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When playing racing games it’s very easy to feel intimidated by the all-encompassing setup menu, but the big secret is tiny tweaks can save a lot of lap time. This golden rule is even more the case in Codemasters’ , but fret not as we’re here to help explain exactly what everything means and what tinkering with each of the game’s eight different areas will equate to on track.

A quick word of warning though when trying to find the perfect setup make sure you do these settings in order, otherwise you’ll be constantly chasing your tail. Are you ready? Here we go!

1. Balance

This year the only setup option is balance is via the roll bar settings. Honestly the default options are good enough for most tracks and fiddling with these can lead to unpredictable results. Regardless a high Front value will create a more responsive car which suffers more understeer in corners, whereas a higher value for the rear bar results in less understeer and increases corner grip and traction without sacrificing tyre life, but overall your car will feel a bit more loose and lethargic when changing direction.

2. Suspension:

Right this one is a bit more complicated this year as Codemasters has completely overhauled the suspension system for F1 2011. The highest stiffness option isn’t necessarily the fastest all the time any more but before we get into that, let’s talk about ride height.

F1 2011: A Beginners' Guide to Setup

Scrapping the plank underneath the car won't lead to a penalty but it will slow you down.

Ride height options don’t make a massive difference in F1 2011. Lower values are generally better as the car seems a lot grippier the closer the under-tray is to the floor, although it is possibly for vehicles to ‘bottom out’ and scrape along the floor causing a sudden speed loss, so make your car as long as possible without this eventuality occurring. The best way to do this is to set the lowest value and then keep moving it up until your car no longer hits the floor.

Spring stiffness determines whether or not your car is safe skipping over kerbs when cornering. Basically a high value at the front wields more understeer, but quicker handling and better traction, but reduces the grip in corners and increases tyre wear due to your car moving around more.

Rear spring stiff generates oversteer, reduces traction and will increase tyre wear, a high setting here is only for those who like the car to feel really loose around corners

3. Alignment:

Camber: More front camber is better for high speed turns and general turn in whereas more rear camber is better for lower speed turns and hairpins as it allows the car to acclerate out of corners quicker. However the trade-off for having a higher camber is that the tyre wear is centralised in a much smaller area of rubber resulting in them wearing out much quicker. Too low in a negative figure in the front can result in sudden losses of grip, resulting in a slower turn-in, whereas the opposite can be said for the rear grip levels, with too low a setting resulting in oversteer leading to the car feeling like it’s going to swap ends as you accelerate out of corners. As always a balance needs to be made, but you’ll notice the difference if these two figures are too extreme straight away.

4. Toe:

This term refers to how the wheels are angled in relation to the centre of the car. Most gamers assume tyres only face ahead, but by tweaking how a wheel faces in or out, you can change how the car handles. More front toe in results in a quicker turn in, but too extreme a setting will lead to you car struggling with chicanes or quick corner to corner transitions. Now managing the rear toe-in correctly can add to a car which can get you quickly around hairpens, but again too extreme a setting here will lead to your car swapping ends.

Thankfully the setting possibilities here are relatively slender with a toggle between 0.15 and 0.05 on the front, however on the rear the change between the two most extreme figures is 0.30, so we suggest placing more of an emphasis on tweaking the back end of the car as there’s more to be gained.

N.B Both front and rear settings are relative to each other, so adding more to the front will in turn negatively affect the rear and vice versa. If your car feels too unstable on breaking or liable to swap ends at any moment, these settings are probably the culprit.

5. Brakes:

There are three options to tinker with here; Brake Size, Pressure and Bias. Now the first isn’t terribly important as your car’s brakes will never fail in F1 2011, so go ahead and dial that up to small which react the quickest. Pressure is somewhat important and we found that the lowest setting is always preferable so that you’re much less likely to immediately flat-spot your tyres when braking for corners. Bias is deceptively underwhelming as ever though it’s tempting to put all the emphasis on the rear of the car to help you turn in during corners, any extreme changes here leads to brake distance gradually creeping up, so don’t shift the preference more than 60% in any direction.

F1 2011: A Beginners' Guide to Setup

Making these two values too different from each other will make the handling feel unbalanced.

The best way to explain how front and rear wings work is to compare them to aeroplane wings which have been turned upside down, so rather than make F1 cars fly they push the chassis into the ground allowing better cornering and faster acceleration. For both front and rear options there’s eleven different values to choose from and like every other setting in this guide, the optimum value is very much dependent on the track. For instance, on the long straights of Monza the rear wing setting should be at 1, due to the excessive number of straights whereas for a track like Monaco you want the front wing to be set to 11, so that you get maximum purchase in the front tyres for the slower corners. To find the optimum setting here you’ll need to experiment to figure out what setting best suits your driving style on a particular track.

7. Engine:

Even on the highest difficulty there’s no need to fiddle with this menu before you hit the track. It does raise the issue of fuel mixtures and how the leanest variety can increase engine performance at the sacrifice of miles per gallon, but we’ll tackle that another time.

F1 2011: A Beginners' Guide to Setup

The general rule is that you want your gear ratio progression as straight as possible, but in this case we've sacrificed accleration for a better top-speed.

8. Gear Ratios:

This menu determines how quickly you can accelerate between gears and how quickly you can reach your car’s maximum speed. The rule for tweaking these settings is as follows – the first gear should equal the slowest corner, the last gear should be set for the top speed you reach on the circuit’s longest straight when DRS is deployed, whereas the remaining six gears should be evenly separated between these two different variables to maintain steady acceleration. The reason behind this is that you don’t want to be hitting the rev limiter when overtaking someone else, otherwise you’ll struggle to power past them. The trade-off is you don’t want to take so long to reach top-speed that you don’t end up getting there on the longest straight, so make it so that you hit the limiter just as you’re about to enter the braking zone for the first corner.

When it comes to finding a good car setup, it’s all about tailouring your car to suit your particular driving style, so don’t be afraid to spend time experimenting in the time-trial based ‘Proving Grounds’ mode.