It’s hard to believe it’s been 22 years since Formula 1 last had a management game of its own.
In that time, the idea of running a sports team in a video game setting has become a big deal. In soccer circles, there’s the Football Manager franchise which proves to be ever-popular, while EA Sports has FIFA with its career mode and NHL and Madden with franchise mode where you can opt to pull the strings from the sidelines. Meanwhile in the States, fantasy leagues have become a big deal in sports, but while they allow you to pick your dream lineups, that’s pretty much where the player influence stops.
Also since then, we’ve seen the advent of social media, and a soaring of F1’s popularity thanks to a mix of that and the likes of Netflix’s “Drive To Survive.” With that popularity, and the platforms that give fans a voice, inevitably comes the predictable chorus of “I could do a better job than them.” Now, fans can see if that’s true. Sort of.
Frontier Development’s “F1 Manager 2022” gives fans a chance to be Christian Horner or Toto Wolff — or indeed boss of any of the 10 F1 teams — right from the comfort of their own home. But while this is a game that’s playable on PC, PlayStation 4 or 5, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X/S (as we tested it), don’t expect a casual pick-up-and-play toy that you can dip in and out of.
At the same time though, don’t think you’ll find it too daunting, either. Sure, there’s a lot to take in on the menus when you load up the game for the first time, and that might be somewhat intimidating to someone who’s used to playing the more streamlined regular F1 games from Codemasters and EA Sports, but the game guides you through the build-up to your first race weekend, as well as the event itself in a helpful way, yet in a manner that still lets you play the game yourself, make the right (or in my case, wrong) decisions, and control the near-limitless number of inputs and options.
You see, F1 Manager 2022 really does let you manage every aspect of an F1 team. Before I’ve even run a race, I’ve approved a $10,000 spend on a party to keep my employees happy, I’ve built a helipad, hospitality area, and a “tour center” at my team’s factory, asked my engineers to build another spare chassis and research a new sidepod design, and even sent scouts out to look at Oscar Piastri. (Since McLaren and Alpine are fighting over him in real life, I thought my in-game Haas team might as well join the fun). All of that has to be done within the real-world cost cap and development limits, too – there’s no adding a few extra zeros to your budget before you get going just to give yourself an easy ride.
Managing race scenarios is where the game really began to impress, though. With not getting to press the pedals and turn the steering wheel yourself, I’ll admit I was a tad fearful that this element of the game might be boring, but oh was I wrong.
After simulating your first practice sessions while get you up to speed with the screen and control setup (on the recommendation of your in-game guide), you’re thrust into qualifying, where you have the choice of letting the drivers just do their thing once you send them out, or you can manage them more closely, telling them when to push, how hard to push, and how to deploy their ERS.
It was at that point that I got given a harsh lesson in why I’m not an F1 strategist. Thinking “oh one more lap won’t hurt,” I had Kevin Magnussen running out of fuel after his unplanned second lap (that I made him do, against the advice of his race engineer), retiring from Q1 and chucking away a certain Q2 spot, while at the opposite end of the spectrum I was way too conservative with my other car and poor Mick Schumacher didn’t have a hope of advancing.
Come race time, this is where you really need to play the game. You definitely don’t just phone it in and let them go like you can perhaps do on other sports games with a management element. Your drivers need to be managed. The races, at times, are just as compelling as real-world ones (even if visually the game doesn’t live up to other high profile racing titles – but given it’s a management game, why should it?), but you needn’t scream “speed up, you could have him” at the TV, because you can just direct your driver to push harder. But be careful of tire wear and fuel and ERS management.
Sure, you can set your driver(s) to push and set ultimate pace, use more fuel, and use more energy, but soon you’ll have none of all three, and you’ll have a retired car with an angry board and sponsors to deal with – pre-race you can make guarantees to sponsors such as promises on qualifying and finishing position. Achieve them, and you’re in for a financial windfall. Fall short, and it’ll cost you. No, your drivers and pit strategy need to be perfectly managed over the duration of a grand prix. You can press the fast-forward button, but if you’re already playing, you’re obviously the hands-on kind who wants to engage with the game. You can, but you absolutely shouldn’t.
I opted for split strategies with my drivers for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix – one taking in a long opening stint before hammering it home after a single pit stop, the other using a two-stopper recommended by the game with runs on the faster softs bookending a stint on the mediums mid-race.
Both worked, sort of. The former started where he finished, the gamble of a run to the flag on softs not paying off and necessitating a late extra pit stop, while my other gained five spots, but could’ve done more to get ahead of a tense midfield battle had I been bolder with my pit strategy.
Managing two cars’ tires, fuel, energy, and pit strategy, with a sprinkling of team orders to stop them tripping over each other early on did feel like having a lot of plates to spin at first – and that “at first” is key.
There’s lots of layers, but if you take your time, pay attention to the in-game prompts and guidance, it’s anything but difficult. For a simpler challenge, there’s “My Team” in EA’s F1 22, which superficially – at least compared to F1 Manager 2022 – scratches the team boss itch, but is nowhere near as in-depth or, consequently, as satisfying.
F1 Manager 2022, for me, was a revelation. Educational, informative, insightful, and gives a whole new appreciation and understanding of the hidden side of F1 – the side that isn’t cars going around in circles. But in spite of all of that, it’s also genuinely fun and rewarding. Just be prepared to spend some time on it.