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F1 Manager 2023 preview: you can rewrite history… if you’re smart enough

We tried to make Red Bull less dominant in the new scenario mode. It went as well as you’d expect

Published: 19 Jul 2023

What's this all about?

Last year Frontier Developments released the first good F1 management game in absolutely years. It was deep in all the right areas - car development, tyre management, young driver scouting - and its use of real race radio clips brought an authenticity that even Codemasters’ F1 series couldn’t compete with. The big innovation in this sophomore 2023 effort, then? The ability to rewrite history.

In the most sensationalised sense, that is. F1 Manager 2023’s Scenario mode offers a different kind of experience to the decidedly longform career mode, instead serving up a manageable portion of team principal duties with the focus on changing the results of a race from the 2023 season.

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These scenarios, then. How do they work?

There are two types. You can either drop into the beginning of a full race, or a ‘race moment’ - ie the interesting bit - from a real event earlier in the season. The latter comes with specific objectives.

That might be achieving a bigger points haul for Oscar Piastri at his debut home race in Albert Park, or achieving the win for Alonso on that wet Sunday in Monaco this past May. Realists knew that Red Bull’s outright pace was too much for even the unrivalled wiliness and lustrous eyebrows of Fernando, but the veteran Spaniard’s pace in quali and P2 starting position prompted some of us to at least dare to dream.

Hang on, you can make an Aston Martin win at Monaco?

Er, well... about that.

Obviously that’s the scenario I picked for my hands-on preview with F1 2023. Alonso qualified in P2 and the conditions were changeable throughout the race, so it sounds at least vaguely possible, right?

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It would simply be a matter of anticipating the changing weather conditions perfectly and getting 'Nando on the right tyres at the right moment, I said to myself, nodding confidently. Yes, Max Verstappen’s Red Bull is proving to be one of the most dominant cars in modern F1 history. Yes, he finished 27 seconds ahead of Alonso in the real race. But I’m here now, so...

What do you actually control, though?

Basically: pick the right tyres. Set a pit strategy. Tell your drivers how hard to push. Look at tyre degradation charts and furrow your brow.

Unlike the ‘starting grid’ race replays which give you the whole race to control, these ‘race moments’ scenarios drop you into the thick of it. So my first seconds as a hastily recruited Aston Martin team principal (a role that also includes the chief strategist’s duties apparently) are deep into the Monaco grand prix with about 30 laps to go. Max is out in front by about five seconds, Alonso’s in P2. Lance Stroll is in P11 but with the greatest respect to the billionaire team owner’s son, he’s not the focus of this scenario. We’re all on worn tyres, and it’s starting to spit. This is my first chance to tee up that Hollywood win.

Being on the right tyre matters hugely in this game. The code’s modelling tyre surface and carcass temperature, and the rate of degradation depends on many factors including track temp, car characteristics, the driver’s stats and how hard they’re pushing. So if I can time this pit stop to inters just right and Red Bull get it wrong for Max, I can make up a huge chunk of time.

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The trouble is, all of the data available to me says it’s not quite wet enough for inters yet on this first lap of the scenario. These worn medium tyres are still going to lap about a second quicker, so I opt to stay out on them. Max does the same. Stalemate.

The rain’s coming down with a bit more commitment by sector three of the following lap, however. It looks like the track’s sufficiently soaked to warrant inters, so after instructing Fernando to use all that’s left of those worn mediums and push to the limit for a lap, I pit him in.

Max does the same.

Race strategy sounds hard.

It is.

And that first round of pit stops is the first clue that these race moments aren’t the quick fix of automotive glory that I had them pinned as. F1 Manager 2023 is so attentive - so bloody forensic - in its simulation of the real sport that of course Red Bull was going to pit at the exact right moment too. It was never going to be that simple to conjure an unlikely Aston Martin victory. Instead, these scenarios are self-contained puzzle boxes. Playing through one once simply reveals the puzzle in full detail. For me, at least, achieving a dramatically different result to the one that played out in reality is going to take a bit of trial and error.

Anyway - with Max and Fernando now both on new inters and doing similar lap times, the gap remains about five seconds. Should I have gone for full wets instead? Is that how to solve this 200mph Rubik’s Cube? I consider pitting Lance in for wets just to see his pace, but then I imagine the expression in Big Daddy Stroll’s face in the next boardroom meeting.

What happens if you just roll the dice?

I get an answer to that one lap later when George Russell bravely opts for the wet tyre and subsequently starts lapping 1.5 seconds slower than everyone else. No, then. Wets weren’t the answer.

10 laps into this scenario, I’m feeling very much like Aston Martin’s personnel on the pit wall must have been feeling: what chance do we have against this Newey-designed, taurine-powered monster? Conditions aren’t changing so there’s no immediate opportunity for an inspired tyre call. That means all I can do is manage Fernando’s pace lap by lap as best I can.

Hang on, is it actually fun?

It absolutely is. Make no mistake about that. The enjoyment comes from the details. All the little touches that make you nod your head and go, 'this lot really understand F1'.

F1 Manager 2023 is satisfyingly granular. You can instruct your driver to attack, push, or conserve their tyre in real-time, prompting a little race radio exchange each time you do. There’s also the option to control their engine mode and ERS deployment, letting you micromanage their fuel level and pace from lap to lap. Or even corner to corner, if you like, deploying some ERS boost on the straights then harvesting again in the braking zones. It feels a bit like leaning over into their cockpit and fiddling with their mapping buttons while they drive.

So the drivers do whatever you say?

Not exactly. New to this year’s game is the driver confidence mechanic, which adds an extra wrinkle to their lap by lap performance. Race drivers are famously brittle, ego-driven characters after all, so it makes sense that when they do something good like setting a PB sector time or pulling off a clean overtake they get a little confidence boost that improves their performance.

And that their confidence and performance take a knock when they make a mistake or get overtaken. And if I have anything going for me in this fight, it’s that Fernando Alonso is driving my car. Driving typically wonderfully, too. No mistakes, despite the sodden Monte Carlo circuit. His confidence is high and his lap times are benefitting. That’s helping us to maintain a semi-respectable gap to Max without having to deploy loads of ERS or take too much out of the tyres.

Monaco in the wet… any safety cars yet?

Wait, did you just make that Alpha Tauri crash? There are indeed safety cars and VSCs, and one’s just been deployed after Nyck de Vries (replaced in Real F1 by a returning Ricciardo of course) stacked it at Louis Chiron.

I immediately whack fuel and ERS down to minimum, instruct Fernando to conserve his tyres, and - I’m not too proud to admit this - hit pause.

A pause button?

I know, I know. But I’m not actually an F1 team principal or a chief strategist, am I? My ability to think on the fly extends only so far, and there are a lot of timing screens and tyre deg graphs to look at before I’ll know how to turn this safety car period to 'Nando’s advantage.

There are only 12 laps left and the SC will be out for at least a couple of them. I weigh up the options. With an inevitability that rings extremely true of real Formula One, the best thing to do in this situation is the least exciting. We stay out on the current inters, make them last, and hope against hope that Fernando can pull off some magic into turn one when the safety car comes in.

Ok, Fernando. What have you got?

P2. That’s what. At least he only finished a second behind Max instead of 27.

Having rewritten history in the most minor way possible feels very F1, and it’s testament to all the systems and simulations that make F1 Manager 2023. It isn’t patronising you by offering open goals to achieve improbable results in these new scenarios, but instead challenging you to analyse the variables and opportunities and devise a really specific strategy that might yield better results.

That might not be the quick fix of motorsport management that was perhaps intended, but it’s thoroughly engrossing to take a moment from the real season and try to formulate a better strategy than the real team devised at the time. Not to mention difficult.

You could always just pick a Ferrari.

Good one.

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