F1 Manager Games History Part 1: The Humble and Unlicensed Beginnings.

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In a series of articles here at RaceDepartment, we will try to go through the history of F1 management games. It will not cover all games, and we will probably skip a game or two that someone feels strongly should be included. We will also mainly look at “feature-games” that has been released, and not look closely at the vast amount of free and/or unreleased games.

Grand Prix Manager (1984)
is probably the first F1 manager game ever made. Written by P.Boulton and published by Silicon Joy (Addictive Games). It was met with some interest, not only because of the relative novelty of it being the first F1 Manager game made, but also because of the publisher being the ones behind the critically acclaimed, and commercial hit, Football Manager (no relation to the modern SI Games series). Grand Prix Manager was released for the ZX Spectrum, and like you expect, you take the role as a manager of a Formula 1 team. In this game the goal is to reach the highest management rating possible. Something that can only be done by winning on the hardest difficulty.
Notable quirks of the game is that you choose how many races you take part in over a season, and that the sponsors investment in your team is directly linked to your results in the last race – properly “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” – style. You can use the money to hire mechanics and drivers, real names are used, but not all is active, or even alive.

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For a game from 1984, it is slightly weird to be able to hire Graham Hill.
There is also a limited setup-range on the cars, such as tires, tire thread and angle of the rear wing. The game is also somewhat known for getting the amazing rating of 1/10 by the “Sinclair User” which was a magazine dedicated to Sinclair Research range of home computers, like the ZX Spectrum.

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A very basic, but clear menu.

Personally when I tried the game, I was a bit surprised. I could easily see some ideas behind it, but the game is severely lacking in feedback. Somehow the car kept running out of fuel, even though there was no option to add fuel to the start of the race, nor do any refueling during the race. It was however a nice effort, and a sign that F1 management games might have a future, however, it would probably need slightly more computing power to be able to give a more full experience as a manager.

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No big success for Myrvold in the first race of 1984, so time to move on.


However, it didn’t take long until the next game arrived. Already in 1985 Formula One was released. Even with such a non-descriptive name, the game got a much better reception than Grand Prix Manager the year before. Even though the game did end up in a controversy regarding artwork with Codemasters(Yes, that Codemasters), and a review from Computer and Video Games that was done in collaboration with Peter Collins, a former and future Team Lotus guy, at that time working for Williams F1 who looked at the game from a professional point of view, and criticized the game for the lack of detail in the management aspect, and lack of documentation provided to the player.
The game did not have any licence from FIA/FOM/FOCA/etc. however, it included real life teams and sponsors. The game also included 16 races, all with data, stats and records based on the 1984 season.
When you start the game, you are asked to take over one of the six available teams; Brabham, Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren, Renault and Williams. You will also choose two sponsors for the season, before you hire drivers. You earn money from your sponsors, prize money for participation and a bonus if you get a good result. As always with management games, this money is used to upgrade and repair the car, and hire drivers.

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6 teams to choose from! McLaren is pink, it was an easy choice!

This game is a bit more like the traditional management games. In the sense that when a season ends, a new one starts, and you get to do the same things all over again, and it keeps going on until you decided you’ve had enough.
There are 4 points that together gives your team a certain performance. It’s a combination of driver skill, engine power, chassis and the pit-crew. It does not go much more detailed than that. The games also introduces driver injuries as a feature.

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Welcome to the 1985 Brazilian GP!

Personally I found the looks of the game to be a lot better than Grand Prix Manager, however. The complete lack of information you get is a big drawback. For all I know there was a manual that told everything to the player, but without anything like that, it was really hard to get the game going. And somehow I only had money for one race-worthy car, so I showed up to the first race with only Andrea de Cesaris, and no Martin Brundle. You manually have to work as one pit crew to change all tyres and re-start the car to get it out from the pits, which led me to spending 90 seconds on a pit stop. So it didn’t matter too much if I got 1 or 2 cars in the race. However, with only 6 cars finishing the race, it gave me one fine point for McLaren anyway!

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After running around like a headless chicken, Myrvold did manage to get De Cesaris out in 90 seconds and score a point!

The improvements shown in Formula One compared to Grand Prix Manager that was released a year before already showed the immense potential being there with regard to F1 management games.


It did take some years for the next F1 management game to come, but also that was released on the ZX Spectrum. In the tradition of games back then, the game had the extremely original title, Grand Prix, and was released in 1988. As all the other games in this article, the game had no license, but took some names, both sponsors and real names when asking what team the player wants to be. You can choose between fourteen different teams, ranging from Brabham, Williams and McLaren, to Elf, J.P.S and Marlboro. For my game, I decided to go with Lola.

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A rather unique set of teams!

The minor sponsors you can choose is taken the same way as the teams, so you have 14 sponsors, and they are mostly familiar. You can find Silk Cut, Agip, Rothmans and “Pirelle”. When choosing a minor sponsor, you are asked how much you want between 10k and 100k, however, if you ask for too much, the sponsor declines, and you cannot ask for that sponsor again. No negotiations, and no way to actually know how much you can ask for either. I ended up getting Rothmans for 33k. In line with the games layout, you then get to choose tyre sponsors, but here the game starts to use some fantasy. At least you can choose Goodyear, and you also have Fondmetal who were widely used with rims and that technology. However, you can also choose Penske as a tyre sponsor. I went for Penske, who offered me money and 89% free tyre supplies. So I guess my Rothmans Lola will run with Penske-tyres. Interesting.
Then the game asks you to choose a fuel sponsor. Running out of fantasy, it is the same as tyre sponsors. One thing is for sure, this game really presents you with the main part of Formula 1. Sponsors and money! For the Engine sponsor, there was just 10 choices, from Ferrari to Honda and Ossella(!). As I felt would be fitting, I went for Ford Cosworth engines in my Rothmans Lola, with Penske tyres and fuel.

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Back in the days with Tobacco-sponsors in game...

While not having a license, the game does have drivers like A.Senna, N.Mansell and A.Prost in the game, while also sporting G.Fabi and R.Pitrese.
The game suffers from the same as the previous management games in the F1 world. The absolute lack of feedback. There is nothing that tells you if you are doing something right, or something wrong. The game does have an option in “development cost”, so the idea of car development is there. However, it’s far from in depth, and even Formula One from 1985 is more in-depth, while that also was shallow. The race overview gives little information on the race, and it basically just watching and hoping for the very best. It’s quite easy to see why the 1988 game Grand Prix is a big unknown in the world of F1 management games. It would probably been a nice game in 1984, however, it showed that there was still a long way to go in the world of F1 manager games before we would see something properly useful.

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Grand Prix (1988) - Not the race screen that gives you the most information!

However, already in 1989 the Italian company Simulmondo released a game called F.1 Manager which got a sequel in 1991, called Formula 1 3D: F1 Manager II. None of those game had a license either. However, they both started to show ideas that we later would get used to when it comes to manager-games, both F1 and others. I’ve not been able to track down either of the games in a working state, and little information exists of the games online.
In these games you don’t just manage the team, however you are controlling the car as well. Qualifying works as expected, however the race have a different objective than what we are used to. You have to run as many laps as possible within the time limit, the limit it reset each time you complete a lap, and if you don’t do it within the time limit, you are eliminated from the race.


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- In memory of Enzo Ferrari as the game loads to.

It is in the managerial aspect that these games makes a good leap forward compared to previous management games. After you have started up with a team, and chosen a driver – something that seems to be a recurring theme of these unlicensed F1 manager games. Then you can choose your engine. However, you can also move over to the research lab where you can custom build your own engine. Of course, it’s not made the most in depth, and some aspects are simplified. The idea is that more cylinders equals more power, but more cylinders also lowers the mileage you get. You get to choose valves, RPM and you develop the engine based on a wide range of parameters, from resistance and consumption to heat and material quality. All to find the balance between power, reliability and cost. You then get to choose your chassis. Again, the basic idea is very simplified. Expensive chassis is good at fast tracks, while cheap chassis are better at “slow” tracks (quotation marks from the game manual!). Again you have different options, ranging from grip, cooling (for the engine), resistance and safety(!). Here you can build a car with poor driver safety. When you are happy, you have your chassis, and then you choose between different wings to put on your car, which obviously have an effect on downforce. You also get to paint the car.

Following this, you get to hire a service team of engineers and mechanics. You also have to get a Race Sponsor, fuel supply and choice of gearbox, or “type of gear shift” as it is called in the game. Well, you only have a choice if you still got money left. If not, you end up with the fancy-named “Rock Box”.
For the actual race, you can choose between a variety of tyres and small setup changes to the dampers and wings. While the race is running, you can give commands to your driver from speed ot pit stops and risky passing moves. The usual commands we even see today in games like this. While both games lacked a license, they used some real names like all the games in this article. However, the F.1 Manager series did manage to get a great leap in terms of gameplay. Some rather unique and not so realistic choices, however the ideas put in the game was built on, and soon we would see the first F1 Manager game with an official license, but that is, as they say - a story for another time.
About author
Ole Marius Myrvold
I've been a motorsport-fan for as long as I can remember. Initially a rallycross-maniac, but got into F1 around the time I started school. Got my first sim when I was 7, but didn't start properly until I got a wheel when I was 12. Been a staff at RaceDepartment since 2012. Mainly the dirty-guy who does rally-stuff here. But also management-titles and rFactor 2.

Comments

Wow, I knew I should've invested in the ZX Spectrum back in 1985 instead of my C64New. I was completely unaware that the F1 Manager's legacy went as far back as 1984! Inspirational article!
Haven't played with F1 Manager since around the turn of the millennium, but just got off Jimmer's vid yesterday and now my spark plugs are hot has h*ll.
 
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Ole Marius Myrvold
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Wow, I knew I should've invested in the ZX Spectrum back in 1985 instead of my C64New. I was completely unaware that the F1 Manager's legacy went as far back as 1984! Inspirational article!
Haven't played with F1 Manager since around the turn of the millennium, but just got off Jimmer's vid yesterday and now my spark plugs are hot has h*ll.

Neither did I when I started on this!
There hasn't been an F1 Manager game since the turn of the millennium, so nothing lost! :)
 
Sorry, had to stop in the article at the point I saw Eddie Cheever at Lotus in one of the games! 5* game. Would recommend. USA! USA!
 
Its a shame how few people actually remember a childhood classic of mine.
"Pole-Position: Formel 1 Teamchef", an F1 manager game from 1996 (but not THAT F1 manager game from 1996) from ASCARON Entertainment GmbH.

To be quite honest, it looked good and was indepth, VERY indepth, but it sucked compared to the other F1 managers of the time. It was incredibly hard to get into.
 
I fondly remember 'Formula One' on the Spectrum. Doing a pitstop changing tyres and repairing the engine with the 'Magic Spanner' hilarious on a rubber keyboard.
 
Ole Marius Myrvold
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Its a shame how few people actually remember a childhood classic of mine.
"Pole-Position: Formel 1 Teamchef", an F1 manager game from 1996 (but not THAT F1 manager game from 1996) from ASCARON Entertainment GmbH.

To be quite honest, it looked good and was indepth, VERY indepth, but it sucked compared to the other F1 managers of the time. It was incredibly hard to get into.

I hope you enjoyed the mention of it in Part 2 of the article-series then! :)
 
Ole Marius Myrvold
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Yes. I did. Thank you for mentioning it, although due to the complexity i thought it was the most detailed out of them all.

Until I tried the other German manager game from the same era, I thought so too.
It stressed me out though, with the constant moving clock. I also found that I never understood all of what was happening, or why things were happening. Even used a manual (talk about blast from the past), but it didn't explain it all.

Those mid 90's games though, really advanced and good for their time. Think of what was then, and what we have now, it's amazing how little progress there has been in this specific genre of games.
 
Until I tried the other German manager game from the same era, I thought so too.
It stressed me out though, with the constant moving clock. I also found that I never understood all of what was happening, or why things were happening. Even used a manual (talk about blast from the past), but it didn't explain it all.

Those mid 90's games though, really advanced and good for their time. Think of what was then, and what we have now, it's amazing how little progress there has been in this specific genre of games.
It didn't help that you never knew what was a menu from the first sight, but that's old DOS games for ya!
 
Ole Marius Myrvold
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It didn't help that you never knew what was a menu from the first sight, but that's old DOS games for ya!

Hah, I can't remember what right now, but I think I'd done half a season when I suddenly found a new menu button...
Also didn't help that the mouse wasn't spot on when using DOSBox either.
 
Very cool to have read a detailed overview on what F1 Manager games where like before I was born. :D I think the earliest one I played is Grand Prix Manager 2. Thanks for the interersting article Ole, fantastic stuff.
 
Ole Marius Myrvold
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Very cool to have read a detailed overview on what F1 Manager games where like before I was born. :D I think the earliest one I played is Grand Prix Manager 2. Thanks for the interersting article Ole, fantastic stuff.

The earliest I had played before this series of articles was Grand Prix Manager. I assumed there would be some earlier, not as many as it was.
 

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