On-track, Formula 1 can be an awful lot of fun – all the more so when team-mates toss each other into the gravel trap while imperious children steal the day – but in truth some of the very best action takes place well away from the tarmac. It’s no wonder that Daniil Kvyat was halfway through an episode of Game of Thrones when he received the phone call telling him he was to be ousted at Red Bull in order to make way for the phenomenon that is Max Verstappen – the politicking of Westeros must feel like a home away from home given the daily cut-throat deals that take place in the F1 paddock.
How, though, to get all that wonderful flavour across in a video game? Codemasters’ F1 games once half-heartedly tried it, though starting down a slowly filling email inbox was never going to quite relay the drama of the real thing. It’s only now with Motorsport Manager, an all-new venture for Guildford’s Playsport built upon the foundations of a successful mobile game with the help of Sega, that the more devious side of F1 is done some sort of justice.
If you’ve played the mobile game, you’ll be familiar with the fundamentals – you’re running a team, taking care of recruiting drivers and engineers and delving into a tech tree that underpins the development of your car. It’s all been retooled thoughtfully for its debut on PC, Mac and Linux, though – this isn’t the mobile game with a few bits of extra bodywork thrown on, and instead is a totally new beast, built from the ground up. As you’d expect from a team that’s able to lean on the expertise of Football Manager dev and Sega stablemate Sports Interactive, it’s a slick and neatly optimised brand of management that’s on offer here.
So you’ll carry out familiar tasks in a much prettier arena, the races themselves presented in glorious tilt-shift style, the action playing out as if it’s on a well-furnished toy track. Strategies must be picked, tire compounds and pit stops considered as you work your way up through various fictional teams across seasons that visit various fictional but recognisable tracks (though the Grand Prix that takes place in Guildford is a thing of pure and wonderful fantasy).
That’s the race day side of Motorsport Manager, and at present it looks smart, fun and pleasantly stylish (plus seeing the Sega logo printed on the sidewall of a chunky F1 tire is enough to send the heart of any child of the 90s aflutter). True to the sport itself, though, it’s what happens outside of a Sunday afternoon that really interests me.
There are all kinds of delicious politics at play in Motorsports Manager, be that poaching a star driver and their engineer for your team or – and this is the truly special stuff – lobbying the powers that be to bend the rules in your favour. Find a race on the calendar that’s not playing to your strengths? Vote to have it ditched from the next season, and perhaps look forward to having a little more say if your team’s based on a certain Maranello outfit. Chanced upon an engine development that’s putting your opposition in the shade? Then watch out – next year’s rules, as decided by your contemporaries, may well find you starting the season with your hands tied.
What fun Motorsport Manager promises to be, and when it launches this September as the F1 season hots up – providing Lewis Hamilton stops walking under ladders and breaking mirrors and whatever else he’s been up to that’s contributed to his terrible run of luck – it’s set to be a fine foundation that might finally eclipse Microprose’ excellent Grand Prix Manager, a game that still thrives today thanks to generous mods. Motorsport Manager’s Steam Workshop will hopefully see it blossom once it’s in the hands of the community, adding more recognisable names and maybe even moving beyond the world of open wheel single seaters. A full season of WEC complete with multi-class racing and endurance tests? Now that’s something I’d dearly love to play.