Back in 1995, Microprose released Grand Prix Manager, putting you in charge of a Formula One team. While it spawned a couple of sequels, it's been more than a decade since we've seen a motoring sim to match the quality of other sport management games. Football Manager is the gold standard in this field, of course, which means they're well-positioned to bring us Motorsport Manager, an expanded version of the mobile app of the same name, developed by Playsport Games. The app was originally made solo by creator Christian West—this is a far more elaborate endeavour.
Capturing motorsport in an authentic way is incredibly hard, thanks to the unpredictable nature of the sport both on and off the track. We’ve seen the youngest grand prix winner ever after a mid-season driver swap, relationships between drivers changing and regulations constantly amended in the last few months alone. So, how do you replicate all of that?
It’s your job to develop your car and drivers in order to win races and championships. You’ll be able to pick and choose upgrades to your headquarters and cars, decide which drivers get which new parts and, crucially, balance the whole operation to keep your drivers happy. Much like its football counterpart, your drivers have number stats for skills like overtaking, top speed and fitness, but you’ll also get indicators like their temperament and their marketability.
In one instance, a driver could be a hothead who doesn’t adhere to the rules, but they can also bring in a lot of sponsorship cash, offering you a dilemma. You also have a similar skills system with your staff, and other challenges like trying to keep talented people from being poached by the opposition, or trying to poach decent people yourself. It’s all these little parts of the game, these micromanagement decisions, that will translate into progress on and off the track.
Using new parts brings its own risks and potential rewards. Giving your driver a new front wing could affect the happiness of your second driver, and it could be more likely to fail and cost you time in the race. Progression will reset on a season-by-season basis, much like the real F1, so you’ll be balancing constant development along with driver management. The overarching challenge of Motorsport Manager is to maintain performance, while evolving tech and talent.
On the track you’ll get some control over your drivers' set-ups. You won't be managing every detail—you won't meddle with tire pressures, wing angles, for example—but you can choose what your cars focus on, like acceleration or cornering, top speed or fuel conservation. You can choose when to give your drivers a better engine mode, or when to pit them. You also need to meet targets set by you sponsors. Miss them and you won't get paid.
On track, the driver AI will push and make gaps appear to pass according to their skill. It makes the on-screen action intriguing to follow as you flip between seeing the current standings and what tires people are on, weather updates and intel on the rubber on track. You also receive messages from your drivers describing their cars’ status.
A lot of effort has gone into making Motorsport Manager look like the real thing. This is a substantial overhaul of the graphics and interface seen in the mobile version—fully 3D cars race around a 3D track. All the tracks are unlicensed, original creations, but focus on all areas of motorsport, not just Formula One. Inspired by classic street tracks like Long Beach, to ovals and classic European tracks, the courses are built much like their real-life counterparts, only with different layouts. So, you can have a club circuit for lower formulas, or even a circuit change between seasons. A new chicane here, a straight there or a new gravel trap to catch drivers out—the demands of the circuits evolve as the seasons go by and rules change. The level of detail is impressive, from the fans seen on campsites around the course, to the way the track itself changes during a race due to weather-related factors.
There’s a 16-race season that mimics Formula One and its GP2 feeder series. You can start a full career, a single season wherever you want, or just do a single race to get the hang of how the game works. It’s a delicate balancing act that can reward your patience, much in the same way Football Manager does. Motorsport Manager doesn’t have the depth of its footballing cousin right now, but the way it captures the drama of the sport, on and off the track, should please a variety of racing audiences. It’s a niche sub-genre, and one I didn’t expect to see outside of an FIA licence, but this seems like a decent first effort to put racing management games back on the grid.
By Sean Cleaver.