Most racing fans daydream about being Lewis Hamilton rather than Toto Wolff, and there are tons of games that cater to that majority. If you'd rather be signing cheques and contemplating tyre strategy, though, there are only a handful of games out there for you, and F1 Manager is one of the big ones.
The first thing that hit me with this year's edition, F1 Manager 2023, was that the visuals looked very dated, even when set to Ultra, and a far cry from the official press shots of its crisply rendered cars and reasonably detailed tracks. For whatever reason, my 18-month old Aorus 17G laptop was having none of it, even after updating my drivers. A Day One patch should be arriving today, July 27th, as the pre-order early access period goes live ahead of its regular launch on July 31st, so I'm hopeful that at least some of these concerns will be addressed by the time it comes out. But the version I played had a PS3 vibe on a computer that just yesterday had Titanfall 2 looking beautiful, and I've included a mix of my own screenshots and official ones from Frontier below to give you an idea of what I mean.
You have a few options on how to play F1 Manager 2023. You can, of course, start at the beginning of the 2023 season with a team of your choice and play through the standard career, but you can also choose to jump in to a real race from the 2023 season and see if you can re-write history in the Race Replay section or take on a curated selection of “Exclusive Scenarios.” Frankly, both of these are a great, low-stakes way to get a feel for the gameplay before diving into a career.
Once you click that “New Career” button you're faced with the single most meaningful choice in the game: which team will you play as? In general, F1 does not have big upsets or lots of on-track drama. A handful of teams start the season with insurmountable technological and financial advantages and building a team up to that level takes years. If you're foolish enough to go for that pretty Alfa Romeo logo, you're in for a rough time, and you should expect to put multiple seasons in before you start getting anywhere near the podium.
I chose Mercedes AMG Petronas for largely nostalgic reasons. I never covered F1 much during my years as an automotive journalist, but Mercedes was one of the companies that impressed me the most. I liked the people I met both from the North American office and in Stuttgart, I liked most of the cars, I loved a few of them, and I still won't shut up about getting the SLS AMG Black Series up to 182 mph at Willow Springs. Plus I get to have Lewis Hamilton as an in-game tamagotchi this way.
Of course, Mercedes has been having a rough time in F1, despite the team's utter dominance a few years ago, so I gave myself the challenge of getting back up to the top three. After a brief opening cinematic, a helpful assistant starts giving cliff notes versions of important things that are my new responsibility. What isn't available, however, is a deep dive.
If you're not already familiar with F1, or motorsport more broadly, this would be a brutal learning curve. There's no place to look up detailed information about a lot of things you'll want to know. For example, you might want to replace your crew chief so you pick someone from another team and open up a contract proposal. How much does an F1 crew chief get paid? The game defaults to $50,000 to start, but in real-life a crew chief makes between $250,000 and $1,000,000, creating a mismatch that could throw off those less tuned in to F1's minutiae. For example, if you send an offer at $50,000, and then double it, and then double it again, you're wearing down the patience of that potential hire. Sending your scouts will help you find a better ballpark number, but they also take 30 days to do so. As such, if you already know the sport or are willing to Alt-Tab to a browser window, that will probably serve you better in the long run.
Regardless, I've got two great tamagotchi drivers and I'm confident I should be able to get them on the podium a few times. I start researching some new aero parts, based on which attributes will be critical for success at the tracks we're racing at in a few weeks and install my one copy of a newer suspension design on Hamilton's car. Next I check on the staff and see the overall low morale. Success will help that, but as a manager you can also remedy that by upgrading their facilities, say. Everyone likes a nice workplace, right? I also take a look at my drivers, who each have a bevy of high statistics, which makes sense given that they're some of the absolute best to have ever done this. Even so, you can still set training focuses for them to shore up their weaknesses.
When I advance the calendar to the Bahrain Grand Prix, I'm ready to go. I make sure to get Mick Schumacher in for the first practice, as the youths are the future, even if I no longer understand their slang. To me, here's where things start to get interesting. After each practice and qualifying session, you get feedback from the drivers and try to optimize each car's setup. A green window indicates where you want to be on a multitude of sliders representing important traits like braking stability, grip, overall speed, and so on. Next to that, you can adjust wing angles and tyre toe-in and such like, but each adjustment will move multiple sliders at the same time. So messing increasing your front wing angle might move your grip slider in one direction and your top speed in another. It can seem intimidating, but across multiple practice and qualifying sessions, you get the cars more and more dialed in, and it's a fantastic way to represent and gamify what's going on with the engineering team.
The real world sucks sometimes, and F1 Manager 2023 emulates that meticulously.
My confidence continues to grow. On to the race, and I pick different tyre strategies for my two drivers so they're not pitting at the same time, and I set their pace so said tyres don't overheat before the pit window. I tell them both to overtake aggressively because we need to claw our way up from P7 and P10 to the podium. I feel like I'm doing all the right things for a management game in order to start kicking ass and meet the second place goal the board has set for the team season.
But my cars are slow as balls. We can get the setup great in practice and qualifying, and put one of the best drivers to ever put his hands on a steering wheel in the seat, but when your car ranks 14th in the grid for acceleration and 8th in low, medium, and high speed cornering you'd better be happy to be qualifying in the top ten. I should have known, really. After all, this isn't a management game, but a management simulation, which is a very different thing, and it doesn't always reward for playing your cards right. The real world sucks sometimes, and F1 Manager 2023 emulates that meticulously.
Halfway through the season, I've upgraded ever aero part on the car and Lewis is qualifying at P4 sometimes and flirting with the podium in the handful of races when someone doesn't crash into him on lap three. But we're way behind in terms of the season at this point, morale is dipping across the board, and I've got an email from the board letting me know that they're dismayed by my performance. In real life, I've run an organization before, and I've run an organization that's under stress before. When I get the kids in bed and boot up a game, the last thing in the world I want that game to do is make me read emails from a board of directors about how disappointing I am. This might be someone's idea of fun, but it's not mine.
That's why the most important decision you make is which team you choose. When I went back and played as Red Bull for a while, the game felt like a breeze, because I got to start with that insurmountable technological advantage. F1 Manager 2023 does a near miraculous job of simulating the business and strategic side of F1, but that also brings the inherent flaws of the sport to it as well. The teams aren't anywhere close to even, overtaking doesn't happen much (especially at Monaco), and real progress takes years.
This review is based on a review build of the game provided by publishers Frontier Developments.