F1 Manager Games History Part 3: The Golden Era of MicroProse

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When people talk about the old F1 management games, they very often talk about the three games by Edward Grabowski. The first two being the ones in focus in this article. These games are probably the two F1 manager games that have had the most longevity and general support from modders, especially the second game in the series, but what exactly did set them apart from the rest, or was it simply just a case of being a bit lucky.

Grand Prix Manager (1995)
was the first F1 manager game made by Grabowski and published by MicroProse. It was in the middle of the Grand Prix – era of Geoff Crammond F1 simulators, and more than one have confused the creators of the games, and even thought that it is the same developers that worked on Formula One Grand Prix, Grand Prix 2, 3 and 4 as the ones working on the Grand Prix Manager series. Booting up the game, there is one big advantage straight away compared to the games in the previous article. The menu is much more intuitive, as can clearly be seen where you are choosing what teams to manage (you can play 4 players on one PC, however I think that will become messy considering how races, qualifying etc. are handled), if you want to include the fake extra teams and so on. Even the driver edit menu is pretty straight-forward. While there might be a couple of things placed in slightly weird tabs and hidden behind buttons. It’s much better than roaming around on the monitor hoping that your mouse will catch an option.

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Look at all the drivers and teams! I decided to go with Ferrari for this playthrough. My first attempt was with McLaren, but Mansell bankrupts the team with his salary...

For all the fun and great stuff Team F1 had going for it. It must admit I was well over halfway through a season when suddenly some text popped up on my screen. It was another option to do something. I just hadn’t hit the sweet-spot in my hours of playing the game earlier. That’s something that won’t happen with the Grand Prix Manager games series. Again there is a mid-90’s F1 management game where you have to deal with driver insurances. The FIA mandates basic insurance, but you can sign injury-insurances that will cover the wage and hospital bills for any injured drivers, and even a “loss” insurance. The game mentiones “Though motor racing is now safer than ever before, it is still a dangerous sport and you should take care to cover any eventuality”. I’ve not actually seen anymore have a driver die before, but it seems like there can be pretty serious injuries in the game. Or it’s just added as a realism thing without actually have much to do with any game mechanics, other than take your money. It would be pretty much in line with F1 in the 90’s to be fair. At least it is not like in Team F1 when your driver is injured seemingly on random. Here injuries can happen in crashes, something that happened surprisingly frequently also after 1994. One thing that is a bit frustrating is that even when I start as Ferrari, the team doesn’t actually have any construction facilities, wind tunnels and so on. You can still produce parts, but you will rent space when you need it. I can see this being a thing for teams like Forti and Pacific, not so much for Ferrari, Williams and the other top teams.
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On the left, a very simple and clean menu. Easy to move around!
On the right, Ferrari - Ferrari, of course. A lot of different engine manufacturers. If you miss Minardi, Simtek, Pacific and Williams from the list, don't worry, they just share the same manufacturer as other teams.


The R&D is fairly straight forward, you choose the amount of time in percentage, that the team will spend on In-House parts and on R&D both the engineers and design-team. This also goes for the new chassis. You will also have to choose how much time they spend on R&D and “working on the race”. This is a bit misleading in text, but it basically means that you will have less time to do maintenance, part changes, setup changes etc. if you lower the “working on the race” tab.
You can also choose to develop some Driver Aids in the game, though they might be banned, get banned or be allowed as the years go by. So maybe you want to risk it by developing something that’s currently illegal, hoping for it to be legal, or just go the safe route with something that is legal and hope it won’t get banned for next season! With that being said, things like “Onboard camera” sounds like a weird driving aid. You can also hire a spy to try and steal from other teams. Or “Acquire technology” as it is called. Sounds much nicer when it’s put that way I guess. Of course, you can approach the team and ask to buy it, or swap for a part you have yourself as well. That is if you don’t want to get it by “stealth” as the game puts it.
The game being set in the mid 90’s, also means it’s unlimited testing, or at least up to a certain point. It will cost money to get your car to the track, and 2k of the in-game currency per lap. So you are limited based on money. Also, each car is capped on 90 laps, to a total of 270 laps before each race. The testing is happening in the same way as a race, so you control each car in terms of pushing, pit-stops etc. the same way as you would in a race. Giving orders to each driver and so on. It’s a good way to learn the race screen, as that is one of the more clunky parts of the game. It’s more than possible to figure it out, but it’s clearly meant for a different time with different screen resolutions and systems!

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Left side; My poor Ferrari doesn't have any driving aids. Maybe I should take the risk and develop an illegal one, in the hope that it will become legal next year!
Right side; Pre-season testing at Interlagos. I weren't alone there, but at the time of screenshot, only my cars were on the track! Not the most intinuitive UI on the race screen


It's also here where you encounter the worst screen of all in game. Car setup! It’s hidden away in “internal” and “external” of the car, and the “advice” button, which in all other screens in the game is general game advice, pointing to rules or what stuff do is now suddenly telling you to change the brake balance, gear ratio, wings and so on. No-one said manager-games would be easy, eh?
Once you have learned where the buttons are, the race weekends themselves are pretty normal. Spend practice 1 on the setup and learning tyre-wear, then you have Friday Qualifying. Another practice session on Saturday, that I find pointless in the game. Then Saturday Qualifying. The best time from the two qualifying sessions are the one that counts. Then you have warm-up and the race. It works like all management games that came later, you choose a strategy, that you can change on the fly, and you give different orders to the drivers in relation to how hard they should push. Which impacts tyre wear, fuel usage and so on. This being in the 90’s, you should also cross fingers, toes, arms, legs and some brain cells and hope that the car keeps in one piece for the entire race. It’s also important to remember, that even including the Q-tyres, you only have 7 sets of dry tyres for a weekend. Spend them wisely!

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Left side; Can you spot all the external car setup options? The internal view is even more messy.
Right side: Seemingly Benetton and Williams were a bit too dominant, and the men without a smile that works for the FIA decided to show up to do some mid-season rule changes.


A quirk of the game is that, while you do have 12 laps in qualifying, all the other teams go out together in a predefined order, and does one attempt, and based on tyre sets available. This is the way to go as well. Not the most realistic thing there is, but it works for a game from the mid 90’s. When you have gotten into how it works, it’s just doing it for 17 races! Remember to assign focus to sponsors as well. The same way as you do R&D, just drag a slider and decide percentage time spent with sponsors and merchandise deals, and also how much time with each single sponsor. Money is important after all! During the season you should remember to negotiate deals with drivers, chief designer, chief engineer, commercial manager and chief mechanic, possibly do that before all the good ones are taken.
One interesting aspect is that engine deals can cost different amount of money depending on how good your team is, or if you have a driver of a certain nationality in the team.
Slightly disappointing is the rookie-pool of drivers. There are at all times only three rookies that you can sign to drive for your team. This does limit the risk of swapping out a lot of real life drivers with fake names in just one season. However, it also limits the flexibility sadly.

The economic side in the game is extremely challenging. It’s at times, with certain teams almost impossible to survive a season, due to high salaries compared to sponsorship and merchandise income. A team like McLaren, with Nigel Mansell as reserve-driver with the highest salary of all drivers in the game will be extremely difficult to survive with. This can be changed with the pre game-start editor. Then it’s a personal thing if that feels like cheating, or just fixing a “bug” in the game. When on the subject of bugs. Drivers are contracted for a certain amount of races, but the FIA often changes between 17 and 16 races for season, which means that you often end up with a contract that runs out before the last race of the season, or lasts until the first race in the next season. Also, when to extend a contract with a driver, it goes in to effect the moment you do it. So if you extend a contract with 9 races left in a season, you need to add those 9 races in addition to the length you want the new contract to be (e.g 16+9). The normal manager-game issue is there. Some weird driver changes, some weird engine contracts and so on between each season. That’s sadly just how it is with these older games.
Grand Prix Manager showed some good potential, and that would be further realized with the next release.

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Left: The season have ended. 7 out of top 8 in the game came in top 8 in the real life 1995 season. That is pretty respectable for a management-game!
Right: Driver lineup at Ligier for 1996. Look at the salary for Mansell, at the top right you can see the finances for my Ferrari-team. Signing Mansell would bankrupt me! Also, stats!


Grand Prix Manager 2 (1996) Might actually be the F1 manager game most people have heard about. Mainly because of a loyal following that have made season mods for all seasons from 1986 to 2015. The game, like so many others have the official drivers from the season it’s based on, in this case, 1996. With the exception of Jacques Villeneuve, who owned the copyright to his own name and image rights. MicroProse used the name John Newhouse for Villeneuve in all their games, management or simulator. In addition to this, Taki Inoue was replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella so close to the season start, that Inoue is in the “experienced drivers” pool, as the only driver without a contract who actually are a real driver. The game has local multiplayer “hotseat”-mode, and two choices when starting a game. Short Contract or Long Contract. Short is scenarios, they range from having to win the drivers and constructors championship to manage a win one race in the next three seasons. Showing the freedom developers had back then, and the little wink and nod towards real life. One of the scenarios is that “you are under pressure to win the constructor championship withing the next three seasons. The R&D “boffins” in your team have managed to develop every single Driver Aid possible, but nearly all of them are illegal. What are you to do?”. With that description, in a game made in the mid 90’s, it’s just logical that the game places you in charge of Benetton. The game also have online play, which actually still works when using different type of software to emulate linking up/lan. It even works for some of the mods.

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Left; I had gotten rid of the French test-driver at Williams, and tried to sign Renault-engines for 1997. That wasn't a success.
Right; Taking back the French test-driver, and Renault were happy again! Do note that you can't just hire a French driver to the worst team, Renault do demand some results!


The game has the same basic gameplay as Grand Prix Manager, with regards to development, testing the cars, engine contracts, tyre contracts and so on. Except here the game will always have 16 races in a season, so driver contracts are easier to handle. In addition, new contracts starts at the end of the old one. Except the times when you sign drivers from other teams are you are given a choice to pay off the old driver to get the new one immediately. A nice addon to the game is pay drivers. The pay drivers budgets also varies a bit from season to season. This means that you can in theory do like Tom Walkinshaw did in 1997, sign a pay-driver (Diniz) to pay for the first-drivers salary (Hill). For the gameplay screenshots provided in this article, I have been playing a modded game. It’s based on the original game in terms of performance of drivers, teams, engines etc. However fake sponsors, extra teams and drivers have been replaced with real names, logos and so on. Many of these mods also have a feature that can be handy if you are tired of the typical F1 manager games shenanigans where you end up with Williams Ford ED, Ferrari Mercedes, Having Schumacher in Minardi etc. Some smart people have made the in-game editor available also after starting the game. Which means that you can choose to edit it at the start of every season. Granted, if for some reason Hill, Schumacher, Villeneuve, Alesi, Berger and Barrichello is out of a seat, you can’t put them in again. It’s just the drivers and teams that are active you can change. This does however give you a chance to avoid the worst possible scenarios. Or as I did it in a 1997 mod-game that I once did. I knew that Shinji Nakano came with Mugen-Honda engines. So every team that signed him (unless it was Ferrari), I would also transfer to Mugen-Honda engines. Kinda fun in an alternative-reality way. Anyway, that’s not what we are looking at here.

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Injuries can happen, on the left you see that Häkkinen has fallen ill before the European GP at Nürburgring, while Eddie Irvine was seriously injured at Imola the race before.
On the right side the results from said race at Nürburgring. Magnussen retired with a crash, while Larini scored points for Ferrari!


Just like the previous game in the series, you can insurance your drivers. The 3rd party insurance is mandatory, then you can insure a driver for injuries and also loss of a driver. Something I’ve never experienced, so it might be that it’s just there to drag out money. However, this does mean that you can try to commit insurance fraud with a driver who is lacking experience, luck and reliability. Send the driver out on the track with worn brakes and there’s a good chance you get an insurance payout. If you then have a pay-driver as a test/reserve. That’s a double payday. But this is F1, there will never be anyone thinking like that… One of the main changes in game design of Grand Prix Manager 2 is the change from written descriptions of the driver and employees skills. Instead of “outstanding”, “ace”, “Superb” etc. that is hard to differentiate, it’s now stars. Drivers have 12 stats that can be in a range of 1 to 5 stars, while the designers, engineers etc. have 1-5 stars, however, they also have half-stars. So in reality a range of 1-10. I did mention the Shinji Nakano – thing earlier. This is somewhat replicated in the game. Playing as Williams, even though it is a top team. If you get rid of J-C Boullion, and haven’t signed up a French driver as your next driver. Renault don’t want to do a deal with you. They want a French driver in the team. Now, this is easy to “trick”. Sign the cheapest French driver as the next driver. Get engines from Renault and cancel the new contract. So it’s far from perfect, but it is a nice touch. This also goes for other engine manufacturers. Yamaha wants a Japanese driver, Ferrari wants an Italian driver, Mercedes wants a German driver (which means you cannot continue with the three McLaren drivers if you want to keep the Mercedes engines), the factory Ford engine needs a British driver and Peugeot also want a French driver. Some manufacturers only want to supply one team, while others demand quite a lot of money regardless of what team you are. If you fail to sign any engine deals before the end of the season, you will be given the very light, but low powered Nissan V8 engine.
Granted, this engine manufacturer and driver from a country was also present in the original Grand Prix Manager game, but not as extensive due to the driver pool. Grand Prix Manager 2 moves away from the very limited driver pool from the first game, over to a similar driver pool as Team F1 and F1 Manager. They are split up in to “Experienced” which are drivers who have raced in F1 previously, so in the unmodded game, it’s Taki Inoue, and a bunch of fantasy-name drivers who may or may not have career stats that equals real life racers. You also have rookies, which are drivers that haven’t done a single F1 race. Here you can find additional pay-drivers, which are marked with a star. You are however unable to see the drivers skill, or lack of, if you sign someone from the driver pools. A small “issue” in the driver signings is that if you want to wait until other teams starts to sign drivers, so you join in the silly season at the same time, you might lose a lot of chances to sign drivers. Just to see them being out of a contract at the end of the year anyway. The “next driver” overview, isn’t always correct.

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The "pit-lane view" of the race. The buttons are clearer to see in this game, but not all is that self-explained. Note that the laps and race-time is due to only 4 drivers having started lap 5.
Trying to play realistically and not sign all you want before race 1, can lead to such situations like Damon Hill leaving, or will he? At least he have signed for another team.


New for Grand Prix Manager 2, is an own setup screen in the game, a bit more high-tech than the car setup which was integrated, and possibly not to intuitive in the first game. There is also a “driver set-up” page where you can swap around chassis and drivers. If you play as a cash-strapped team and you have a car with worn parts, you may choose to swap it with the T-Car instead of spending money on parts for the race-car. There are small refinements to other parts of the game as well, a bit easier to find just about anything, even though the interface at the time was looked at as “relatively poor”. I must admit I find the interface of Grand Prix Manager 2 a lot better than many, if not most of the previous games covered in this series. As the in-game editor makes it possible to change drivers, teams, names and even point systems. It is a bit sad that you can’t turn off the 107%, this hasn’t been possible through modding either. Together with an EMS-part bug, which means you cannot have a driver aid at a higher level than the EMS-part you have on your car, if you do, it’s a guaranteed Electronics failure retirement. The 107% rule is the most frustrating thing in the game, as you go along, the difference between the best and the worst teams gets bigger, potentially even bigger if Cassini or Tsunami (team 12 and 13) joins F1. (In this game-series, teams can go bankrupt and leave F1. Other teams can join.) Which means that you often see 7-10 cars outside the 107%, where the three slowest doesn’t get to race.

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Hill kept being a professional, and even when signing to go to another team, he pulled through and won the championship in style. Again 7 of 8 in top 8, but worse spread.
Right side, not a mid-season change this time!


There are also few overtaking spots on each track, which can cause a bit of rush-traffic queuing. This can be misused if you are a slow team, by sending your car out ahead of a top-team in Qualifying, and get “pushed around” to a better laptime.
The game is far from perfect, but when it released in 1996, it was one of the best F1 Management games ever released, and with modding, it’s lived on, even now, 26 years later with a small community around it.

The game itself didn’t get the best reviews when it was released, because of a lack of improvements over the first game in the series. Which is true. It is a very typical yearly release-style game in that sense. This would change with the next release in the series, coming three whole years later.

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Rounding off the 2D era... See my Williams for 1997. Note that Hill is on a 1-race contract. Apparently the place he signed for didn't want him anyway, and I didn't have a 2nd driver, so the game hired the best available...
Right side, Ligier again going for an expensive first driver, but at least Diniz covers a lot of the salary budget with his sponsorship!
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

I played both of those games and loved both of them, gp manager 2 has a brutal amount of mods that cover decades worth of seasons with even updated user interface. Grand prix world was also interesting, but it never made me enjoy it so much as the gp manager ones.

What a great company was Microprose: GP500, Falcon 4.0, gp manager, they even published the grand prix and grand prix 2 games. Nowadays nobody publish anything new with a massive amount of depth, the user manual of Falcon 4.0 had almost 600 pages of hardcore theory instead of just screenshots of how to use the interface and a list of controls like now if you are lucky.

Even the arcade games had more depth: magnetic fields did very groundbreaking rally games with graphics that in the moment they were released shattered my mind, it featured stages as long that took you more than half an hour to finish it, instead of nowadays supposedly rally simulators with only 5 to 10 minutes stages in order to not frustrate the low attention kids that the game is intended to be played by.
 
I would love to have 1978 F1 season in Championship manager just to let Ronnie compete faire against Mario.
 
I played a little GPM2 but I found it way too easy to qualify high, even with a new team, if you handled qualifying properly. Took me out of it quite a bit.
 
Club Staff
Premium
I would love to have 1978 F1 season in Championship manager just to let Ronnie compete faire against Mario.

1982 is the earliest mod for GPM2 that I know of with proper quality.

I wonder how older seasons would work out. On one hand it would be quite nice with all the different engines and such you could have. On the other hand, it would be hard to get it right, seeing how you cannot disable the 107% rule sadly.
 
Club Staff
Premium
I played a little GPM2 but I found it way too easy to qualify high, even with a new team, if you handled qualifying properly. Took me out of it quite a bit.

That, and the quali "cheat" did make it a bit easy in that sense yes. You still needed to execute a fairly good race strategy to make it work though!
 

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