A good sports management game shouldn’t just accurately represent the sport on the cover; it also needs to show some personality. It needs to be a storyteller. In any sports organisation – as time, championships, seasons, and people come and go – their story grows and changes, building a folklore and a history that makes them unique and loved by their fans. It’s what gives them an identity. F1 Manager 2022, despite being a first attempt at the genre by Frontier Developments, is definitely a storyteller; one that will help you shape the future and history of any current Formula 1 team into one of your own making. Despite its quirks and the fact that it’s missing some features that experienced sim fans might expect, F1 Manager 2022 is more than worth the long, 22-year wait since EA’s similarly named, but unrelated, F1 Manager.
Gameplay is split between two main themes: the race weekends, and the management screens in between them. The latter is where you’ll field emails, start design and manufacturing projects to help improve the performance of your car, manage your race team staff and drivers, upgrade and do maintenance on the team’s facilities, and more. It’s certainly got a learning curve and can feel a little fumbly at first, but the impact of your choices feel immediate. Then it’s off to the excitement of the race weekends, which see you jetting around each of the 22 circuits that make up the Formula 1 World Championship, managing your cars and drivers through practice, qualifying, and the race itself. Moving between race weekends and the factory feels good, too, with the post-race analysis acting as a nice moment to decompress after the excitement and stress of managing a team through a Grand Prix.
The opening few screens in F1 Manager 2022 can feel overwhelming to begin with, which isn’t unexpected in any management game – but it’s especially true for one that’s wrapped in the fast-paced world of Formula 1. There’s an abundance of icons and sub-menus to dig through where you’ll find enough data to satisfy even the most passionate of bedroom analysts and engineers. It gets very deep into the weeds, but none of it feels like filler; every screen has something useful you can use to help make informed decisions about where your team needs work, like in the car parts screen where you can view a detailed analysis of your cars’ raw performance numbers with new and old parts, or see its expected place on the grid compared to the other teams.
It doesn’t throw you straight into deep and prolonged explanations of what you’re looking at either, unless you go digging for them. Instead, it helpfully grabs you by the hand from the beginning and offers you a simple path forward to a race weekend, which is where the majority of your time in F1 Manager 2022 is spent. After the first race is where you’re encouraged to look around some more, with each screen briefly but helpfully explained through a fully-voiced tutorial.
Race weekends are busy and lively affairs, with three one-hour sessions of practice followed by another three sessions of elimination qualifying – and then, finally, the race. Sprint races, a format introduced to the real-world series in 2021, are sadly missing, and it’s disappointing they’re not included given how they’ve shaken up the qualifying format since their introduction. Each session can be run in real time if you’ve got a few hours to burn, but you can also fast-forward time up to 16x speed to move things along in the quieter sessions. It can be tempting to lean on this a lot during a dull race – especially because it is so good about slowing everything down when your attention is needed – but I urge you to slow down a bit because you’d be missing half the fun in skipping ahead.
When your drivers are out on the track, there are three different views that give you more information than you’d find on the Ferrari pit wall. There’s the Strategy view, where you can see data on the state of the track, the condition of the car and all of its critical parts, the weather conditions, and the predicted weather for the remainder of the session. Weather plays a huge part in Formula 1 race strategy, and predicting which tyres you should have on and the best time to stop and change them can gain you a huge advantage in a race. That said, it could be better at pointing some of these options out dynamically, either by suggesting things directly or analysing those opportunities after the race so you can be better at spotting them.
Then you have the Data view where you can dig into the finer details of sector times and tyre stats and other various statistics from the current session. This section is more informational than anything, offering an overloaded picture of everything that’s happened in the race up until that point. It mostly comes in use alongside the Strategy view for working out gaps between the cars you’re racing, and seeing the chances of other teams taking an extra pit stop. There’s almost too much on display here, and it needs some kind of customisation so you can really focus in on the details you need at that moment.
Lastly, but most importantly, the Race view lets you tap into the various cameras placed around the track, as well as the onboard cameras available on each car. It’s where you’ll watch the majority of the on-track action as it happens. You can direct your drivers when to push or save their tyres and manage fuel and ERS battery use, and while this can feel a bit overkill to begin with, it makes a lot more sense when in the context of a race. If you notice one driver is pushing their tyres too hard, order them to back off and you can avoid a costly late race pitstop. It doesn’t feel like you’re coaching your drivers, but rather gently advising them on how to maximise their chances – and miraculously, this never falls into feeling like micromanagement.
Each circuit feels lovingly recreated from their real-life counterparts, from the sun-drenched desert surrounding the Bahrain International Circuit and the glinting seas and packed-out harbour that laps the shores of the Circuit de Monaco to the brand-new tarmac of the Miami International Circuit, under the shade of the Hard Rock Stadium in the Miami Gardens. Track and weather conditions also look great; clouds roll in and cast shadows over the track when rain threatens to dampen proceedings, and day noticeably turns to night during late afternoon sessions with the bright-orange sun brilliantly washing the ground in harsh light as the circuit lights slowly take over. Despite some excessive blooming and a few flickering artefacts here and there, it’s both impressive and immersive enough to pull me into the action on screen.
On track sessions are mostly well-presented thanks to both the impressive cars and tracks and the surprising detail of using the same TV-style camera placement as they use at the real-life races. On the other hand, the accompanying commentary from Sky Sports F1 presenters David Croft and Karun Chandhok leaves a lot to be desired. Both of them come off sounding like they’re reading through forced smiles while under duress, though mercifully these scenes can be skipped and you can dive straight into preparing your cars for your first session. On that subject, it’s a shame there’s no media or fan interaction to speak of, given how important the relationship a team has with its fans can be when determining sponsorships, team morale, and more in real life.
Any practice or qualifying session can be left in the hands of your team, and they’ll handle all the necessary race preparation work. However, taking control of practice yourself will help you find that extra bit of performance that your team usually can’t. In the garage, the simple slider system means you don’t need a mechanical engineering degree to see what changes you’re making and how they’re affecting other things, with your driver’s feedback also clearly visible. Each change is a compromise to something else and finding the right balance is key to extracting the best performance; seeing the payoff in performance is more than satisfying enough to make it worth the time.
As the late former voice of Formula 1, Murray Walker, once famously said, “Anything can happen in Formula 1 and it usually does,” and F1 Manager 2022 brings that same level of excitement and uncertainty, albeit in its own unique and sometimes awkward way. The racing action can be just as thrilling to sit and watch as a real race, although it can veer into “Hot Wheels with your brother” territory when you see cars softly park themselves in the barrier, or when there’s an almighty smashup under a shower of sparks and debris before both cars roll away back to the pits like their drivers didn’t just have the biggest accident of their lives.
But the almost slot-car-like AI racing on display still produces the same storylines and on-track rivalries we see in real life, and it’s here where F1 Manager 2022 finds its stride. Is your driver faster than the cars in front but stuck in a DRS train? Why not pit them a little earlier, giving them a tyre advantage and see if they can leapfrog them during the pitstop phase of the race? Or perhaps you’ve noticed there’s some rain on the way and want to gamble on going to wet tyres before anyone else. As different race strategies unfold and events take place, watching the field shuffle about with drivers jostling for position and scouring through the data screens looking for any kind of advantage is a real thrill, particularly when a risky strategy call pays off.
F1 is full of unique sounds, and F1 Manager 2022’s audio feels nicely authentic thanks to some awesome trackside and onboard engine sounds, plus the inclusion of real driver and race engineer chatter for some added immersion. During any session each race engineer will communicate with their driver, providing feedback on car setup, track conditions, and any incidents happening in their path. Pierre Gasly swears and shouts down the radio whenever his tyres are nearing the end of their life, while Alex Albon’s awkward charm comes across even in short spurts of radio banter. Even its roster of Formula 2 and Formula 3 junior drivers, who will replace the eventually ageing F1 field as they near retirement in later seasons, have some voiced radio. While there’s not as much variety for each as I’d like – it can get annoying when they use the same complaints over and over again – hearing the real drivers’ voices adds a layer of authenticity that I didn’t know I wanted until I heard it.
When the dust settles on a race weekend you’ll head back to the factory to decompress and look ahead to the next race, as well as anything else that can get done before you’re off to another full weekend. This can range from checking your spare parts in the warehouse to ordering emergency parts to be built before the next grand prix, starting research projects on improving next year’s car, and a lot more.
How you go about this will be mostly dictated by the stature of the team you start your career with. A team like Williams, for example, has the worst car, is resource poor, and needs better staff and facilities before you can start thinking about bolting on new parts for increased performance. Here you might look to first improve the base facilities to give the team some much-needed development and performance bonuses to build confidence, or maybe invest heavily into next year’s car so you can start challenging for points positions instead of battling away for pride in the lower half of the field. Whereas a team like Red Bull already has a car it expects to challenge for the championship with, so you can focus all your resources on gaining all the extra performance you can find. Despite all aiming for the same ultimate goal of winning, it’s refreshing to know that each team will require a unique touch to progress.
Everything you do in F1 Manager 2022 is to please the almighty board, who sit upon high in their fancy-shmancy board room and set your expectations for both the following season and longer-term goals they’ll want you to have achieved at some point in the future. You can get away with failing to meet your goals for a little while but, like any boss, if you let them down for too long and fail your board reviews they’ll bring down the hammer: you’ll be given less and less budget to play with before being asked to leave the building and find a new job. The opposite is also true; impress them enough and your budget will soar, opening up new avenues of investment for you to explore.
Money doesn’t solve every problem, though. Once you’re near the top and pulling in the big bucks F1’s cost cap regulations reign in overspending, so forget about throwing your abundance of millions at any one problem. Upgraded facilities aren’t bulletproof – they degrade over time and lose effectiveness, needing costly refurbishing to bring them back up to standard. If you’ve got crash-happy drivers, emergency spare parts can quickly churn through a limited budget. This beautifully twists what would normally be a huge advantage of having all the cash in the world into another point of tension, so you can never truly get too comfortable with your progress.
Key staff will helpfully monitor and report through emails on their areas of responsibility so you’ll never miss out on important information, like when the design team has finished work on a new part or when you have a driver that will soon be out of contract. They can also help you decide which direction to take car development, identifying weaknesses for improvement. But when it comes to making and acting on these key decisions you’re given free reign to accept or ignore this advice as you please. The comparison data for every car on the grid is there, which is admittedly a little unusual given how secretive F1 teams really are, but I appreciate that you aren’t led down any certain path. There’s no one right way to the top, and F1 Manager 2022 feels like it strikes the right balance between guiding novices in the right direction while not standing in the way of those who want to forge their own path to glory.
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Author: Dan Stapleton