Motorsport Manager captures F1 drama while emulating genre leaders

It’s the last 4 laps of this Grand Prix. A clever strategy is in play to negate my woeful qualifying performance. This is because my car isn’t actually that good, but its race pace is strong enough and soft enough on the tyres to make a better go of the long runs. The new rear wing I’m using, which was created using stolen blueprints from the Steinmann team, has helped—but we don’t mention that little misdemeanour in official conversation. 

Thanks to some brave pit strategy, I’m currently on for an elusive one-two finish. I'm beaming. This is an achievement. This means I've overcome the disappointment of a similar situation two races ago. This is the reward of stubborn, nay, gritty determination that what I am doing is right. Most importantly, this means money. Visions of myself talking modestly to an imaginary Simon Lazenby and Martin Brundle, being complimented for my tactical nous, is then followed by a bath of champagne, prize money, the promise of an upgraded wind tunnel and… Oh no. Problems arise and, like before, I’ve gone for broke.

My first driver is great and this will be win number two in our three Grand Prix weekends so far, performing way above our station. Climbing up the grid thanks to the new upgrades and the best (technically illegal) parts. The strategy was to start on a harder tyre, lasting longer on track, and conserving the fuel as the car is fast enough to remain in top ten contention. A one stop strategy is risky, but is rewarded when you've built up enough of a lead to pit for the softer tyre later on, given the front wing or the engine a quick service and still come out with a good few seconds gap. 

The driver is moaning over the radio that the fuel is low, that the life has gone from her tyres and that parts of the car might be falling off. Still, everyone else is also having this problem and she isn’t losing time, so we calm the car down and nurse it home to another tactical win. But instantaneous and punishing change is a motor racing trope. It's one that is well replicated in Motorsport Manager.

My second driver is not as quick or reliable. Being slower, he’s further down the grid but has the car’s strong race pace. He was on soft tyres with the idea of stopping twice, climbing to a respectable position with instructions to push as hard as possible. Then I pit him early and switch to the hard tyre to take advantage of the clear air and wait for enough of a gap to form so I can safely pit again—except, the car, tyre and fuel wear are actually running well. I might not need this second stop. I take the risk of keeping him out, against the wishes of his continued remonstrations. The car crumbles in the last laps but I tell him to carry on, to keep the position against the closing pack.

In the first race, his front wing fails completely on the last lap, dropping him to eighth. In this third race I might have miscalculated his earlier pushing instruction and he’s run out of fuel. Like the previous occasion, losing the one-two finish had me hoping for at least a double podium, but no, eighth it is again. My first driver adorns the top step but I can’t help feeling sad, cheated and angry with my drivers and myself for not getting what our tactics truly deserved. I am not happy, but I also feel responsible and disappointed like I’m being told off by myself. I will project this angst against my second driver who could soon be looking for new employment.

Pit start

Fans of Football Manager will know this feeling and Motorsport Manager replicates the same passion for the subject matter that a good strategy game can bring out of you. Away from the on-track drama, there are political shenanigans, driver relationships (my test driver fell out with the chairwoman which created some bad air) and the need to continually develop parts for the car, with engineers and designers all vying for your attention and budget.

Motorsport Manager effectively recreates the drama and entertainment of managing and creating the strategy of a Grand Prix team, if not the in-depth simulation of the cars and their exact inner workings. Drivers, staff, headquarters construction, basic race setups and sponsorships are all decided by you. Your control of the team is absolute.

Across the three available formulas (World, Europe and Asia) there are 16 Grand Prix with dynamic weather and evolving track conditions. You use sliders to try different car setups in practice, and then earn bonuses like better track knowledge. It’s almost an homage to the Motorsport circus rather than a direct simulation, occasionally lampooning it satirically, and has a better character for it. I receive an email offering me a £250,000 bribe if I vote to keep the British Grand Prix in Guildford on the calendar. I’ve already done one dirty deed, so I decide to keep my nose clean of such obvious misdemeanours. It's played out with a dry and refreshing sense of humour.

The next race is wet. This doesn’t suit our car, and it won’t help our championship so I write this one off. But I must have one more race—on that level, Motorsport Manager so far matches Football Manager. It’s addictive. Once you add full Steam Workshop support to mod everything from drivers, car designs, liveries and even championship rules, the possibilities seem to be an F1 fan's dream. 

In the wet race, my first driver finishes 15th as my second driver retires. He’s fired.