If there’s one thing that everybody loves to do while watching Formula 1, it’s to second guess what the teams and drivers are doing right in the thick of the action. Admittedly, this is mainly when Ferrari make yet another completely baffling strategy call and throw away any hope of a good finish, but there’s almost always some significant event or decision that has a ripple effect through the rest of the race, where one team or driver loses out while another succeeds. Enter F1 Manager 2023, Frontier’s second crack at the motorsport management sim that comes with more of this wish fulfilment than you can shake a wheel gun at.
The most direct example of this is the new Race Replay mode, which adds mid-race scenarios based on real race events and situations, and tasks you with trying to rewrite history like it’s a motorsports episode of Quantum Leap. We went hands-on with the scenario for the Monaco Grand Prix, where the burning question on everyone’s lips after the race was whether Aston Martin threw away Fernando Alonso’s chance of a victory. The team pitting first to fresh slick tyres on a worsening track, but what if they’d gone straight to Inters?
This scenario is maybe not the best example of what Race Replay can offer – it’s just so cut and dried that Alonso going straight to Inters and then banging in a fast lap while Verstappen makes a mistake on his in-lap would have given them the lead, and we all know it’s nigh on impossible for an on-track overtake between leading cars at Monaco. In my particular attempt, I could effectively make that call in the first few seconds and then set the game to sim the race at 16x speed, occasionally fiddling with minor strategy settings. Of course, it helped that Verstappen slapped it into the wall on the final lap – a rare and unscripted occurrence just for me.
I’d hope that other scenarios can provide more nuanced situations, where perhaps there’s a DRS train, as in the recent Canadian Grand Prix, and so there could be a call to pit early and then either try to eke out a one-stop race or push hard and two-stop it. Maybe see if Ferrari were right not to pit under the safety car in Canada, or manage George Russell’s comeback drive (before his eventual retirement). A single option puzzle solution isn’t quite so interesting.
Beyond that, it’s still all about the fantasy of managing a team through the career mode, with all the decision-making that this entails. Frontier has sought to make a good few steps forward here, with things like being able to plan the pit crew’s monthly training regime, down to scheduled morning and afternoon session for elements as specific as tyre on practice – for some reason, they were practicing putting tyres on before they were taking them off, which I quickly rectified. The pit crew’s performance will also be improved by the new Sporting Director role. All of this goes hand in hand with enhancements to driver and staff development in general.
Rounding out the between race elements, you’ll now have to factor the cost cap into your decision making, and there’s weight to account for within your car’s development.
Of course, that F1 team boss fantasy remains being about what happens out on track. Stepping into Toto Wolff’s shoes for the British Grand Prix, I got to grips with leading Lewis Hamilton and George Russell through the practice sessions, qualifying and into the race itself. Through practice, a few long stints helped them get to grips with the car set up, and I had to make tweaks to a handful of car elements to get things into the sweet spots that they highlighted to give them more confidence in the car and its abilities – this is going to be tough to get perfect for sprint race weekends!
Then it was crunch time, and in a hazy, rainy qualifying it was a struggle to get the pair on track, on the right tyres, at the right time. George was out of the running in Q1, but Lewis pulled it out of the bag to snatch third on the grid before the rain came in during Q3.
So I had two very, very different races to prepare, and decided to put Lewis on a Medium-Hard one-stopper, while George could push to his heart’s content with Soft-Soft-Medium. The early running was good, as George very quickly got into the top 10, but Lewis’ pace just wasn’t there and he was sliding back into the field as they got their DRS.
This brought the new Driver Confidence system into focus, with George’s riding high as I could tell him to push hard, overtake aggressively, use the ERS to battle and the like – there’s some new tactics options to be found that balance risk and reward. There was plenty of reward though, as he managed to pull a great double pass on Max Verstappen and Lewis toward the end of the lap, getting him up to 5th and quickly up to third before the pit stops.
This, of course, was pushing his tyres hard, degrading them quicker than was ideal, and disaster struck after I brought him in for his first stop, as he span out, dropped a bucket load of time and places and was effectively out of the running. Absolutely gutting.
So what about Lewis? Well, having lost a position after position, his confidence was shot, but the strategy was coming back to him on that one-stopper, picking up places as they pitted a second time and finishing a creditable fourth. That should keep the sponsors I made promises to happy.
Throughout all of this, I was leaning on that fast-forward button to skip to the good stuff, often sprinting through the race at 16x real time, where all you really get is the track map and dots whizzing around hit. However, if you do want to watch things in real time or double time, you can do so with some pretty good 3D action. I hope that some of the rougher edges like sparks flying in the wrong direction and cars snapping in physics-defying fashion can be buffed out for release, but I do enjoy the overall look and feel of the game, and there’s a great inclusion of the visor cam. Somehow, while it’s often overused and distracting in the real sport, I could probably watch an entire race using this in-game.
F1 Manager 23 is taking a good few steps forward to build on the foundations of last year’s game. There’s a flashy new game mode, there’s a fancy new camera view, and there’s more options, management and mid-race decision making to be done. Coming out at the end of July, it will be perfectly timed to fill the void of real world racing that August always leaves us with.