F1 Manager 2022 is more interesting than watching the real sport

F1 Manager 2022
(Image credit: Frontier)

What Ferrari wouldn't do for a pause button this season. Each race, Leclerc and Sainz start from the front of the grid and demonstrate a pace advantage over everyone else for about 20 laps… and then suffer a new variety of disaster. The only throughline between these disasters is that the people in pitlane inevitably wish they'd done the last 5 minutes very differently.

And that's exactly what F1 Manager 2022 will offer when it releases on Steam this August—the experience of being a team principal in motorsport's most prestigious category, with all the pressure and poring over technical minutiae that comes with it. Plus a pause button. The most powerful tool possible.

(Image credit: Frontier)

The passage of time is a crucial mechanic in Frontier's debut foray into F1 management. A race-changing development like a safety car or a red flag requires snap decisions from Toto Wolff and Christian Horner, but with your videogame superpower of pausing time, you can deliberate over exactly how to proceed. Pit in and put your driver on hard compound tires, hoping they won't have to stop again? Pit and put them on softs, going for ultimate pace? Or stay out, banking on everyone else to pit in, and then holding onto your elevated track position until the chequered flag?

It shouldn't be engrossing, should it, the simple act of calling a car into the pits for some new tires. But it is. Going hands on with F1 Manager 2022, what's striking is not just how advantageous the pause button is, but how real-world time melts away while you deliberate over tire compounds. I wouldn't dream of whacking the race distance up to 100% in Codemasters' F1 games, but here it didn't even occur to me to speed up time and condense the race. 

That comes down to what's actually being asked of you in the two games. In F1 22, you're driving laps within a few tenths of each other for an hour and a half. Here you're clicking away on the mouse like a StarCraft player, controlling the pace, engine mode, ERS deployment and pit strategy of two drivers, lap by lap, corner by corner (at least, if you want to get that involved, which I immediately did). You're watching how their tires are degrading based on wear projections. You're considering strategy changes. It’s a lot of clicking, basically. And it's utterly engrossing.

(Image credit: Frontier)

My particular hands-on takes place at Baku, and filling in for Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer I set Ocon on an aggressive two-stop strategy, two lots of soft compound then one medium so he can gun it all race long. For Fernando Alonso, the wily old veteran starting two places behind him in P11, I set a one-stop, medium then hard, and pray for a safety car that lets both drivers leapfrog the field in a well-timed pit stop. The historical stats tell me there's a 75% chance of it. 

I get it, too. On lap 15 Yuki Tsunoda out-brakes himself going into turn 1 while battling with Zhou Guanyu and beaches his Alpha Tauri on the track. The safety car's out for four laps, giving me time to pit both drivers without having to double-stack them, and even enough time to work out a new strategy for Ocon (a longer stint on the mediums at the end of the race). 

That gives us a huge jump in track position—the rest of the pack elects not to pit under the safety car (slightly sus), so when they start to pit later from a compressed pack, we rise up to p4 and p7. The feeling is something between setting a fastest lap in F1 2021 and securing a wily science victory in Civ. 

But the pace of the Ferraris, Red Bulls and Mercs is telling. As they begin to catch my now beloved blue and pink steeds, I instruct both drivers to hold up following cars, sacrificing outright pace for track position. But I'm King Canute shouting at the incoming tide—Leclerc slinks past along the main straight, then Verstappen. Then Sainz. Then… well, everyone else in a faster car, really. Baku leaves a car without the outright speed advantage no place to hide.

(Image credit: Frontier)

With 20 laps left to race, all the field having now pitted, and everyone except Ocon now on the slower hard compound, it's still looking good for a glorious debut. Alonso's been conserving his tires and fuel all race, so I tell him to start pushing from P9 and deploy ERS liberally on the straights. Ocon, the only man on mediums, has made a few crucial ERS-assisted overtakes and sits in P7. But his tires are overheating—I've asked him to take too much out of them, and now their deg rate is way faster than my strategy allowed for. 

By the chequered flag, my inexperience shows. Despite the pause button I screwed both my drivers on strategy and took too much out of their tires, so their last stints are an exercise in sinking through the field like a particularly aerodynamic pebble in a pond. P14 for Ocon, and a frustrating P11 for Alonso. I dread to think how the post-race debrief would go.

Quite a long time has passed while I've been watching graphs of tire deg slowly trend downwards and manually adjusting ERS levels every lap. It's telling that Frontier's done a fine job, because I've lost track of it completely.

(Image credit: Frontier)

It's not totally virgin territory for PC gaming. Playsports's 2017 Motorsport Manager showed how well the minutiae of being a team boss translates to a PC management game, but F1 Manager 2022 does feel distinct. Not just for the official license it carries, and the impressively accurate simulation of team and driver performance levels within it, but for the way it leverages that license. The constant chatter between race engineer and driver while you work is a wonderful touch, and without an analog in games like this I've played before. Frontier's going for authenticity above all else, and on race day it's certainly pulling it off. Between races, one suspects there's still some UI refining to be done. Fitting newly manufactured parts to cars feels like it requires two or three sub-menus more than it should in the current build, and it's not the only important interaction hidden away in the menus. 

But that's not a big worry. The game's not out until August 30, and there's still time for tweaks. What's important is that Frontier's found exactly where the interest and adrenaline are in motorsport's hardest job, and it's a job I'll quickly rack up hundreds of hours in.

Phil Iwaniuk

Phil 'the face' Iwaniuk used to work in magazines. Now he wanders the earth, stopping passers-by to tell them about PC games he remembers from 1998 until their polite smiles turn cold. He also makes ads. Veteran hardware smasher and game botherer of PC Format, Official PlayStation Magazine, PCGamesN, Guardian, Eurogamer, IGN, VG247, and What Gramophone? He won an award once, but he doesn't like to go on about it.

You can get rid of 'the face' bit if you like.

No -Ed.