Releasing an officially-licenced Formula 1 video game always comes with a certain amount of pressure.
There’s the need to appease the licensor Liberty Media, and uphold the sport’s core values, certainly. But, more importantly, you must win over an educated and passionate fanbase.
Thanks to online media, Netflix shows and entire TV channels dedicated to F1, those that follow the single-seater circus have greater access than ever before.
They’ve also likely been playing games developed by Codemasters’ Birmingham studio since 2010, which in 2020 stepped up the immersion with a My Team mode, allowing you to create your own team and oversee aspects such as car upgrades and driver signings.
Launching, then, your first-ever official F1 game that also happens to be your first venture into motorsport is a big undertaking. This is F1 Manager 2022, the start of a new series by experienced theme park simulator and space exploration developers Frontier Developments.
First, some basics
Before we dive in further, a management game is in many ways more about the off-track administration than it is the on-track racing. This sits alongside any existing PC, console or mobile F1 games and is the first dedicated game of this ilk since Electronic Art’s F1 Manager from 2000.
You play as the Team Principal, not the drivers, of one existing real-world team. So, it’s goodbye Toto Wolff, hello to you. The aim is to win championships, of course, but before then make sure the team is developing, progressing along an upward trajectory and staying solvent.
You take over an existing team, and cannot create your own.
Yes, you will be able to watch races as they play out, but the core competence, and therefore where you will spend most of your time, is in the home menu.
There’s one screen at the far left of the user interface that will provide you with snippers of information, or you can tab through dedicated areas for more detailed analysis. Countless hours will be lost flipping between tabs, scrolling down options and making big decisions.
Car upgrades are extremely detailed
The direction of a team’s car development rests squarely on your shoulders in F1 Manager 22 and is crucial to success.
Before you consider which upgrade path to pursue, you must first learn which performance parameters your current vehicle is a leader in, and 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 is true with items such as brake colling or dirty air cornering abilities.
You can also delve into track-specific performance. Let’s say your car is struggling with high-speed corner grip, and Silverstone is approaching on the calendar. With this in mind, you can then commission research and development for car parts that may aid performance at that venue.
The options are bountiful. You don’t just simply select ‘improve car’, but specifically front wing, rear wing, sidepods or underfloor and you can see how improvements to each element affect car performance attributes.
Selecting an upgrade area may also impact others, such as enhancing drag reduction but reducing engine cooling. Similarly, it could take away engineering resources from other projects.
In an added dash of authenticity, the team engineers match the real world. It’s Enrico Cardile not ‘John Smith’ who send you an email about Ferrari’s aerodynamic updates, for example.
Facilities will require maintenance
However, your team’s ability to implement successful upgrades also relies on the facilities it has at its disposal. You can’t make a powerful power unit with only a set of spanners and sockets.
It seems as if the core gameplay loop is balancing resources. Nowhere is that truer than budgeting for long-term facility upgrades. Do you spend cash on short-term car upgrades or wait for a new wind tunnel to be built and sacrifice a whole season?
Keeping your bosses happy
The board will ultimately decide if your team management, car and facility upgrade programmes and on-track performance are up to scratch.
They provide you with the budget to work with and a series of goals – don’t hit your targets and you’re heading to your local recruitment agency.
This includes real-world F1 rule considerations such as the cost cap and aerodynamic testing restrictions based upon the team’s performance in the preceding season.
Scouting 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 your selected team’s existing drivers and even its contracted reserve. You could also, in theory, secure the services of Max Verstappen, provided you can tempt him away from the comfort of the Horner-Marko bubble.
But F1 Manager 22 also allows you to scout for fresh talent. Much like a football management title, you must send your scout on a reconnaissance mission to find out if a driver is interested and if they have the right ingredients to make it in F1.
From here, Formula 2 and Formula 3 drivers from the current 2022 season are available. If you think that Jack Doohan can match his father’s trophy cabinet but on four wheels, or Arthur Leclerc possesses greater prowess than his brother, sign them up as a third driver and allow them to gain experience during practice sessions.
It’s time to race
An important distinction is that ‘Manager’ is in the game’s title. This isn’t really about the on-track action, but surprisingly, there’s a level of pizzaz above expectations.
The cars are 3D models, resplendent in the appropriate liveries and helmet designs. They duck and weave down the track, hunting for positions – not as smooth or naturalistic as an out-and-out driving simulator it must be said, but with more detail than a typical race management game.
Likewise, the real tracks are all present and correct, with Miami set to be included. We were treated to a view of the latest Albert Park layout – but some of the dips in the road were awry at this stage in development.
There are several camera angles, such as a TV broadcast-style or onboard with each driver. Alternatively, increase the speed of the race above 4x, and it will switch to a map view, with coloured dots representing each car.
As the race starts, David Croft screams “…and it’s lights out and away we go”, plus 11-time Grand Prix participant Karun Chandhok will add post-race analysis.
This is added to by the use of real-world radio messages chopped up from previous seasons. If you’re managing Ferrari, for example, and tell Charles Leclerc to step up his pace a bit, Xavier Marcos Padros will come across the radio and say “mode push, mode push.”
This brought a smile to my face, an extra flourish that will hopefully delight fans – provided it doesn’t get too repetitive.
Overseeing the weekend
During a race, however, you must not get too carried away by listening out for recognisable radio calls.
There are five levels of pace you can instruct either of your drivers to perform at, always mindful of tyre usage and their proximity to rivals. Fuel conservation and ERS modes can also be tweaked on the fly as you hop back and forth between your two entrants.
Weather will change, so the possibility of mid-race unscheduled pitstops is very real, as are mistakes from other drivers that can cause safety cars. Pre-race, you can check factual historical data for the percentage chance of a race interruption.
Even when it comes to the main event, you can alter specific stint lengths in the strategy options and include pace targets.
We spent an hour looking at an early build of F1 Manager 22 with Executive Producer Adam Woods and Game Director Andy Fletcher and it felt like it was only scratching the surface.
Without hands-on gameplay, it’s hard to say if this new entrant in the racing simulation genre will take on the likes of Motorsport Manager or iGP Manager – but at first glance, the fundamentals are in place to create another essential F1 gaming purchase.
F1 Manager platforms
F1 Manager 2022 will be available for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S/