One thing you can say about Motorsport Manager, Sega’s latest attempt to strengthen its grip on the realm of sports management gaming, is that it is surprisingly accessible. It is, after all, a simulation based around Formula One, a sport that has always prided itself on terrifying amounts of numbers given meaning via an equally intimidating array of equations from the laws of physics and aerodynamics. But unlike many other race team manager sims over the years (and there’s been a few), Motorsport Manager actually puts all of these stats to the side and helps you understand why they’re all so important before throwing them on top of you. Its pursuit of clarity before complexity is a likely byproduct of its original roots as a mobile game, and it’s both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it doesn’t take long to dive right in and be rewarded by its mix of hi-octane race day strategy and careful team planning; a curse, because gamers familiar with this genre are likely to get frustrated by the excellent but lengthy tutorial, and the lack of depth when it comes to micro-management. But for both those new to the paddock and those who eat tarmac for breakfast, one thing is certain - Motorsport Manager is still heaps of fun, and is a welcome revival of a long-neglected niche in sports gaming.
For the beginner, the objective of Motorsport Manager’s main Career Mode is straightforward - take a team in a fictitious Formula One universe (no licenses here sadly) and guide them to glory. There are three different divisions of teams to choose from - linked via a season-end promotion / relegation system - meaning you have ample choice when it comes to playing the kind of game you want. You could choose a road of consolidation by helping the reigning Steinmann team in keeping its place at the pinnacle of the World Championship. Or, you could take on the hard job - building a dynasty from the ground up with the criminally bad Predator team at the bottom of the European Racing Series, the lowest division. Whatever team you choose, you’re then responsible for every aspect of their ascendancy to the top: defining strategies on race weekend to help your drivers cross the line first, designing and building the car that will get them there, hiring and firing staff from the cockpit to the garage, developing team facilities to improve your car further, and so on. Naturally, you have to achieve all of this while keeping your team financially secure too - there’s no Bernie Ecclestone on hand here to offer you a bit of extra cash if you’re in the habit of driving your team deeper and deeper into the red.
Luckily, to help counter all of Motorsport Manager’s challenges - and there are many - its initial tutorial is on hand to explain to you how exactly everything works. It does this by first stepping you through the most critical, and most daunting, part of the game - a race day, teaching you the basics of how to best manage your team (re-fuelling strategies, part maintenance, weather management etc.) while they’re tearing around the track in the quest for the finish line. It’s essentially a hands-on guide told mostly via pop-ups during the race, but it works incredibly well for an initial taster because it offers up the race engine - easily the game’s most thrilling feature - without constantly interrupting the action with too much waffle. For a game revolving around a sport that is lovingly obsessed with its own terminology, Motorsport Manager’s tutorial text is often short, but always comprehensive - you’ll always come away from it having learned something, and you’re never too far away from being able to apply your new knowledge straight away. It’s a brilliant way to kick things off, and while certain post-race parts of it do drag on (the car design pointers in particular), getting to the other side of Motorsport Manager’s early induction is a worthwhile endeavour - because at least half-knowing how to be good in this game is just enough to enjoy what it offers you.
Building out your road to success is a tricky one - especially when each of Motorsport Manager’s conundrums come with their own set of causes and effects. Ultimately, you have a team chairman to please, as well as sponsors, and both are crucial in keeping money flowing into the team. Both too, have their own individual demands - chairmen will expect some season-long goal to be fulfilled (usually ‘finish in “X” position’ at the end of the season), while sponsors come with more short-term demands (‘finish in “X” place at the next race). To please both, you need drivers - and drivers themselves need to be kept happy with a good, competitive car to achieve their own personal glory. In turn, that can only be achieved by the mechanics in your garage, which you’ll definitely need to get the best out of so you can improve your car with better parts (rated from both performance and reliability viewpoints) as the season goes on.
But wait - there’s more! It’s crucial to know what parts to develop and when, as each race itself, based on its circuit, can either enhance the strengths or expose the weaknesses of your vehicle at hand. Get the part strategy wrong and you may incur the wrath of your driver for preventing them from finishing well in the last race. But then, you may even piss them off anyway because you gave that awesome new gearbox to their team-mate - even if said team-mate is in a better chance to win the championship at the end of the year. Very often, the bigger problems that Motorsport Manager poses don’t even come on race day itself, but in the small decisions you need to make as you advance throughout the season. It can be pretty taxing at first - even with the handy tutorial - and it’s probably best to start out with a lower-division team to begin with so you can at least get a feel for how to do long-term planning. Without such, not even early victories on the track will sustain you for long.
And that’s if you’re even able to get those victories to begin with. Landing the podiums is an expectedly easy feat if you pick a great team to start with, but not so much if you’ve picked one in the middle or the back of the pack. The races themselves though do look great. For a game that puts such an emphasis on strategy, the in-game graphics are consistently impressive, and the battle to get your cars up the grid are often furious and tremendously dramatic. A little too much so in fact - the occasional frequency of cars bombing through traffic in front of them or inexplicably dropping down the positions, especially during closing laps, might raise an eyebrow or two from those expecting a full adherence to realism. In compensation for this, Motorsport Manager makes your battle to the front an absolute grind. Every race is a tooth n’ nail fight to the end, where balance is key. Changing tires too soon before an expected weather change can result in a serious drop in speed. Ordering your driver to go hell for leather too soon before the end of a race, even though you know their car isn’t the fastest on the grid, can also result in them limping home with an empty fuel tank or a mechanical failure. Curiously, the tutorial only hints at how damaging these decisions can be, making you bear the full, unforgiving brunt for your mistakes as and when you make them. This can be remarkably frustrating initially, but there is a definitive balance between success and failure - and it feels incredibly empowering when you begin to learn from your early mis-steps and start to see your team’s fortunes improve.
As you climb up the championship standings, you then start to notice all of Motorsport Manager’s little details. Seasons progress with a recognisable rhythm, as you plan race to race, figuring out which parts of your car to improve while keeping the rest of the ship running solid. It’s a rhythm that’s also very comfortable to ease into as well, mostly thanks to an excellent interface that is still clearly influenced by the mobile game it has come from. In fact, this desktop effort really does feel in parts just like a smartphone game in terms of how you to go about the team management side of things - it feels involved, but never too complex. Designing new parts takes the route of making you build components scored only on performance and reliability, with a basic overall rating (Average, Good, Great etc.) defining their effectiveness. Developing new facilities for your headquarters meanwhile is often a case of grinding out races until you have enough money to purchase that awesome new wind tunnel. There’s even a goofy sense of humour pervading throughout that makes the proceedings even more light-hearted - for example, your drivers will develop personality traits as they go on through their careers, and this can range through anything from being a fearless racer (+1 for that overtaking stat), a video game addict (-5 for that focus stat), or just sticking to true F1 stereotype and being a serial womanizer (or man-eater) whose affairs with team staff are the stuff of legend. All of these quirks combine to make the management side of Motorsport Manager easy to work with, but at the expense of a drop in seriousness and strategic intricacy, which is definitely likely to turn off those looking for something more in-depth.
Also - I’ll mention it again - the complete lack of licensing brings everything down a notch. Every single team in the three divisions of Motorsport Manager’s career mode are fake, which will definitely be a dampener for some expecting a fully immersive F1 simulation. There are plans for tools to enable mod creation via Steam Workshop, and it’s not completely impossible to figure out which real world team each one is a counterpart for (for example, Rossini - red car, team bio says their performance has sucked in recent years - definitely Ferrari). But it is still a blow - even if the game does a great job with its on-circuit simulation, it just doesn’t feel quite as fun winning titles with a completely fictional team, especially when most of the sponsors slapped on the car are just as made-up as well (Sheikh Airlines anyone?).
But for those motorsport fans who are looking for heart over facade, or simply those curious to see how such a game plays among the big dogs of the sports strategy genre, Motorsport Manager’s ability to capture the drama of racing makes it absolutely worth a look. Beating out the bigger teams with a shrewd pit strategy, pushing your driver to take 1st place on the last corner of the race or getting edged out in a tight, agonizing last-ditch effort to finish - Motorsport Manager offers all of these giddy highs, heart-breaking lows and more. The buzz after a hard-fought victory or a determined vow to right an unfair defeat are what will keep you coming back for one last race, even if it means flying through season after surprisingly short season, and topping the podium with teams called Kruger Motorsport. For the right person though, none of this will matter - Motorsport Manager’s depth is enough for it to deliver genuine race manager enjoyment, regardless of its limitations.