Frontier Developments’ F1 Manager series got off to a solid start with last year’s F1 Manager 2022. The game was accessible enough for casual Formula 1 fans but retained enough detail to satisfy hardcore enthusiasts.
However, for a lot of fans, the game lacked the kind of depth seen in other sports management franchises like Football Manager and Out of the Park Baseball, missing key features such as junior formula simulation, sprint races and more detailed tyre modelling.
Also, apart from playing through the career of an F1 team manager, F1 Manager 2022 lacked any other game modes, even denying players the opportunity to switch teams mid-save.
Set to release on the 31st of July (and playable four days earlier if you purchase the Deluxe Edition), we were given the chance to go hands-on with F1 Manager 2023 and see if the team at Frontier Developments is onto a winner this time around – or if they’ve hit the gravel trap on lap two.
Drive to thrive
The main headline from F1 Manager 2023’s pre-release hype is the addition of a new game mode: Race Replay. This allows players to jump into a bite-size chunk of F1 Manager’s core gameplay, focusing on controlling a team during a contrived race scenario.
This cuts out the more mundane background tasks like staff management and facility upkeep to provide a more streamlined gaming experience.
The Race Replay we sampled concerns this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen ultimately took an easy win ahead of wily old fox Fernando Alonso.
Alonso pitted for new tyres just as the rain intensified, but instead of switching to a set of intermediates or wets the Spaniard was supplied with a new set of slicks, forcing him in a lap later for wet weather tyres.
With Verstappen pitting a lap later and floundering on his dry rubber, the door was potentially open for Alonso to jump ahead of Red Bull Racing’s flying Dutchman.
So, as we take control of the Aston Martin Team on lap 54 with the rain blowing across Sainte Devote, we immediately set about righting the wrongs of Aston Martin’s strategy, stopping for intermediates.
We urge Alonso to drive faster by increasing his fuel usage, ERS deployment and pace to make the most of his in-lap (systems all unchanged from F1 Manager 2022) and despite a tardy pitstop Alonso is back on track and pushing like crazy.
With Verstappen pitting a lap later, Alonso emerges ahead with a slender lead. We change tack and attempt to charge the Aston’s battery while looking after our tyres (thanks to Monaco’s layout, fuel is less of an issue here, so we continue to use this heavily).
For 2023 F1 Manager has introduced a tyre temperature mechanic. Failing to keep your tyres in the optimal temperature range will lead to a performance reduction and increased tyre wear, so they really do need to be babied.
After several laps in the lead, Verstappen is right on us, but we fail to tell Alonso to defend his position. Sadly, we’re soon in second position, so decide to save tyres and charge the battery, hoping the Red Bull burns through its rubber.
It’s a strategy that nearly pays off, as we close in on Verstappen in the final laps, using the new Visor Cam to get a visceral driver’s eye view of the Red Bull’s gearbox. However, Alonso falls just short as we approach the chequered flag. That’s P2. Damn.
At this point we remember we should have spent some time sorting out Lance Stroll’s strategy too. Whoops. Sorry Lawrence, we’ll discuss it in the debrief…
There’s further bad news for 41-year-old Alonso: drivers in F1 Manager 2023 now face a realistic reduction in stats as they age, forcing players to scout out younger talent (more on this later).
New Race Replay scenarios will be made available after every Grand Prix weekend as free updates, and, in our opinion, it’s a terrific idea that builds on the hype surrounding the latest F1 race, allowing players to make the right decisions at the right moments; hindsight is a beautiful thing, after all.
Alongside Race Replay will be Exclusive Scenarios, which are similar in execution but with more outlandish parameters. Some of these include equalised car performance races, a rain-affected Bahrain GP scenario and Antonio Giovinazzi replacing Carlos Sainz at Monza. 12 of these will be included in the Deluxe Edition of F1 Manager 2023.
Career-ing out of control
For the next part of our curated playthrough, we tackle a section of the career mode in the lead-up to the British Grand Prix. Taking control of Mercedes, we move through familiar-looking screens to reach some of F1 Manager 2023’s new features, including the new Pit Crew management menu.
Here, you can adjust the training regime of your elite tyre swappers, focusing on operations like jacking up the car, loosening wheel nuts and removing the wheels.
Adjusting the pitcrew training preset and pitstop drill focus will increase or decrease the time it takes to perform each task. You can even customise the schedule – but be warned: too many gym days will leave them exhausted, leading to a higher chance of bodged stops. Best skip leg day, then.
All of this is overseen by your team’s Sporting Director, with their aptitude stat correlating directly to the effectiveness of your crew’s incremental improvements. The whole micromanagement around pitstops is most welcome – after all, a slow pitstop can be the difference between winning and losing in F1.
Naturally, we didn’t play the game for long enough to see how this all played out over a season but it certainly adds another layer of strategy – and something that real-world teams focus heavily on (to see how important pitstop practise is, witness how secretive Williams are about its bespoke training regime).
We then dipped into the game’s reworked scouting mechanic and quickly highlight IndyCar hotshot Álex Palou as a target for the future – Lewis Hamilton won’t be around forever, will he?
You can now opt to sign a driver at the end of the season rather than immediately after negotiations are complete, which is far more realistic (unless you’re Daniil Kvyat, who’d go into every F1 race weekend unsure if he was racing for Red Bull, Toro Rosso or AlphaTauri).
Unfortunately, he’s contracted to McLaren and isn’t interested in signing for Mercedes (weirdly), so we set our sights on Formula 2 driver Théo Pourchaire instead.
The 19-year-old has had some excellent results in the season so far, leading the championship after claiming five podiums. His potential is greater than current reserve driver Mick Schumacher, who’s about to get Steiner’d (again).
This is another new aspect of F1 Manager 2023: you can monitor the results of drivers in both F2 and Formula 3 championships, making it easier to gauge how good your prospective drivers are. We send out for a detailed scouting report and return to the minutiae of F1 team management.
For the most part, the game’s menus, sub-menus and music are the same as in F1 Manager 2022, which is no bad thing considering they’re clean, well-laid out and well-presented.
You have the same Operations, Staff and Car Development Facilities to upgrade and maintain, with emails providing you with day-to-day updates on parts manufacturing, rule changes and financial reports.
Research, development and manufacturing of new car parts will be familiar to F1 Manager 2022 players, with a delicate balancing act between allocating engineers to your projects and using up your allowance of wind tunnel and CFD (computational fluid dynamics) time.
No, Mikey, no!
Pre-race and in-race menus carry over from F1 Manager 2022, with the same set-up game mechanic in use. It’s a neat minigame (of sorts) that doesn’t bog you down in the details of setting up a Formula 1 car, and something that worked well in the game’s first iteration.
As the adage goes, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ (unless it’s a carbon fibre front wing with a microscopic stress fracture).
Practise and qualifying sessions are handled in the same manner as before, while our first race start in F1 Manager 2023 coincides with our first red flag stoppage. The race is neutralised and the grid re-formed for a second time, throwing away our team’s second and third-place positions. Ach.
Never mind. The re-started race goes less well for us and the Banbury-based outfit, with a terrible pitstop strategy somehow resulting in a jammy P4 and P5 finish.
But ‘23’s similarity to ‘22 helps us get on top of the fast-paced world of F1 racing instantly – there doesn’t appear to have been a revelatory change in this department.
Saying that though, players need to be aware of the new driver confidence mechanic, where pilots excel after nailing personal best sectors, making overtakes and attaining better set-up and track knowledge over a weekend.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out over a long, barren season for drivers at the wrong end of the grid, however…
Another welcome addition is the ability to save your game mid-session, ideal when you can only fast-forward gameplay by a maximum of 16x, often a bug bear of F1 Manager ‘22 players.
Our overall impressions of F1 Manager 2023 are positive; the game has retained the presentational sheen of its predecessor, with the dulcet tones of Crofty and Karun Chandhok providing an authoritative air to proceedings (although we secretly wish Martin Brundle would offer his voiceover for extra pizzazz). There’s bonus radio chatter from all the teams too, adding to a more authentic F1 experience.
Most of the game mechanics will be familiar to F1 Manager 2022 players, with an extra coat of polish applied to the way the cars move around the track in broadcast and onboard views. Speaking of which, the Visor Cam is an excellent addition, with the LED steering wheel light reflections providing a nice touch.
Race Repay is a novel addition too, offering a pared-down and pure version of the F1 Manager experience without all the spreadsheets, so should appeal to the Drive to Survive generation perfectly.
However, cars still move in a slightly janky fashion, despite obvious improvements in the way they battle wheel-to-wheel, taking multiple defensive and offensive line (which are affected by the new driver confidence stat, too).
We spotted one or two bugs, however: rain was visible in the tunnel at Monaco, with spray also being thrown up from the cars at a bone-dry Silverstone. The game is still a work in progress so minor bugs can be forgiven at this stage – it was a largely smooth experience otherwise.
F1 Manager 2023 is more evolution than revolution, but Frontier Developments’ first effort only required a little more polish and content to make the jump to the top step of the podium.
On this evidence, it might just do that.
F1 Manager 2023 is out on the 31st of July 2023.