Ever since the debut of Netflix’s Drive to Survive four years ago, Team Principles have been turned into stars of Formula 1 that shine almost as brightly as the drivers themselves. Sure, they’ve always shown their faces in race broadcasts and interviews, but the behind-the-scenes view that the documentary series brought revealed so much more of their personalities, as well as revealing more of the almost ceaseless work that gets these marvelous machines running out on track. F1 Manager 2023 is Frontier’s second attempt at capturing what really goes into running a successful Formula 1 team.
A lot of F1 Manager 2023 will be familiar to players of last year’s game, F1 Manager 2022 providing those base foundations that Frontier will build and iterate upon for years to come. As with Football Manager, EA Sports FC (née FIFA), NBA 2K and Codemasters’ F1 racing game series, there’s upsides and downsides to a yearly release cycle as certain areas of the game will remain fairly static while others are improved. It’s almost always a case of evolution over revolution, and that’s absolutely the case here.
But that’s not to say there aren’t big new features and improvements. There’s a more nuanced tyre simulation, driver and staff development options, the cost cap, a flashy new visor cam and more added to the management and race simulation. For people just wanting to hop in and manage a race, there’s also the new Race Replay mode, which features bespoke scenarios lifted from real-world events and gives you the opportunity to rewrite history – Deluxe Edition buyers also get some scenarios with quirkier rules and situations, like having only one of each compound to use.
Key examples include trying to get Alonso through to win in Monaco, help McLaren rescue a point despite Lando’s penalty in Montreal, and similar. If your favourite driver and team isn’t represented in a key moment, you can also just play the full race with any of the teams from the historical starting grid and conditions – this full race option can be added quickly before a bespoke scenario is generated. The key thing to remember is that the simulation will diverge from the reality of a particular starting point once you start playing, so weather, driver errors, safety cars and red flags can all crop up in different and often fun ways.
It’s great to have this mode, adding an immediate and accessible layer to a game where the career. Just as last year, you can pick any of the ten real-world teams to lead through the career, but whichever team you choose, it will then inundate you with all the personnel management, budgeting, car development direction, setting sponsor expectations and more.
The car development screen will be the most frequent screen that you visit between races, as you try to get any technical advantage you can, or claw back a deficit. You set your design team to developing an improved version of various car parts – from front and rear wings, to chassis, suspension and floor – and decide on how much of your strictly limited time using CFD and wind tunnels you devote to it. Each part affects multiple elements of performance, and development can be tuned to strengthen low-speed corners over high speed for example.
Another factor to consider is time. Time is quite literally money here, as you can assign multiple engineers to speed up a part’s development, or ask them to rush it through for a higher price. Once developed, it then needs to be manufactured one at a time, which can also be rushed for a higher price. It’s easy to have cars with different generation parts, especially given wear and tear and elements getting obliterated by crashes.
The main problem for F1 Manager 23 is just how mixed up this season has been. I’m not talking about the race wins, which are far more competitive here than in reality, but rather how tightly packed and competitive the teams have been this year. If you pick McLaren for your career, as I did, you won’t be able to develop a single concerted upgrade package that transforms your fortunes, as other teams drop off slightly. No, you’ll have to fight for every point as you gradually push to out-develop the lower-order teams, and then give up mid-season so you’re not facing the same problem next year.
Still, it’s a nice and well-rounded representation of reality that gets a good feel of what team principles have to factor into their day-to-day running, but keeps you detached from the more minute details. The UI is generally clear and concise throughout all of this, and works well playing on console, though it can be a little muddled keeping tabs on what’s still in your parts warehouse.
Less frequent will be improvements to facilities, catering to sponsors, throwing contracts and potential new hires (and trying to keep your best talent) and other team management screens, with the email system drawing you to each area as needed. New for this year is the Sporting Director role and the ability to dig deep into the training regime of your pit crew. I generally left this at its default, reacting mainly to areas that had seen an error in previous races, like practicing with wheel guns to ensure the wheels can actually come off the car. You’ll want to put more time into this if the DHL Fastest Pit Stop Competition matters to you, but it’s mainly about avoiding the pain of a slow pit stop ruining your race.
You can manage every moment of a race weekend, from practice through qualifying and on to the race, or simulate everything except for the main event. I generally went half and half, simulating practice sessions, then tweaking car setups from driver feedback – a pretty neat puzzle with five setup sliders that you shift to try and match driver preference – before managing qualifying sessions and the race. There’s some good recreations of the different race weekends we now have, with some races having a sprint beforehand (though this uses the 2022 sprint race format), and some qualifying sessions restricting your tyres to predetermined compounds.
Races let you create a custom strategy for each driver, weighing up the potential strengths of a one or two-stopper from your qualifying position, and then have to adapt mid-race as you see rival team strategies and encounter shifting conditions. You can instruct each driver on pace, fuel consumption, ERS deployment, as well as more nuanced tactical options on attack, defence and some more situational elements, but with all of this at hand, you can’t really force the issue without a car or tyre advantage, or getting exceptionally lucky to stop quickly under a safety car. Not only that, but pushing too hard increases the risk of your driver making a costly mistake.
While a lot of what F1 Manager 23 does graphically and stylistically is fantastic, it also lands heavily in the uncanny valley. There’s character models for all the racers, but they’re lit in an odd way and have lack facial animation, so the 3D background that ape the F1 intro visuals or emotionless podium celebrations look a bit odd. Some lighting is being improved with the day 1 patch, though this only mentions garage lighting.
It’s similar on track, where the environments and cars have a good amount of detail to them, but the physics don’t look quite right and skid tray sparks fly in some very odd directions. Mid-race replays don’t quite capture the full sequence of events, and the crashes themselves and generated commentary feel quite robotic. Pit stops are also rather messy with overlapping animations that don’t mesh well enough.
You’ll probably switch over to the track map view most of the time anyway (which is the only option at 4x speed and above), but that brings some UI issues. It’s big, clear and readable on a TV screen, but it overlaps and obscures sometimes key information – need to see the right side of the track map? Tough luck if you’re giving your second driver any instructions. At least you can always pause the action to make your decisions.
There’s also annoyances on a sporting level, often thanks to some dopey AI. Qualifying runs can be ruined because your driver doesn’t pause before a hot lap to get clean air, and drivers on out and in laps just get in the way through corners – and they won’t get a penalty for it. I’m also not sold that drivers prepare their tyres well enough with the automated qualifying runs, given how often they complain about cold tyres, forcing me to take manual control.