion to DNF: Did Not Finish.

Yet here I am after another stellar F1 race, and all I can think about is throwing myself back into that world again. I don’t want to spend all that time mastering the Young Driver’s Test again, but part of me doesn’t care. I don’t want to start from scratch and make my way through the ranks again, but part of me doesn’t care. I don’t care about those flaws, those repeated accidents, the hours spent trying to achieve perfection, only for them to ring hollow. I don’t care about the fact I should blatantly have been the number one driver by the end of the season, or that I shouldn’t have been offered a place at another team as the number two driver despite winning the Championship. I don’t even care about the fact that for some reason it stopped opening up in full-screen for me and won’t go back no matter how many settings I tinker with so I’m stuck with the task-bar at the bottom of the screen whenever I play and it’s really quite annoying.

I want to come back to you and while away my days taking the racing world by storm. I want to bask in the glory of victory, to stand tall on the podium and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. I want to get the perfect set-up, hit the throttle and run the tyres down to the canvas as I attempt to keep Vettel at bay. I want to, but I can’t any more. My pile of shame is getting more egregious by the day, and as that old saying goes “lose my save once, shame on you, corrupt my save twice, shame on me”. It’s not me, it’s you. Well, it’s not you, it’s your inability to keep my save files consistent between the cloud and my computer and your inability to keep them safe.

Still, here I am, trying to forget you, doing everything I can to resist you, to avoid plugging the controller back into my PC, loading up several hours worth of podcasts and starting anew.

Oh, F1 2012, I just can’t DNF you.

Last five articles by Edward


One Comment

  1. Ian Ian says:

    F1 for you is Football Manager for me.

    I’m a dirty crack whore that needs my sugar. I sympathise with you.

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