The release of an officially licensed Formula 1 video game always comes with a certain amount of pressure.
There is a need to appease licensor Liberty Media and uphold the championship’s core values, certainly. But, more importantly, you need to gain an educated and passionate fan base.
Thanks to online media, Netflix shows and entire TV channels dedicated to F1, those who follow the single-seater circus have wider access than ever.
They’ve also likely played games developed by Birmingham-based studio Codemasters since 2010, which in 2020 stepped up the immersion with My Team mode, allowing you to create your own team and oversee things like upgrades cars and driver signatures.
Launch, then, of your very first official F1 game it’s also your first adventure in motorsport, it’s a big business. Introducing F1 Manager 22, the start of a new series from veteran theme park and space exploration simulator developers Frontier Developments.
First, some basics
Before we go any further, a management game is in many ways more about off-track administration than on-track racing. This sits alongside every existing F1 game on PC, console or mobile and is the first dedicated game of this ilk since Electronic Art’s F1 Manager from 2000.
You play as the team leader, not the pilots, of an existing team in the real world. So, goodbye Toto Wolff, hello to you. The goal is to win championships, of course, but before that make sure the team grows, progresses on an upward trajectory and remains solvent.
You will spend most of your time in a menu
Yes, you’ll be able to watch the races as they happen, but the main skill, and therefore where you’ll spend the most time, is in the home menu.
There’s a screen on the far left of the UI that will provide you with snippets of information, or you can browse dedicated areas for more detailed analysis. Countless hours will be wasted flipping through tabs, scrolling through options, and making big decisions.
Car upgrades are extremely detailed
The direction of a team’s car development rests entirely on your shoulders in F1 Manager 22 and is critical to success.
Before considering which upgrade path to take, you must first know in which performance parameters your current vehicle is a leader and in which areas it lags behind the competition.
Here, characteristics such as low, medium and high speed cornering performance are measured in g-force and then compared to the grid average or a specific team of your choosing. The same goes for things like brake lock-up or dirty-air cornering capabilities.
You can also delve into track-specific performance. Let’s say your car is struggling with grip in the high-speed corners and Silverstone is approaching the schedule. With this in mind, you can then order the research and development of auto parts that can improve performance on this site.
The options are many. You don’t just select “upgrade car”, but specifically the front wing, rear wing, sidepods or underbody and you can see how the upgrades to each item affect the performance of the car.
Selecting one area to upgrade may also impact others, such as improving drag reduction but reducing engine cooling. Likewise, it could take engineering resources away from other projects.
In an added touch of authenticity, the engineers on the team match the real world. It’s Enrico Cardile and not “John Smith” sending you an email about Ferrari’s aero updates, for example.
Facilities will require maintenance
However, your team’s ability to implement successful upgrades also depends on the facilities they have. You can’t create a powerful power supply unit with just a set of wrenches and sockets.
It looks like the main game loop is balancing resources. Nowhere is this truer than budgeting for long-term facility upgrades. Are you spending money on short-term car upgrades or waiting for a new wind tunnel to be built and sacrificing an entire season?
Keep your bosses happy
The board will ultimately decide whether your team management, car and facility upgrade programs and on-track performance are up to snuff.
They provide you with the budget to work with and a series of targets – fall short of your targets and you’re headed to your local recruiting agency.
This includes real-world F1 rules considerations such as the cost cap and aero testing restrictions based on the team’s performance in the previous season.
Search for Formula 2 and Formula 3 drivers
Discovering the next generation of talent will be key to your success in F1 Manager 2022. Yes, you can work with existing drivers from your selected team and even its contracted reserve. You could also, in theory, tie up the services of Max Verstappen, provided you can get him away from the comforts of the Red Bull bubble.
But F1 Manager 22 also allows you to search for new talents. Much like a football management title, you need to send your scout on a reconnaissance mission to find out if a driver is interested and if he has the right ingredients to succeed in F1.
From there, Formula 2 and Formula 3 drivers from the current 2022 season are available. If you think Jack Doohan can match his father’s trophy cabinet but on four wheels, or Arthur Leclerc has greater prowess than his brother, enter them as a third driver and allow them to acquire experience during practice sessions.
It’s time to race
An important distinction is that ‘Manager’ is in the title of the game. It’s not really about the action on the track, but surprisingly there is a level of pizzazz above expectation.
The cars are 3D models, resplendent in appropriate liveries and helmet designs. They duck and weave around the track, looking for positions – not as smooth or naturalistic as a full driving simulator, it must be said, but with more detail than a typical race management game.
Likewise, the real leads are all present and correct, with Miami to be included. We were treated to a view of Albert Park’s latest development – but some of the dips in the road were crooked at this stage of development.
There are multiple camera angles, like a TV or onboard broadcast style with each pilot. Alternatively, increase the race speed above 4x, and it will switch to a map view, with colored dots representing each car.
At the start of the race, David Croft shouts “…and the lights go out and let’s go”, and 11-time Grand Prix starter Karun Chandhok will add post-race analysis.
This is added by the use of cut real-world radio messages from previous seasons. If you run Ferrari, for example, and tell Charles Leclerc to pick up his pace a bit, Xavier Marcos Padros will drop on the radio and say “mode push, mode push”.
It made me smile, an added flourish that will hopefully delight fans – provided it doesn’t get too repetitive.
Supervise the weekend
During a run, however, you shouldn’t get too carried away listening to recognizable radio calls.
There are five pace levels you can set one of your riders to perform at, always taking into account tire usage and how close they are to their rivals. Fuel conservation and ERS modes can also be changed on the fly as you cycle back and forth between your two participants.
The weather will change, so the possibility of unscheduled pit stops mid-race is very real, as are mistakes by other drivers that can cause safety cars. Before the race, you can check the factual historical data to know the percentage chance of a race interruption.
Even for the main event, you can change specific stint lengths in the strategy options and include pace goals.
Early pit stop
We spent an hour watching an early build of F1 Manager 22 with executive producer Adam Woods, executive producer and game director Andy Fletcher, and felt like it was just scratching the surface.
Without hands-on gameplay, it’s hard to say whether this newcomer to the racing sim genre will take on Motorsport Manager or iGP Manager – but on the face of it, the fundamentals are in place to make for another essential F1 game buy.