Once upon a time, all Formula One fans cared for were the fast cars – the Ferrari, the Lotus and the Mercedes. Then the drivers started coming to the fore, pushed on by the charismatic James Hunt, fast followed by Prost, Senna, Mansell, Schumacher and Hill. In recent years, all talk has been around Hamilton, Verstappen and the new guns; petrolheads clamouring to have the chance to drive in their hero’s race seat.
And those dreams pretty much came true too, as the F1 series of games from the kings of racing at Codemasters became ever more realistic, ever more appealing. It’s with that series with which we got to drive those cars, proving ourselves in the cutthroat world of F1, albeit virtually.
But now we want more. It’s not good enough to just drive the cars or to win the races and stand on the podium, spraying the fizzy stuff. We want to have full control over every single aspect of the running of an F1 team. We want to be a motorsport supremo. We want to sit behind the desk of Toto Wolff, pulling together the finest brains, or downing cans of Red Bull like Christian Horner, swearing like Guenther Steiner. Hell, if push came to the shove, we’d be happy with the sheer enthusiasm of Jost Capito.
And it’s here where Frontier Developments come in with F1 Manager 2022 – a game which hopes to do for F1 fans what Football Manager did for fans of the most beautiful game. Whilst it may not get everything right, and there are certainly some weird little things that knock it down a notch or two, as a first attempt at giving fans the opportunity to dive into the most detailed of F1 stats, it does the job.
It should come as no surprise that Frontier are behind F1 Manager 2022. With past history seeing them capable of building management and slower paced gaming experiences like no other – Planet Coaster and the Jurassic World Evolution series being their most recent success stories – it all feels right to have that knowledge thrust into an F1 management game.
Yet whilst hardly a foot was misplaced with those aforementioned titles, there are times when F1 Manager 2022 struggles, and that’s coming from a huge fan of the sport, one who loves the stats and facts of the world’s greatest of motorsports.
So let’s get one thing straight, F1 Manager 2022 can be a tad boring. To be honest, that’s pretty much to be expected from a stat-based, number-defined F1 title; one in which you never properly get to ‘race’. It rarely ever feels exciting and without that excitement and intrigue, the sport as a whole is nothing. Similar could be said for the Football Manager series though and in the same way that game draws players in, refusing to let go for hours on end, F1 Manager 2022 is pretty similar. If you get it, you’ll really get it. But equally, five minutes with F1 Manager 2022 may well be enough.
It should come as no surprise to hear that the game itself throws you into the shoes of a team principal, left to make the decisions needed in order for your team to find success. You’ll be the one to dictate how sponsorships play out, how finances are used (and how that budget cap needs to be adhered to), which team members have a role past that of one race, and ultimately how your team comes together on a race day. Strategic calls can be yours, tactical plays in terms of tyre compounds, pitstops, qualifying sessions and then the race itself all lay in your hands. Hell, getting on that radio and telling your drivers when to push, when to hold station, when to conserve tyres and more will all be left to you.
At least, if you want it to: should you decide that the sheer numbers that F1 Manager 2022 provides is all too overwhelming, taking more of a backseat and simulating weekends is a viable alternative. We’ve found going as deep as possible to be the best option though – if only as then there is no one left to blame other than yourself when your drivers miss a qualifying cut or run for too long on the most worn of tyres.
Playing out through a calendar system that covers the real-world 2022 season, one that sees your days filled with all manner of meetings with your board and sponsors, with your development teams, your research gurus and more, building up a stable F1 team is not an easy job. But it’s one that Frontier have pulled together well and in terms of the stats in place and the huge array of depth and options that are on the table, F1 Manager 2022 rarely lacks. This is, pretty much, the definitive management game for any Formula One fan.
With a console controller in hand, you could be forgiven for thinking that making your way through the plethora of menu systems that are on offer could be a bit of a ballache. But Frontier know how to work a management game and they’ve thoughtfully designed a system that is easy to get to grips with. It does take a little while to really begin to understand the complexities of the situations at hand, but being chatted through the options in a considered way by a tutorialised team member certainly helps.
It’s similar in terms of race day too and checking in on your drivers’ progress mid-race is a cinch. Multiple cameras are available if you wish to feel the need for speed, whilst overviews of every minutest detail are just a button press or three away. You really can home in on whatever you want to in F1 Manager 2022, and it’s in the race format when things come alive. Granted, it’s not nearly as exciting or able to deliver anything near a ‘seat of your pants’ race feel as a dedicated F1 racer, but it gets pretty tense as your two drivers get on the radio and ask for information and advice. Do you go with medium tyres or hards at the next stop? Do you split your strategies between the team? When should your lead driver push and their teammate hold and defend? There are a ton of questions going on in every lap of every race.
Thankfully, speeding up time is an essential part of any playthrough, and skipping up to 16x the normal speed helps the mid-sections of any race become less tiresome. It’s something that we occasionally look for in the real-world F1, and it’s a godsend here. You’ll find that this skips back to 1x whenever an important call is required and that’s a helpful motion.
The problem is, the way the races play out is a bit stilted. Visually F1 Manager 2022 mostly focuses on the stats and figures, and whilst the cutscenes are nice, the character models are a bit plastic-looking. The cars are great though and watching a pitstop play out is nice. But again, on track action is a bit samey samey – cars follow in DRS trains, miss corner apexes on multiple occasions and flit from here to there on the track, pretty unrealistically. Ultimately the whole thing fails to feel real.
Cutting away to replays of various incidents – overtakes, lockups and the like – get extremely familiar after even just the one race, yet those incidents themselves rarely ever trouble a driver. I’ve seen Pierre Gasly go into the gravel more times than I care to remember, Lance Stroll miss nearly every single apex ever and Zhou Guanyu happily ditch his Alfa into the barrier, backwards, hard, only to carry on like nothing had ever happened; lap times up with his previous best. That in itself kills the immersion.
And strangely, especially considering the quality of voice artists, the commentary is lacking too. Give Frontier some credit, they’ve got some great names in to deliver the action audibly, with David Croft and Karun Chandhok (a perfect fit for an F1 management title in our opinion) on mic, but again, it rarely feels ‘real’. It’s similar when you hear the chat between engineers and drivers during the race. Chatter should obviously be kept to a minimum, but it’s very repetitive.
But then F1 Manager 2022 is a management game first and foremost and so if you’re after reality, you really should be looking elsewhere. This is a game that wants you to delve deep into the detail, into the finances, into research and into the host of options that lay out in front of you. If that’s your bag, there’s really no other Formula One game like it.
That means that if you love F1 and are just as obsessed with the behind-the-scenes going ons as you are with the on-track racing, F1 Manager 2022 is going to be an addictive hit; a game that will have you poring over stats into the wee hours, all as you try and ensure success for your team. But on the flipside, if it’s the sheer excitement and adrenaline rush of the racing that brings you the thrills, it may well miss the mark, leaving you to instead ply your trade behind the wheel with EA and Codemasters’ F1 22 instead.
F1 Manager 2022 is certainly a decent effort; a well-worked management experience that does a lot right – Frontier must be applauded for that. But move away from the stats and you find a numbers-powered management game that just falls short of those higher podium steps.
F1 Manager 2022 is available from the Xbox Store