Other essentials of the makeup of F1 in 2011 are also in, and they're confidently handled. KERS - the brief boost power that's on the majority of cars on the grid - is in, as is DRS, which allows drivers to open the rear wing on some straights. Combining the two when they're on tap in qualifying sessions is a challenge unique in games, and exploiting both in the race is equally satisfying.
And of course there's the much-requested addition of a safety car. It adds authenticity but little else, with speed being limited for up to two pedestrian laps. Thankfully it's optional, as too is mechanical damage. It's another appendage that does little aside from adding to the authenticity, and both features only make fleeting appearances; through the course of a season the safety car made only one appearance, while our DRS failed us a couple of more times.
Racing itself is enhanced by AI that's more consistent than before, and it passes the Retifilio challenge - the racing genre's equivalent to the Turing Test - well enough. Pile into Monza's first corner and the 24 cars will maintain a respectable speed, dodging each other and not coming to a standstill like they so often do in the genre. It's an intelligence that's maintained throughout the racing, and going wheel-to-wheel is an experience that's more gratifying than frustrating here.
F1 2011's advances feed well into the multiplayer, where AI is less of a concern - eight computer-controlled cars help flesh out the 16-player option, providing a full grid for online racing. Here, without the safety net of the rewind button, mistakes are more cruelly punished, and the tyre management makes F1 2011 a distinctively strategic multiplayer racer.
A refined UI gives a little extra feedback and helps inform the strategy, both online and off. It stops short of providing reams of telemetry to mine into - and if F1 2011 is ever going to win over the core simulation crowd, this is an area that needs to improve dramatically - but it's several steps ahead of the broken timekeeping of last year's effort.
With the handling and presentation having come so far, it's disappointing that other areas haven't been lavished with the same level of attention. Last year's career came with the tag 'live the life', a promise of wish-fulfilment for those that daydream of earning their crust behind the wheel.
The promise is the same this time out, though it's broken in much the same way it was in F1 2010. Careers are again managed from within a motorhome - an attractively well-rendered front-end that also, unfortunately, means the action is always a handful of loading screens away - and there's a handful of flourishes, though its failings are familiar.
Contract negotiations are at least more nuanced, beginning much earlier in the season and gaining some gravitas from the addition of the real team principals' names - so Tony Fernandes will be personally pleading for you to stay at Team Lotus while you ponder the unthinkable by shaping up a move to Lotus Renault. Interviews before and after races are disappointingly wooden, inconsequential and abstract, and in introducing emails from agents and team bosses F1 2011 only falls in line with previous, more sterile takes on the sport.
But at least the core remains, and the delightful pull of battling your teammate over extended Grand Prix weekends hasn't dimmed. Likewise, the slow rise from the back of the grid is just as compelling, even if the largely static calendar (India and Nürburgring are this year's new locations) engenders a little déjà vu over the course of the seasons.
It's a familiarity that ultimately stops F1 2011 from ascending to the heights of the genre. Strip away the new lick of paint and it's tough to tell F1 2011 apart from its predecessor, and though it's certainly tighter, smarter and more technically accomplished, some of the old faults remain. A marginally better outing than last year, then, and that's enough to ensure that, as F1 games go, this is still quite comfortably the best.
8 / 10