There have been many attempts at motorsport management sims but few have ever been able to capture the true nuances of Formula One in particular. For years we have seen annual updates of football management sims masterfully recreated in the Football Manager and Championship Manager franchises, but it has been 17 years since the last proper take on F1 management gaming was delivered with fanfare with the release of Microprose’s Grand Prix World in 1999. A year after SEGA partrnered with Playsport Games, Motorsport Manager has been released on PC and Mac following a successful mobile version two years ago. Have they delivered the best motorsport management sim ever? Undoubtedly.
First, let’s cover off the lack of an official license. There is no Hamilton, Vettel, Mercedes or Ferrari in this game. The sponsors are made up and all the engineers and rule makers are names you will not be familiar with – although Ernie Hecklerock is an inspired name as the head of the in-game equivalent of the FIA. Does it matter though? Absolutely not – as a manager, you are so focused on improving your car and dealing with the pressures of keeping a team afloat that having an official name becomes irrelevant.
That said, there are some loose parallels with real life that are clearly done with intent. You start the game with three options: career mode, challenge mode and single race. The core of the game (and this review) is the career mode – challenge mode gives you certain scenarios to deal with, and single race lets you practice the race simulation aspect. Career mode, though, is where the heart of this game lies and after setting up who you want to be known as in the game you select which racing series you want to start in: European Racing Series, Asia-Pacific Super Cup or the World Motorsport Championship. In terms of each championship’s pedigree in real-world comparisons, they are GP3, GP2 and F1 respectively.
After choosing your series, you select which team you wish to manage: do you choose an already proven race-winner and aim for championship glory straightaway, or take a more challenging route and build a team up from nothing and develop them over the years into championship contenders? One thing is for certain in Motorsport Manager, you will not be developing a Brawn-esque team overnight – success comes over time.
Upon loading the game up you are launched straight into a tutorial mode taking you through a race weekend and what you need to learn between races to turn your chosen team to manage into a championship winner. The tutorial is lengthy and I couldn’t see how to save or come back to it, but bear with it as it is informative. Following this, you get helpful hints accessed through a floating question mark over pretty much every area until you get up to speed, which can be switched off in the menu settings. It would be a nice added feature to be able to replay certain parts of the tutorial, but it doesn’t take long to get your head around what needs to be done.
Motorsport Manager gives you full access to the running of a motor racing operation: car development, staff negotiations, driver scouting and contract discussion, sponsorship, team factory development, livery editor, press interviews, voting on rule changes and managing general finances – all of that before what happens at the race weekends themselves. During your first season, it is car development where you will really focus your energies in terms of earning what needs to be improved first: performance or reliability.
Where Motorsport Manager really sets itself apart from previous games is providing a true reflection of managing a racing team of two drivers during a race, with all the instant decisions you need to make to engineer the best team result you can. The weekend starts with a short practice session where you are given just two flying laps to get the best setup for the race: more time to hone your car here would be useful, as you often go into races with not the best of setups. In the races, though, you make every decision as you would expect someone on a pitwall to make. You can throw in safety cars, variable weather, reliability concerns, tyre and fuel strategies and emotional drivers – it all makes for great entertainment and comes across as incredibly immersive.
As soon as that race finishes, you want to see how the result affects the championship, go through the debrief of the race weekend and immediately prepare for the next race. That notion of “just one more” is here, and before you know it you’ve been playing for four hours. You can expect to spend an hour in a full race cycle, from preparing the team for a race at the factory and doing the race weekend. Seasons will take a long time to complete so there is plenty of depth within the title, and it will be great to see my fledgling team develop and grow.
There are some frustrations though, particularly with hiring staff and drivers. You are reliant on a scouting mission to understand the pros and cons of what is out there. But often staff are not interested in working for a lowly placed team: there might be some future upgrade within the expansion of the team that will rectify this, but early on in the game you are left wondering whether this is due to a design decision or a fault with the game. Similarly if you offer a driver a Number Two role but wish to reassign them as a Number One, for example, you cannot do this which results in conflict.
That said, Playsport Games has truly captured the essence of F1 without the need of a license. The off-track politics within the game are wonderfully included and the foundations have certainly been laid for what could be motorsport’s answer to Football Manager. There is no question that Playsport could include equivalent racing series such as MotoGP, Touring Cars, World Endurance Championship in future evolutions of the game – providing the support and commercial interest is there.
It would be great to see better use of online or social media aspects, such as including a global percentage or leaderboard of how you are doing as a manager taking into account difficulty of the team/driver/designer combination showing how good a tactician you are on the pitwall. Integration with a mobile app would also be a nice touch so you can prepare for your next racing weekend whilst on the move, ready for you to do the race next time you load the game up on your PC or Mac.
The mobile game appealed to fans of management sims but succeeded because it was easy to pick up and play. To a motorsport fan who, like me, has been pleading for a management sim that does our sport justice, this answers every prayer – but whether it is as accessible to people who have never played a management sim remains to be seen. In which case, it could do with a light version or a mode where aspects of being a manager are automated. Many options and ways to advance this to an even greater game exist, but as a product in its own right, and with nothing else coming close for many years previously, this is a great game that warrants many hours of attention.