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Over the driver’s left shoulder view of Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin car on the starting grid; the starting lights are counting down in F1 Manager 2023 Image: Frontier Developments via Polygon

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F1 Manager 2023 makes the right calls with streamlined tactics and a new mode

Still an impressively deep sim, with less FOMO when you speed it up

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Even as a sports management simulation, even when the race was running at 16x speed, F1 Manager 2022’s events could be a pretty meaty affair. Depending on your level of involvement in your driver’s pace, tactics, even fuel and energy deployment, a grand prix by itself could come in at an hour or more. They’re about 90 minutes in real life.

So it’s not a surprise to me that F1 Manager 2023, coming July 31 from Frontier Developments, leans more into smaller experiences and some tactical streamlining. That’s not to say there are no enhancements to last year’s excellent, and deep, factory-to-track experience. There is still plenty to serve those who want a granular experience; it’s just they will find a new mode where taking that granular approach won’t take as long.

That new mode is Race Replay, which has two components: Starting Grid, a full-length Grand Prix that recreates the starting positions, tire choices, and track conditions of the real-life event; and Race Moments, which is an even smaller experienced focused on reaching a race objective in a shorter number of laps. Both are based on real-life events in the current Formula One season, and Frontier says they will be added to F1 Manager 2023 after every race.

Screen from F1 Manager 2023 showing Fernando Alonso on a damp track, with menus showing several competitors in the pits being fitted with rain tires.
Leaving Fernando Alonso out for an extra lap was definitely the wrong call. This is only two laps into the shortened Race Moments mode, so at least it didn’t take long for me to realize I should restart and come in sooner.
Image: Frontier Developments via Polygon

In a hands-on preview, I started with Race Moments and took control of Aston Martin at this year’s rain-slicked Monaco Grand Prix, with 24 laps to go. The goal was to get Fernando Alonso to a first-place finish (he came in second IRL). Effectively, this moment is all about choosing when to pit Alonso for rain-worthy intermediate tires.

I biffed that decision; I’m still a newbie Formula One fan, and I admit that even basic concepts, like how to time the undercut (getting on better tires before a rival ahead of you) versus staying out longer, still escape me. With Alonso on the hard compound, and the track still dry, I elected to stay out while everyone else pitted. With the track already getting damp by the time Alonso was in the famous Hotel Hairpin, there was no way he was going to gain enough time on Max Verstappen to make that decision pay off, even if he took another lap.

The meta here, as I understood it, is that the race was effectively decided there; I don’t think a safety car was gonna help me, and unless Verstappen wiped out (unlikely) it might have been better to simply start over. If I have any concern about Race Moments, it’s whether it truly does boil down to one single decision to rewrite the result, and then the point at which that occurs in your slice of the event.

Otherwise, it’s a good and even necessary addition to a game that went very long on moment-to-moment gameplay last year. I stayed with the Monaco event just to get a look at some of the new tactical options available in F1 Manager 2023. There are plenty, and they seem to address, in a quality-of-life way, some of the things that had me constantly pausing a race in F1 Manager 2022 just to make sure I didn’t completely drain a driver’s Energy Recovery System battery (it’s basically a speed boost), or change a pit strategy after my second driver spun out.

F1 Manager 2023 screen showing the Energy Recovery System strategies for Lewis Hamilton at the British Grand Prix. The player is moving from “Deploy” to “Harvest”
The streamlining isn’t just in shorter modes of play; there’s a new tactic called ERS Battle Assist that should give F1 Managers a little more peace of mind in their orders to use the Energy Recovery System.
Image: Frontier Developments via Polygon

Hence, there’s now ERS Battle Assist, which players can toggle on for a driver and tell him to reserve a portion of his battery power to deploy when a car behind him is within the one-second range for the Drag Reduction System zones. This gives me a little more peace of mind that I can give my driver an instruction about battery usage and not have to still manage it lap to lap.

As such, ERS strategies now have four settings, instead of five. F1 Manager 2022 had somewhat redundant commands on two (Overtake and Defend, both of which used the same amount of energy), and many players went to Deploy (the highest output) or Harvest (highest recharge) instead. Now Deploy and Harvest are there with Neutral or Top-Up, which is a slower level of recharging that doesn’t risk falling behind or being overtaken as much.

Players also have more granular instructions for on-track tactics, like “avoid high risk curbs,” as opposed to avoiding them altogether in F1 Manager 2022. Part of this folds into a new Driver Confidence system, which makes the practice sessions and qualifying results a little more impactful in F1 Manager 2023.

Screen from F1 Manager 2023 showing Lewis Hamilton’s confidence rating, a series of tactical decisions he can make, laid over a view of the British Grand Prix. Hamilton is in P3 on lap 5.
Lewis Hamilton’s new Driver Confidence rating (see upper right of the screen) will affect how well he responds to aggressive or conservative orders. Here, his pre-race performances in practice and qualifying had him coming in slightly higher than mid-range, so maybe aggressive overtaking isn’t the right call.
Image: Frontier Developments via Polygon

In last year’s game, players were trying to build up a driver’s confidence in the car’s setup during the three practices. That setup confidence is still there. Driver Confidence is an in-race characteristic that will start at a certain percentage and progress from there. It governs how well that driver will execute certain risky or aggressive tactics. (Also, you don’t want to do all the work of giving a driver 90% confidence and then hold him back all race.) Getting the setup just right is still as inscrutable as ever for me (and led me to background simulate most of my practices last year), but this at least brings the same concept to bear on something I can understand.

F1 Manager 2023 has much more to offer, from a new visor camera view — which mimics the same thing Formula One broadcasters show on TV — to a tire temperature model that includes both surface and carcass temperature, making tire wear more realistic and those decisions more consequential. In the personnel management layer, you now employ a sporting director who can train the pit crew and shave valuable tenths of a second off your stops.

In all, F1 Manager 2023 is a lot more than a new livery on a chassis that, last year, was pretty damn good to begin with. In a couple of hours with it, I felt like I could go as deep as I wanted in order to win, whereas last year, I had to go as deep as the game would let me. That’s a subtle distinction, but it means I can take a bigger-picture view of each race when the game launches at the end of July.

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