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Preview

F1 Manager 2023 hands-on preview

With the second F1 Manager title set for release at the end of next month, we've tested a work-in-progress version to see if the new Race Replay mode adds excitement to the already engrossing gaming platform.

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Frontier Developments' F1 Manager series got off to a solid start with last year's F1 Manager 2022. The game was accessible enough for casual Formula 1 fan but retained enough detail to satisfy hardcore enthusiasts. 

However, for several players, the game lacked the kind of depth seen in other sports management franchises like Football Manager and Out of the Park Baseball, missing key features such as junior formula simulation, sprint races and more detailed tyre modelling. 

 

Also, apart from playing through the career of a team principal, F1 Manager 2022 lacked any other game modes, even denying players the opportunity to switch teams mid-save. 

With this in mind, we were given the chance to go hands-on with an early build of F1 Manager 2023 and see if the development team is onto a winner this time around, or if it has hit the gravel trap on lap two. 

Drive to thrive 

The main headline from F1 Manager 2023's pre-release hype is the addition of a new game mode: Race Replay. This allows players to jump into a bite-size chunk of the title's core gameplay, focusing on controlling a team during a real-world race scenario. This cuts out the more mundane background tasks like staff management and facility upkeep to provide a more streamlined experience. 

The Race Replay we sampled concerns this year's Monaco Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen ultimately took an easy win ahead of the experienced Fernando Alonso. It’s appropriately titled “Fernando’s Gamble”.

 

We took control of the Aston Martin team on lap 54 as rain blows in across Sainte Devote, immediately calling in Alonso for intermediate tyres. 

Our mindset was for him to push on the in-lap by increasing fuel usage, ERS deployment and pace (systems seemingly all unchanged from F1 Manager 2022), and despite a tardy pitstop Alonso was soon back on track while Verstappen struggled with dry rubber. 

 

With the Dutch double champion pitting a lap later, Alonso emerges ahead with a slender lead. We then changed tack and charged the Aston's battery while keeping the tyres cool: overheating your Pirellis this year results in increased tyre wear and a drop-off in performance. 

Tyre-d out 

After several laps in the lead, Verstappen was right on us, but we failed to tell Alonso to defend his position. Whoops. We're soon overtaken. 

We stay there until the final laps, using the new visor cam to get a visceral driver's eye view of the Red Bull's gearbox. However, Alonso falls just short as we approach the chequered flag. That's second (again).  

 

There’s further bad news for 41-year-old Alonso: drivers in F1 Manager 2023 now face a realistic reduction in stats as they age, forcing players to scout younger talent. 

Our initial experience of Race Replay was thrilling. When watching the race live a few weeks ago, many were willing Alonso to box for wet tyres as the rain hit the principality, certain he could gazump Verstappen to take the win. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but we still failed. 

Career-ing out of control 

The next part of our curated playthrough was a section of the career mode in the lead-up to the British Grand Prix, taking control of Mercedes. 

I navigated through familiar-looking screens to reach some of F1 Manager 2023’s new features, including the new pitcrew management menu. 

 

Here, you can adjust the training regime of your elite tyre swappers, focusing on operations like jacking up the car, loosening wheel nuts and removing the wheels, all overseen by a sporting director – new for ‘23.  

Adjusting the pitcrew training preset and pitstop drill focus can shave tenths of a second off a pitstop. You can even customise the crew’s training schedule to your liking. Be warned, however, too many gym days will leave the squad exhausted, leading to bodged stops. Best skip leg day, then. 

 

Scout’s honour 

We then dipped into the game’s reworked scouting mechanic to plan for the future – Lewis Hamilton won’t be around forever, will he?  

You can now opt to sign a driver at the end of the season rather than immediately after negotiations are complete, which is far more realistic (unless you’re Daniil Kvyat, who’d go into every F1 race weekend unsure if he was racing for Red Bull, Toro Rosso or AlphaTauri).  

 

I set my sights on Formula 2 driver Theo Pourchaire, tracking his progress thanks to the game’s improved F2 and F3 series implementation (you still can’t manage an F2 or F3 team, however). The Frenchman leads the championship – Mick Schumacher might find himself ‘Steinered’ for a second consecutive season...

Set menu

For the most part, the game’s menus, sub-menus and music are the same (so far) as in F1 Manager 2022, which is no bad thing considering they’re clean, well-laid out and clearly presented.  

You have the same operations, staff and car development facilities to upgrade and maintain, with emails providing you with day-to-day updates on parts manufacturing, rule changes and financial reports. 

 

Research, development and manufacturing of new car parts will be familiar to existing players, with a delicate balancing act between allocating engineers to your projects and using up your allowance of wind tunnel and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) time.

No, Mikey, no! 

Pre-race and in-race menus also carry over from last year's release, with the same set-up game mechanic in use. It doesn’t bog you down in the details of setting up a Formula 1 car and worked well in the first iteration. 

While the overall user interface is remarkably similar, the in-race track map itself has evolved dramatically. Surroundings are now coloured, with enhanced lighting and detail work, helping each location seem fresh even if you've seen them hundreds of times in the prior game.

 

Practise and qualifying sessions are handled in a similar manner as before, with our first race start in F1 Manager 2023 coinciding with a red flag stoppage. The race was neutralised and the grid re-formed for a second time, throwing away our team’s second and third-place positions. Never mind. The restarted race went less well for us and the Banbury-based outfit, with a terrible pitstop strategy resulting in a fourth and fifth finish.  

But ‘23’s similarity to ‘22 helps us get on top of the fast-paced world of F1 racing instantly – there doesn’t appear to have been a revelatory change in the way this new release plays. 

Saying that though, players need to be aware of the new driver confidence mechanic, where pilots excel after building up their set-up and track familiarity over a weekend, or by pulling off overtakes.

 

Another welcome addition is the ability to save your game mid-session, ideal when you can only fast-forward gameplay by a maximum of 16x, often a bugbear of F1 Manager ‘22 players. 

Final lap 

Our early impressions of F1 Manager 2023 are positive. The game appears to retain the presentational sheen of its predecessor, with the dulcet tones of David Croft and Karun Chandhok providing an authoritative air to proceedings. 

However, cars still move in a slightly awkward fashion despite obvious improvements in the way they battle wheel-to-wheel, taking multiple defensive and offensive lines.

 

Building on the solid foundations set in 2022, the next game in the yearly series looks to be more of an evolution than a revolution at this work-in-progress stage, but it appears to have all the ingredients to make it another engaging F1 gaming experience. 

F1 Manager 2023 is out on 31 July 2023, with the Deluxe Edition unlocking gameplay four days earlier on 27 July.

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