We started sitting side-by-side on the sofa. There then followed a period of almost unbearable tension, which may have included some incredibly childish snatching back and forth of our single Xbox controller (I fully indict myself with these accusations of childishness). Now, with a crucial pitstop about to decide the outcome of the Australian Grand Prix, we are alternating between hopping up and down and crouching in a weird standing-foetal position as the bright red Ferrari accelerates down the pitlane for its first corner date with destiny…
I feared that, when we finally relented and allowed Santa to bring my youngest son an Xbox, it would drive a wedge between him and the rest of the family. Too much time spent on screens is usually portrayed as the modern-day equivalent of frequenting opium dens, and yes we’ve had to be quite strict about how much time is allocated to gaming time in a given day or week.
This week though? All restrictions have been lifted because I too have been sucked in. Strictly speaking, F1 Manager 2022 isn’t a multi-player game but my son and I have self-appointed ourselves as joint team principals, commanding a digitised version of the Ferrari F1 team.
It had to be Ferrari. We could have managed any of the current 10 Formula One teams (and I’m a big Williams fan of many years’ standing) but given that said son is a massive fan of Charles Leclerc, we really had to pick the red cars. Besides, given Ferrari’s atrocious on-track strategy performance so far in 2022, there was a good chance that we might actually be able to do better with our master plan than Mattia Binotto, the actual Ferrari team manager.
And, as a pixelated Carlos Sainz sweeps gloriously past Red Bull’s Sergio Perez to take the lead of the Australian Grand Prix, it seems that our strategic gamble has paid off.
There’s only a handful of laps left to run, and our roll-of-the-dice decision to take three pit stops, switching from hard to soft to medium tyres has paid off big time. Sainz is now pulling ahead of Perez, hobbled as he is by a set of hard tyres that are past their best by now. We’re going to win!
I have to calm down for a moment. I also have to stop doing a little victory jig on the living room rug and have to sternly turn to youngest son and remind him that this is just a video game, and not real life. As with many things I tell my children, it’s basically an instruction to myself. I’d become as swept up in the moment as he had — maybe more.
If I’d had a hat, I’d have whipped it in the air in celebration — 1970s Colin Chapman style — as Carlos took the chequered flag and the victory. It’s our third win in a row and Carlos leads the driver’s points table, with Ferrari itself comfortably ahead of Red Bull in the race for the constructor’s trophy.
It is a total inversion of real life, but then that’s the magic of F1 Manager 2022. Designed by gaming company Frontier Developments, it’s a dramatic leap forward from previous games of its type. The last time I tried playing an F1 management game, it was on my phone and to be honest it was pretty dull, with tiny cartoon-like F1 cars whizzing around while speech-bubble messages spat stats at you.
This is totally different. Indeed, such is the quality of the digital imagery that if you were a real, live F1 race engineer at a real F1 track, your view of the weekend probably wouldn’t be all that different. You’d have a TV screen on which F1 cars — yours and others — would be screaming around, and you’d be constantly juggling info, data, and gut-feeling guesses to try and help your drivers go faster than the other guys.
The sheer number of parameters you can change and adjust is, frankly, bewildering. You can even micro-manage car setup — wing angles, suspension settings, engine modes — as well as more management-y stuff such as setting up development programmes for new parts (keeping within budgets of course, another reason we decided to play with the deep pockets of Ferrari) and even hiring and firing drivers. Should we try and poach George Russell from Mercedes? Hmmmm…
The best fun, though, is the second-by-second running of the races. These unfold in real time, lap by lap (although you can fast-forward through parts if you’re trying to cram in a quick Spanish Grand Prix in a short lunch hour…) and it’s up to you — again, just like a real race engineer — to send a constant stream of instructions to your drivers, telling them when to push hard, when to back off and preserve tyres and fuel, and when to dive into the pits for fresh rubber, with the staccato call of: ‘Box, box, box!’
Honestly, it’s brilliantly immersive stuff. I thought my days of gaming were long since gone, but it’s not an over-statement to say that this has really given me and my son something to do together — not always a given when work is busy and school and teenagerdom loom. Now, I must finish up this piece. We’ve just lost third place at Imola and we need a strategy to get us back on the podium. If Ferrari actually need a pair of overly-enthusiastic F1 lunatics to help improve their 2022 strategic performance, they know where to find us. As long as we can use an Xbox controller, I think we can help…
F1 Manager 2022 by Frontier Developments is available now in shops and to download, priced from €44.99. It’s available for Steam, Epic Games, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, and Xbox One.