REVIEW – Management games in the world of sports seem to be the exclusive heritage of some disciplines, particularly football, with annual games of big names like Football Manager that meet the need of many fans to direct the management of their favourite club off the field of play, a desire rarely fulfilled for those who seek to do the same with their racing teams or teams in the motor world. F1 Manager 2022 is the answer to the fans’ request for a title of this style in the highest category of motorsports worldwide.
As a team boss, you’re responsible for everything, from hiring the drivers who sit in your car to designing and manufacturing the car’s components. You even get involved in the mechanical set-up of each car – because you’re a megalomaniac. Pit crews will go into action on race day on your instructions, and even the amount of money paid to you by sponsors depends on the promises you make to them before each race weekend.
This sets the rhythm nicely. A slow, seemingly sedate, but later increasingly exciting gaming experience takes you through email inboxes and the first wing’s design menus, followed by a burst of adrenaline on race day when you pan through a 3D scene showing the action on the track. Something akin to Football Manager’s menus for engine transitions or Civ’s shift from clunky peacetime to terrifying war strategies. Your grand plans weave through the wind tunnel, executive contract negotiations and balance sheets. But on the tarmac, you can see them being implemented. And the thrill of progress keeps you bargaining with yourself in the middle of the night: now, just one more race before bed! Because you still have to see where this new car part will get you on the race track!
We fire this one, and we hire that one…
Mercedes is the beneficiary of a new, untried, unqualified team boss in my endgame. Toto Wolff? Pfff. All he has is seven constructors’ championships and a successful career in investment banking. Let’s fire him. Now Phil Iwaniuk is in charge and turning this sinking ship around.
I’m pushing the aero package updates throughout the car: chassis, front and rear wings, floorpan, side wings and new suspension designs. I’m rushing the design and production of all these parts at great expense, sacrificing bank balance and XP gain to fit new parts to the car and bridge the performance gap between Red Bull and Ferrari as quickly as possible. After all, if Lewis Hamilton is in an F1 car and unable to win, it’s the car’s fault.
Such an aggressive recruitment and parts sourcing strategy is a luxury that only the top three teams can afford. Further down the midfield, budgets are too tight to throw money away on hasty improvements. And when the parts do arrive, they are likely to offer fewer performance gains because they are designed and manufactured in lower-quality facilities. To add to this misery, the sponsorship payouts are also much lower as the cars are mostly buzzing in front of the cameras, fighting for P16. So, if you’re wondering why Williams and Haas don’t make better cars in real life, play a little F1 Manager 2022.
The satisfaction from correcting a perceived mistake in real sport – a favourite driver failed to win, rampant organisational incompetence caused the team to finish the first weekend after weekend – is only felt if the simulation looks convincing enough. And that’s what F1 Manager does very well, through a combination of well-timed difficulty levels and clever presentation elements such as real team radio sound clips. The bubble would burst if teams and drivers felt like lines of code or if changing the order of the grid was too easy. Fortunately, this is not the case at all.
Sometimes you almost have to pray for good weather
Despite my hasty aero improvements for the Silver Arrows, we still have more than half a season to wait before we can even think about whether it’s worth betting on winning a race or not. Until then, our only hope is the weather and the use of safety cars.
However, it is not a passive experience, to say the least, to supervise a race. You have to deal with a lot of micro-management – the pace of the drivers, fuel consumption levels, ERS deployment, and pit road strategy are all in your hands. When you control all of this manually, corner by corner, it doesn’t feel like you’re driving the car yourself. You can use these controls to force your drivers to overtake, but you can’t move a Williams to the podium just by judicious use of fuel and ERS. For truly uplifting results, you also need luck with the wet weather and accidents.
And it is here, in the more unpredictable dimensions of the sport, that F1 Manager 2022 reveals more of an inexperienced rookie than a wily old driver. Crashes, safety cars and sudden downpours must be the most spectacular and defining moments of F1 Manager’s season, chances for crucial strategic decisions to trump individual performance.
Restrained realism in the visuals
Unfortunately, the accidents are not really depicted in detail – cars just stop on the track or run into the gravel. The visual spectacle just isn’t there yet. And although the rainy weather makes the path look plausibly soggy, the AI is generally too “conservative” to create exciting scenarios. The same applies to the safety car and VSC scenarios. In all my time with the game, I have yet to see a driver decide to make an extra, unplanned pit stop to change to a new soft compound, as we saw with Red Bull recently at Zandvoort – or, more famously, with Red Bull last year in Abu Dhabi.
Very few cases of renegade or reactive pit stops don’t force you to make many reactive decisions. In these situations you can get a little bit of an advantage, and when they happen there is definitely a sense of tension and adrenaline. But after a while, it becomes clear that you’re excited because you’re anticipating what might happen, rather than what usually happens.
But where AI lets this ambition down is in the cockpit. It’s hard to imagine watching seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton trail behind Valtteri Bottas for 40 laps in Monaco, regardless of what you tell him about tyres, fuel and ERS. And it’s hard to forgive the time he loses, overtaking a car behind him who seems unwilling or unable to get out of his way. George Russell once lost 10 seconds to Latifi. You cannot compensate for that with a clever pit road strategy.
Frontier’s focus should be AI behaviour in the next part, which is undoubtedly coming. Indeed, at present, illusions are too often broken. But even with a grid full of idiotic drivers, F1 Manager 2022 continues to produce exciting races, and it seems that my confidence in my Mercedes deepens with every hour I spend rebuilding the Mercedes.
Lewis scored his first win of the season in Spa relatively late, and George Russell got his first career podium finish in a bizarrely wet Miami race. But after two seasons and more than $50 million spent on development, Red Bull still has the pace edge. That’s exactly what I want because you don’t want a scientific victory in Civ before reaching the classic era.
Frontier can be proud of its well-established core output in what is sure to be a long-lived series. In a perfect world, cars would shatter into carbon fibre splinters when they crashed, and Verstappen and Ricciardo would be recognised by their driving style, not just their paintwork. But now, the foundations are in place and ready to build on.
Ironically, a foundation has been in place for a few years. This game owes a considerable debt of gratitude to Playsport Games’ Motorsport Manager 2017, which was an extremely comprehensive blueprint for how modern race management simulators should be played. It’s a blueprint that Frontier has followed almost to the millimetre, right down to how you fine-tune your car settings in free practice. But the license and detailed race visuals are enough to differentiate this new game, and F1 Manager 2022 uses the shiny official license in all the right areas, building a compelling ecosystem that evolves season by season.
+ Original game, of which there are few
+ Excellent use of the F1 license
+ Exciting manager decisions
– Medium graphics and animations
– Often weak AI
– Some factors, such as the type of tires, are not as important as they should be
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developer: Frontier Developments
Release: August 30, 2022.