It’s the ninth round of the Formula 1 world championship in Montreal. Red Bull and Ferrari have dominated the season up to now, locking out the podium places across the first seven rounds, before a major underbody update for Mercedes in Baku saw George Russell take his first podium of the year by passing Carlos Sainz Jnr in the closing laps.
When the race starts, Mercedes settle into fifth and sixth as the leaders dart out ahead. As predicted, the rain begins to fall around lap 30. An intense shower soaks the circuit.
The Ferraris and Red Bulls pit, both opting for wet tyres due to the sheer volume of water on track. However, the weather data predicts that the rain will be brief, so switching to intermediates allows both Mercedes drivers to begin gaining ground on the cars ahead as the track rapidly dries. Eventually, the track is dry enough for both Russell and Pourchaire to pit, allowing them to emerge from the pits with a one-two lead.
As Verstappen hunts down the two Mercedes with superior pace, Yuki Tsunoda slams into Daniel Ricciardo at the hairpin and the Safety Car is deployed. The intervention allows both Mercedes drivers to recharge their ERS and preserve their medium tyres, before the race restarts with five laps remaining.
Pourchaire is given direct orders to hold up Verstappen as much as possible. He plays the rear gunner role admirably, allowing Russell to pull out a modest gap. By the time Verstappen passes Pourchaire and gets within DRS range of the leader, it is the start of the final lap. Eighty heart-pounding seconds later, Russell crosses the line to score Mercedes’ first victory of the season, with Pourchaire bringing the second Mercedes home on the podium in third.
This dramatic scenario is not from a dream, fanfiction or an episode of Ricciardo’s upcoming scripted F1 television series, but a race that played out during RaceFans’ review of F1 Manager 2022 – the first officially licensed Formula 1 management game in over two decades.
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Back at the factory
In the wide world of sports games, management simulators routinely often a level of depth and immersion that career modes in the biggest sports game franchise simply do not. Just ask anyone who has swapped from FIFA career mode to Football Manager, from MLB The Show to Out of the Park Baseball, or from playing Madden NFL to not playing Madden NFL.
Motorsport management simulation games have always had an audience, from Edward Grabowski’s Grand Prix Manager and Grand Prix World in the nineties to PlaySport Games’ Motorsport Manager – as deservingly popular as it was unimaginatively titled – in 2016. But it’s been too long since players could step into the role of team principal and lead one of the ten official F1 teams in the world championship. Until now, that is.
After two years of development having been announced at a time when the first wave of Covid began to crash across the world, Frontier Games will tomorrow release for early access players F1 Manager 2022 – the first edition of a new multi-year series of F1 management sims across PC, PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
From the moment F1 Manager 2022 loads up for the first time, it’s striking just how much the game feels like a true Formula 1 title. The archive race footage straight from FOM and the eerily well-modelled driver faces that greet you at the title screen are a far preferable sight when starting an F1 to a random assortment of dripped-out characters such as EA’s F1 22 offers with its F1 Life mode.
As you would assume, F1 Manager allows you to become team principal of any of the ten teams and try to lead them to the world championship over the course of multiple seasons. You have control over driver line-ups, technical personnel, car development, finances and cost cop management as well as your team’s factory and facilities. You even get to vote on behalf of your team for regulation changes affecting points allocations, wind tunnel testing time and more.
If you’re the kind of player who prefers casual action to slower paced, longer term gameplay investments, think hard about whether F1 Manager is the game for you. Because with so much to consider when running a world championship Formula 1 team, there is an intimidating level of data and information to have to consider.
By far one of the most impressive aspects of F1 Manager is how authentically it recreates the world of Formula 1 in its simulation. Every driver, every race engineer, every head of aerodynamics and every technical chief across F1, Formula 2 and FIA Formula 3 are represented and rated in the game.
If you want to sign Peter Bonnington to your team, you can. If you want to let Lewis Hamilton go at the end of his contract and replace him with Theo Pourchaire, you can. If you want to sign Arthur Leclerc from F3 to Ferrari’s reserve driver role alongside his older brother, that’s your call to make. The effort that has gone into making the world of F1 Manager feel like a genuine simulation of the sport players know and love will be very appreciated.
Naturally, it’s easy to feel worried about being overwhelmed by the multitude of areas to manage. However, F1 Manager 2022 does an admirable job of gamifying the complexities of modern Formula 1, while still remaining true to life. Downforce generated by your car is measured in kilonewtons, cornering performance is measured by maximum g-force, CFD testing is measured in Mega Allocation Unit hours (MAUh) and you are limited by aerodynamic testing restrictions relative to your previous championship position, just like real life. Yet if that sounds complicated and confusing, you don’t need to worry.
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The developers have done a commendable job of taking all this detailed information and presenting it in a way that allows players to interpret the effects of their decisions without needing to hold a degree in mechanical engineering to understand. After a few races, you’ll get your head around how each area in your control affects your team and what you need to do in order to put your team in the best position to win.
Every time you upgrade your facilities, hire a new key staff member and design or manufacturer a new part, the cost goes against your team’s budget cap. Each team naturally has varying levels of cashflow – you won’t run the risk of breaching the cap if you take over Williams, for example – but keeping track of your budget is simple as the game makes it very clear how much wiggle room you have at any one time.
Facilities can be upgraded to earn new perks like faster development time, additional staff or greater team morale. However, it’s not simply a case of upgrading your factory to the maximum and just sitting back as you easily cruise to titles. Each facility has an upkeep cost which increases over time and eventually you’ll need to spend considerable amounts of money to refurbish them back to 100%.
There’s a helpful assistant you can enable to give you tutorials for each section, but if you’re in an experienced management game player it’s advisable to go without it. Major actions are always featured in your email inbox so they cannot be missed, but a lot of the time there will not be a huge amount of work you need to do between race weekends in order to keep your team ticking.
Out on the track
Once your cars are assembled and ready to race, it’s time to head into a grand prix weekend. As it is likely where you will be spending the bulk of your gameplay, it’s pleasing that the racing element of F1 Manager 2022 is probably its best.
Every practice, qualifying and race is available to play and watch in real-time in fully-rendered 3D using the Unreal engine. This is, by far, the very best a motorsport-focused management game has ever looked. With trackside cameras and a selection of onboard views to choose from, you have full freedom to watch whatever car on track from whatever angle you could imagine.
It’s important to keep in mind that the driving is not physics-based but an algorithm-based simulation. Cars will travel unnaturally. Overtaking moves will look simplistic and drivers will drive very much like robots – but that’s also not the point. The racing you see on screen is simply a visual representation of the simulation whirring away in the background of the game. Once you suspend your disbelief and accept it for what it is, you’ll enjoy it so much more.
All 22 circuits are modelled beautifully with all the time of day changes you’d expect for night races. Cars have universal models, which may disappoint some, but will be easy enough to ignore for most. Car sounds are taken directly from FOM recordings of cars from trackside and onboard cameras, rather than synthetically generated in game like most racing simulators. With the heavy use of FOM graphics, replays of key events available through button prompts and TV cameras replicating their exact placements in real life, it’s very easy to pretend you’re watching an actual grand prix due to the quality of the game’s presentation.
You have total control over tyre choices, set-up and which of your cars run which parts and fuel loads in practice and qualifying. When your cars are on-track, you can give your drivers instructions on how hard to push their tyres, how much fuel saving to do and what ERS mode to set their car in. As Formula 1 drivers are elite in their skills, you don’t have to micro-manage your pairing as they race on track. Your drivers will attempt to overtake rivals if an opportunity arises and they don’t need to be told to yield for blue flags. They will also warm up their tyres automatically before a qualifying lap and will automatically set their ERS to recharge if you’ve sent them out for a two flying lap run with a cool-down lap in between.
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Car set-up takes the form of five basic sliders that you adjust, then send your drivers out for feedback. It’s a little unrealistic in that it takes your drivers at least 15 minutes of track time to decide whether they are happy with the set-up or not, but over the course of three practice sessions you’ll gradually refine your settings until your driver is as happy as they can be. As an ever-present danger, your drivers have the risk of crashing out of practice sessions which will end their running and – naturally, so can your AI rivals.
When the games simulation systems are firing on all cylinders, the effect is incredibly immersive. The best part of the Canadian Grand Prix scenario described above was that it was a thrilling and believable race story that had played out in a genuinely organic manner. There had been no prompts from the game suggesting what to do. It was just a matter of using the information and data the game provides to make informed choices that eventually paid off handsomely. It’s hard to describe the sheer satisfaction that comes from your team’s success coming from calls that you make for your own reasons.
There is so much data to absorb that is only a few clicks away at any time. You can look back at lap times, car and track conditions at any point without pausing the action. You can check the strategy view to see how your drivers’ tyres compare to their expected tyre life, see weather projections and more. All the information you could want to make your calls is presented in a clear and accessible format, which really allows you to settle in and get engrossed into races.Mick Schumacher to pit and you’ll hear his engineer Gary Gannon tell him to box. If Alexander Albon crashes out of qualifying, you’ll hear him apologise to you over the radio. With voice clips for all drivers and engineers down to Formula 3, it’s hard to overstate how much the team radio adds to the level of immersion in the game.
If you’re blessed with infinite free time, you can watch every second of every session of every weekend as it unfolds. If you don’t have such luxury, you can skip live sessions up to 16x speed, but are restricted to the 2D map overview. You can opt to have the game pause itself when major decision points occur, such as Safety Cars or even red flag stoppages, to give you infinite time to decide whether to pit, or you can turn that off in the pause menu and be forced into making those critical judgements in real-time.
The racing does not necessarily play out completely realistically. Drivers can get locked into DRS cycles of passing rivals and being passed and the field are far more prone to lock ups and occasional errors during races than their real-life counterparts. But when it works, you’ll find yourself actively cheering on your computer-controlled driver as they chase down a rival in the closing laps.
Looking to the future
As refreshing and fun a gameplay experience as F1 Manager 2022 provides, there are some notable shortcomings that could not be ignored during the many hours of playtime with the review build of the game.
As a management simulator, F1 Manager 2022 is heavily dependent on complex calculations and stats to determine what happens during gameplay – almost to a fault. In a lot of races, it felt as though each team only performed as well as its car performance level dictated it would. Which would make sense, except races would often see the same teams in the same positions every weekend with little variance for each circuit. Seeing the same five drivers eliminated from Q1 almost every weekend felt a little too unrealistic and did not allow for drivers to simply have bad weekends.
In one test save, the first retirement of the season only occurred in the fifth race in Miami – possibly a reflection of how retirement probability is linked to power unit and car wear levels, but while not only being rather unrealistic, it denies lower teams opportunities to snipe the odd point or two. There are also no sprint races included in the game – unrealistic, yes, but many players may consider it a positive omission.
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Frustratingly, there’s no real traffic management in the game in qualifying. While the game does a very good job of making it clear when the track is likely to be busy and likely to be clear, if you send your driver out to find them close to a slower car, there’s no way of telling them to make more space to give them a clearer run on their hot lap. Similarly, your drivers’ flying laps can be at the mercy of other cars that will not get out of the way as quickly as you’d like, leading to many ruined laps without any investigations for impeding.
Similarly, drivers seem to be programmed to only overtake at specific points on the circuit. While this works perfectly fine the majority of the time, if your driver comes to a rival who is cruising seconds off the pace with damage from an accident, they will appear to wait behind them for corner after corner until they eventually find a straight or braking zone they can get by them on, costing you excruciating amounts of time which would never happen in reality. Annoyingly when you’re with a back marker team, lapped cars are not allowed to overtake behind the Safety Car.
There’s also the matter of the long-term simulation. Drivers do not appear to regress with age, meaning elder drivers like Hamilton or Fernando Alonso will continue to gain experience points and develop their skills as they age until they retire. Frontier have stated they are looking at this, but until they do, there is a risk that later seasons will be dominated by established veterans, leaving the younger drivers struggling to catch up. A shame, given how much effort has been put in to provide a full junior roster and add ‘newgens’ to the game to help replace the real-life drivers when they retire.
As players dive deeper into the game, it’s almost certain that they will discover details about F1 Manager 2022 that will not compare so favourably to past F1 management games, whether that’s the lack of ability to sign specific sponsors, or the lack of an option to simulate races entirely for faster progression. However, it is also important to keep in mind that this is just the first title in a franchise that is currently scheduled for three yearly instalments until 2024 – there is plenty of scope for improvement over the next two interations.
There’s also the fact that playing on console is just as accessible as playing with a mouse and keyboard on PC. Once you’ve figured out how to navigate everything using a controller, it’s easy to see how much thought was put into making each menu accessible for all players.
Some may not be convinced that F1 Manager 2022 is necessarily the best motorsport management simulation game of all time and that would be fair. For many, simply having the ability to play a modern F1 management simulation game at all is enough. But while F1 Manager 2022 could have been a disappointing, watered-down product, it’s a game that truly feels like it was made by genuine Formula 1 fans.
It seems it can be rather a lot of fun to be a Formula 1 team principal. Time for Frontier to invest all their development into next season and come back with an even better product in 2023.
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Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Released: August 30th 2022 (Early access: August 25th 2022)
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