F1 Manager 2022 review: Racing thrills, but off-track play is a chore

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Available on: PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One

Developer: Frontier Developments | Publisher: Frontier Developments

Can a racing game be fun — even if it features no actual racing?

That’s the question you’ll likely be asking yourself as you begin “F1 Manager 22,” a new racing game that tasks players with sifting through menus instead of steering racecars. In many ways, the game is a spiritual successor to Electronic Arts’ “F1 Manager,” released back in 2000, and is one of the most high-profile sports sims since the NFL Head Coach series from the late 2000s.

Unlike the long-standing Formula 1 racing series developed by Codemasters and Electronic Arts, “F1 Manager 22” puts you in the shoes of a Formula 1 team principal, controlling every aspect of your team from staffing to budgets to car development to in-race strategy. Sound like a lot? That’s because it is, and the massive scope of the game is both a blessing and a curse: hardcore Formula 1 fans will lose themselves in the seemingly limitless options of team management, while newcomers to the sport may be turned off by the steep learning curve.

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The overall structure of the game is deceptively simple. “Career” is the only gameplay mode available, allowing you to control one of the 10 existing Formula 1 teams and play through as many seasons as you’d like. You can aim for instant success by picking front-runners Ferrari or Red Bull, or choose a struggling team like Williams and try to return it to glory.

Once you’ve picked your team, you’ll be introduced to your headquarters, a central hub of menus that lets you view all sorts of information and make various upgrades and decisions. Visually, it can be a bit overwhelming, and, as with many management games, the controls are best suited for a mouse and keyboard, though Frontier did an admirable job making console controls as intuitive as possible (I played on PS5 and felt comfortable with it after a few races).

As team principal, the options at your disposal are staggering right from the start. You can research new additions for your cars, manufacture spare parts, build new facilities, scout up-and-coming drivers, and even scout opposing teams’ staff members. The level of detail and accuracy here is phenomenal: each team’s actual staff is present, including engineers, technical chiefs, and heads of aerodynamics.

From the main hub, you’ll also be able to check your in-game email, where the game tries to steer you (no pun intended) in the right direction by making suggestions as to what your next moves should be. The tutorials early on are helpful, though a lot remains unexplained, and you’ll likely spend a good chunk of time at first just familiarizing yourself with the menus and going back and forth to compare stat bonuses of different car and facility upgrades.

Simply put: there’s a lot to take in, and you should be prepared to do some reading.

After making your preparations, you’ll begin the second phase of “F1 Manager 22,” and without question the highlight of the game: a Grand Prix weekend. Accurately following this year’s 22-race season, starting in Bahrain and ending in Abu Dhabi, you’ll guide your drivers through each practice and qualifying sessions (or simulate them, if you’d like to speed things up) as you tweak each car’s setup based on your drivers’ feedback.

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The races themselves are a blast. Featuring commentary from Sky Sports announcers David Croft and Karun Chandhok — and with surprisingly good graphics, especially for a management sim — you oversee all aspects of the race, juggling multiple plates as you determine pit-stop strategies for both of your drivers, tell them how aggressive to race, when to deploy ERS (a battery charge that essentially increases pace), and how much fuel to consume. You can view the races from multiple cinematic camera angles based around your two drivers, and the overall presentation is solid.

I found the majority of the races to be completely absorbing and, to my surprise, even more exciting than most actual racing games. With two cars in play, you’re almost always guaranteed to find yourself in at least a few dramatic scenarios, providing some real edge-of-your-seat entertainment. There is simply nothing more satisfying than switching up your strategy on the fly and guiding your driver to an incredible last-lap overtake to secure a top-10 finish.

You can choose to speed the races up to 16 times normal speed, though I rarely did so in case I’d miss a key moment.

That being said, there’s still room for improvement. AI opponents hardly deviate from the recommended strategies, making it easy to predict what they’ll do. Safety cars and crashes seem to be a rarity — in fact, I encountered only one safety car throughout my first eight races, which is incredibly low for Formula 1. And the otherwise nice graphics are laughably bad during crash replays: animations are jittery, and cars will awkwardly spin into walls with seemingly no visual damage. It’s nearly impossible to tell just how badly a car is banged up based off those poor visual cues.

Once each race concludes, you’ll head back to HQ, where you are inundated with a healthy dose of emails and new suggested tasks as you prepare for the next race. Halfway through my first season, the novelty of these emails began to wear off, and it started to feel like actual work to answer them. You’ll order spare parts, vote on next season’s rules regulations, and build recommended facilities, among a host of other things. By the end of the season, I wished I could turn on my out-of-office and go on vacation.

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As you progress to a new season, drivers will swap teams, engineers may retire, and you’ll have to begin tweaking your car’s design to accommodate new provisions. It can be immensely satisfying to slowly achieve your long-term goals (I never thought I’d be so excited to improve my “dirty air cornering”) even if the tedium of the off-track action remains.

Be prepared to sink some time into this game: each race weekend can easily take more than an hour to play, and a full season could run you anywhere from 12 to 25 hours. There’s a lot of content here to keep you busy.

Through it all, though, I couldn’t help but wish that the game had additional gameplay modes to spice things up and make it more accessible for casual fans. A quick-play option to call strategy on a one-off race weekend — at any of Formula 1’s global tracks — would have been a wonderful addition, instead of having to follow the actual race schedule through career mode. Creating your own team from the ground up, a feature available in the Codemasters series, also would have been a nice touch. And there are no multiplayer options whatsoever, which is a real shame, since I would love to wage battle against some of my friends (especially since the AI tends to be so vanilla).

So, who should play this game? Obviously, Formula 1 fanatics will love it — there’s no doubt about that. It’s a tougher sell, though, for casual fans who may just be getting into the sport. Hopefully, “F1 Manager 22” can serve as the foundation of an annual series, and future iterations can build off this very promising start to flesh out more game modes and broaden its appeal.

As it stands, “F1 Manager 22” can be an incredibly fun and absorbing game — just keep in mind that you’ll have to put in some real work to get the most out of it.

Gregory Leporati is a freelance writer and photographer covering esports, tech and motorsports. His recent work has appeared in GQ, the Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork and Ars Technica. Follow him on Twitter @leporparty.



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