My cars sit on the grid for their final race of the European Racing Series. It’s my first season in the top job at Vexala Motorsport and things have gone much better than expected. After being told to expect a midfield-capable car for the year, my lead driver, Sergey Antonov, sits two points off the championship lead after closing a 50 point gap over the last three races. The team has worked hard to transform the car from something that couldn’t keep its gearbox in one piece to a car that was capable of winning races, and now we have a chance to win, at least, the driver's championship. It’s pouring rain for the start of the race, so I fit my cars with intermediate tyres to help deal with the wet, but not soaking, road. I check with the drivers to see if there are any last minute changes they want to their cars setup, but both seem happy. That’s good, because I’m nervous. I know that over the course of the next 39 laps, my leg will be shaking harder than Christian Horner’s does on the Red Bull Racing pit wall. I know how quickly things can go from bad, to good, to bad again.
That’s the true strength of Motorsport Manager; it conveys how much has to happen to make a race weekend a success, from the build-up and preparation for the weekend, through to the execution of your strategy. It touches on almost every facet involved in the world of motorsport and does so in a way that’s both elegant and informative, similar to its mobile counterpart of the same name which came out to great success a few years ago. Though it’s inclination towards the more hardcore side of things will keep away casual onlookers, those with a genuine interest in management sims, or motorsports in general, will find plenty here and more to plug a gap in the management sim genre that hasn’t been filled since Microprose’s incredible Grand Prix World.
IT’S LIGHTS OUT, AND AWAY WE GO!
Motorsport Manager presents three tiers of open-wheel racing championships within which you can launch your management career: European Racing Series, Asia-Pacific Super Cup and the top tier World Motorsport Championship. Unfortunately, there are no real life racing series, drivers or circuits represented, what with Bernie and his F1 mates asking for vault-loads of cash for anything related to their precious commercial property. Not that it has a huge bearing on the fun to be had, but I’ll have to leave my dreams of single-handedly tanking the Mercedes F1 team into obscurity for another day.
Each tier is a different championship with different rules, different teams and drivers as well as different stakes. The lowest tier series is a ten race championship with cars that don’t cost all that much to work on relative to the top tier, so the prize money isn’t as large, but the pressure to succeed is all the same. Your goals for success will vary depending on which team you start with. A top team will expect immediate results, putting pressure on you to succeed from the outset, while a mid or low tier team will expect some sense of progress up the order, but maybe not right away.
It can feel a little daunting to begin with because there is so much depth here to consider. Despite the inclusion of a tutorial pop-up that goes a long way to explaining things, it took a couple of races to become comfortable with the sheer number of variables in play, both during a race weekend and while back at the factory. During a race weekend, things are a little more directed. The practice sessions come first, giving you a chance to work on the setup of your cars and get the drivers' feedback, followed by qualifying - if it’s used by the series in which you compete - then the race.
Driver and mechanic feedback is handled well, allowing you to make informed decisions about what should and shouldn’t work for your drivers. You can also give your reserve driver a run in practice, should you wish to give their skills a little boost, or get their specific feedback instead. Practice also gives you a chance to boost your performance in other sessions through the offering of perks, which can be set before the race begins in order to give you a performance boost in a certain area.
During the race you’re forced to think on your feet, having to react to a gamut of different things that just happen. If it starts raining, do you dive into the pits for wet tyres, or will it only be a quick shower? It wants you to think about the time to be gained and lost as a result of your actions, and finding the right balance between asking the driver to push their car hard, and pushing them too hard that the car breaks or they ruin their race strategy by tearing through their tyres. You can get into micro-management territory if you want to, issuing driver orders as often as you like, but thankfully you aren’t punished for sitting back and letting things unfold a little, either.
Speaking of race strategy, it would’ve been nice to see a little help offered by way of planning that out. As things are now you’re very much left to fend for yourself in figuring out what the right approach is for any given challenge, which could be an easy point of frustration for newer players. The wrong choice can be very costly in terms of results, but as the professionals always say, that’s racing.
At least it looks alright; like an updated, fleshed-out version of the mobile game. The tracks are all 3D modelled and almost look like they’re sitting on a big table. Your view focuses on whichever car is selected, and the camera acts like a hovering helicopter cam, chasing the car around the track. Sparks shimmer as the cars thrash over bumps as well as erupting into flames after blowing an engine. A drenched track looks wet and saturated, and you can also watch a drying line start to form when the circuit begins to dry out again. It looks nice, but sadly the racing itself isn’t quite as impressive to watch. It’s a lot like watching slot cars carve their way around a set racing line; often they’ll hold each other up in ways that race drivers never would, costing several seconds. In many ways it reminds me of the early days of Football Manager’s 3D match engine. The potential is there to see, it just needs a chance to be fleshed out.
The team management side feels a bit more traditional, with each department represented on a different screen. The UI offers plenty of detail at all times, and for handling such a vast array of numbers, it’s done so in a way that’s neat, tidy and easy enough to follow. You’re responsible for everything, from designing, building and managing spare parts, hiring the right staff, managing sponsors and media as well as dealing with any dilemmas that may arise. It also breaks up the on-track action, allowing you to focus on increasing your car’s performance and anything else you need to get sorted out.
A SUCCESSFUL FIRST SEASON
There is always something going on behind the scenes in Motorsport Manager, and it always adds to the experience. I never felt cheated, even when things didn’t go my way. I think that speaks to how well things have been balanced, because it’s so easy to move too far in one direction or the other with any game that has this many systems interacting with each other. It’s not perfect; a few setup quirks, like increasing rear wing angle adding understeer, don’t make any sense and had me scratching my head trying to work out why they might design it that way. But in the grand scheme of things, Motorsport Manager does what I want it to do. It puts me on the pit wall, in the thick of it.
My championship chasing driver didn’t win the last race of the season, but they didn’t need too. They just needed to finish two points ahead of the driver on top, and that meant beating them by two positions. With five laps to go, strategy had played out so that both drivers were close on track with the championship leader being in front, trying to stay fast but also needing to save fuel. It didn’t work. With a lap remaining, the championship leader’s car choked one last breath before slowing to a crawl. With a lap to go in the last race of the season, my driver made the pass and finished 2nd, cementing his, and my team’s, first championship. The drama couldn’t have been written more perfectly, and this represents Motorsport Manager to a T.