F1 Manager 2023 Impressions: Has Frontier improved its simulation formula or botched its strategy?
We've been hands-on with the simulation sequel to see how the new additions and features improve the gameplay.
We all know what it's like to watch a sports team make mistakes and to then claim at the top of your lungs that you could do better than the paid professionals. Video games give you the chance to prove whether you could (or more likely couldn't). For the world of the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1, we've been able to hit the track in the elite performance vehicles for years as part of the F1 game series, but starting from last year, we've been given the chance to sit on the pit wall and to command and lead a team's strategic efforts in the role of a team principal. Following the launch of the first title in this series last year, I recently had the chance to go hands-on with F1 Manager 2023, to see how the simulation game from Frontier Developments is shaping up and how it is improving on its predecessor.
But before I get into the nitty-gritty of the new features, let me just talk about the game as a whole. Like its predecessor, F1 Manager 2023 is a very intuitive and easy to grasp simulation game - especially if you already have an understanding of Formula 1. You can select race strategies on the weekend, adjust the car after practice sessions, choose which tyre compound to change onto during a pit, ask your driver to speed up, slow down, manage tyre wear and fuel loads, and all of the other things that strategy teams and principles have to do on race weekends. And this is on top of the things away from the track, like ensuring your driver and personnel are happy and locked up with contracts, or rather have been given the boot if they are not performing correctly. Then there's the sponsorship and partner expectations, and all the other tricks and doodads that come with running and managing a global sports team.
On the more F1-centric side of the business comes the car development and upgrade strategy. Which parts do you want to develop and how will they be made (i.e. for a high-speed track, or with downforce and tight corners in mind)? How do you go about training your pit crew so they operate at maximum efficiency during a race? How do you build out a senior staff team to organise and run the minor elements that don't require your attention? All these areas are incorporated and while it may seem like a lot to manage (and it is), it's meant to feel that way, as you're jumping into the role of the boss of this massive, major team.
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But as I mentioned earlier, the simulation systems and the HUD are all so intuitively made that with a few minutes to acclimate, you can begin making serious moves and changes. It's not like a city management game where understanding all the niche elements only comes after hours of experience. The systems that Frontier has created are easy to navigate yet offer tons of depth when you start cracking them open.
As for how the gameplay actually works, essentially, you operate as a spectator at a Grand Prix. You see the cars going around the track from an array of camera angles, but unlike a fan, you can talk to and command your driver to help them win the race for the team. Unlike the F1 games from Codemasters, there's no actual driving involved here, you're simply in charge of the strategic elements, meaning it's far less hands-on and much less demanding to play. Because the driving isn't the actual meat on the bones in this game, I did find that the cars often look like Scalextric, and glide around the track in unusual manners. The inability for the cars to remain glued to the track like a real F1 car does detract from the immersion of the simulation, but as you're often focussed on statistics and numbers, it's not exactly a huge problem. But this is a familiar thing fans of last year's game will be aware of.
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In terms of the new features that F1 Manager 2023 looks to provide, aside from better simulation systems, more data to consume at once, and upgraded (and usually quite impressive) graphics, there are a few other new ways to play. One of these is the Race Replay suite, which allows you to replay key moments in the real 2023 race calendar. For the preview session, this involved heading to Monaco as part of Aston Martin, with the intention of guiding Fernando Alonso to a win over Max Verstappen. Anyone who saw the live race will know that this didn't happen due to a blunder with incorrect slick tyres when the track was too wet, meaning here you can have Alonso fit Intermediate tyres at the correct time and then point him in Verstappen's direction to let him loose like a cheetah hunting its prey. Would Alonso actually have been quick enough to earn his first win in a decade? Now you can find out.
Otherwise, F1 Manager 2023 allows you to be more free with how you play. Enjoying your time with Red Bull but just can't stand watching the Ferrari strategy team botch another race? Leave Red Bull and join Ferrari and fix their problems. Interested in seeing what would happen if Daniel Ricciardo or an F3 rookie replaced Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes-AMG? Now you can find out. The option to play with these macro ideas and concepts are there, but so are more minor features, such as having to improve driver confidence after a crash or spin, or accommodating for pit crew fatigue over the packed and lengthy seasonal schedule. The game as a whole just feels more refined and accurate, and yes, this also applies to the AI commanding the other teams, so don't expect Williams to be hoisting the Constructors Championship anytime soon again.
If you're less interested in the actual wheel-to-wheel racing and more so about the logistics and strategy involved with running an F1 team, you'll find yourself right at home in this year's F1 Manager game. It is, as you would expect, very demanding and it will put you through many ups and downs. For example, during the preview session, I managed to royally screw Alonso's chances in Monaco, seeing the veteran finish seventh, but then a short while later, secured a Mercedes-AMG front-row lockout at Silverstone - something that seemed truly impossible considering Red Bull's form. The point is, there's a lot to be able to do in this game, and the new features and ways to play just open the door for even greater variety and situations. F1 Manager 2023 is a prime example of why I love Formula 1 so much and I can't wait to test it in further depth.