The 2020 Formula 1 season was far from a conventional one for a number of reasons, although the end result was predictable with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes taking both championships.
Whilst Codemasters’ F1 2020 has done a faithful job of portraying the season as it should’ve happened and taken steps to update the car performances and driver ratings to be more accurate post-release, not all official F1 games have the same level of attention to detail.
F1 Manager is one of two officially-licensed free mobile games based around the 2020 season, but how the game works for the purposes of balance has the unfortunate side-effect of making it laughably unrealistic.
Functionally that doesn’t matter, as in the game you have your own fictional team with two drivers from 2020’s grid and you compete against another player online in a head-to-head race with their two car team.
The person that has the best average finishing positions between both their drivers wins, with the 10 real-life teams there more for set-dressing rather than a gameplay reason.
It also means you can have the bizarre situation where there’s three of a certain driver on the 24-car grid – one at their real-life team and one at each of the players’ teams. It’s certainly not uncommon to see your own driver racing against themselves.
While for gameplay purposes it doesn’t matter how quick the real-life teams are, you’ll notice that Ferrari is surprisingly competitive compared to where the Scuderia was in real life – and Racing Point the opposite.
That’s because F1 Manager first came out in 2019 and so it’s still seemingly running off of the 2019 team hierarchy.
On top of that the game’s particular way of categorising drivers mean the best drivers in real life are theoretically the best in the game, but functionally that isn’t the case.
Drivers are labelled as either ‘common’, ‘rare’ or ‘epic’, with the more revered drivers such as Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc all falling into the latter category.
However, because it’s a free app it is laden with micro-transactions, and to fully upgrade an epic driver you need to be either absurdly lucky or spend a lot of money to ensure you get the theoretical best team.
Hamilton, as the last unlockable epic driver and now seven-time world champion, has the best driver stats. But because it’s so challenging to fully upgrade epic drivers, most players use the common or rare drivers which can be, realistically, fully upgraded without spending any money.
Therefore in a real sense the best drivers, and the ones most commonly used by the player base, are the last unlockable common and rare drivers since a fully upgraded common or rare driver is better than a partially upgraded epic driver.
Romain Grosjean is the final common driver with Kimi Raikkonen the last rare driver, although in place of Grosjean many people field Alex Albon, who’s the second-best rare driver.
The trade-off is that Albon is better at fuel management and on wet circuits but Grosjean has the edge in terms of tyre management and defending.
Being the last unlockable driver is also key since those drivers have better stats, all of which means that Carlos Sainz, as the first unlockable epic driver, has worse stats than common driver Grosjean even when Sainz is fully upgraded.
So if you combine outdated team performances, a weird driver hierarchy that favours drivers who happen to be unlockable later and some baffling strategy decisions by the AI at times, you get a weird set of race results if you go out of your way to pay attention to them.
As with F1 2020 the circuits that featured in real life this year but weren’t on the original calendar, such as Mugello and Nurburgring, don’t feature in the game.
But having done all of the races on the original calendar that did go ahead in real life, including the Austrian, British and Bahrain Grands Prix twice, and noted the results – the final championship would look like this when counting AI cars only.
Hamilton as the champion makes sense given that he has the best possible stats, with Vettel and Verstappen in second and third place respectively justified given that they are the next best ‘epic’ drivers.
It is worth bearing in mind that Vettel and Leclerc were both helped by their team’s pace in 2019 and that the results of the real-life teams doesn’t matter when playing F1 Manager normally.
Albon, Raikkonen and Grosjean are all next in the standings which is all explainable given their good ratings, as they beat the likes of Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc.
Red Bull’s Albon won one of the 12 races and finished all but one of the races inside the top 10.
The exception was Belgium where he came second-to-last because his AI decided to enter the pits four times in the six-lap race, whereas the ideal strategy is either a one- or two-stop.
Even the race he won was caused by a weird anomaly, hence why it was Albon, Vettel and Stroll all on the podium together with even Sergio Perez and Grosjean beating Hamilton.
Austria was a mixed-conditions race, which meant the top drivers decided to pit for wets even though it only rained for eight seconds real time, which is equivalent to about a third of a lap in the game.
So many of the top drivers stopped for wet tyres and then, with the AI quite plainly making illogical decisions sometimes, those same top drivers then never took the wet tyres off again even though the track was bone dry.
That’s how Hamilton lost a near-certain race win and the other consistent frontrunners such as Verstappen and Raikkonen failed to score any points.
It was also that race where Nicholas Latifi in a Williams scored his only points, with Antonio Giovinazzi – the other driver, alongside Latifi, that the game gives you ‘by default’ – getting his best result of the season with 13th once you exclude the four player-controlled cars.
Pierre Gasly, who had his first race win in real life in 2020, was the only other driver who failed to score any points in the 12 race run on F1 Manager.
On the surface that’s unusual given that drivers with worse stats managed to score points as well as the fact that AlphaTauri, for some reason, always has the fastest pitstop times in the game.
Gasly’s team-mate Daniil Kvyat did fluke two points finishes, the best of which came in Bahrain where he crossed the line in fifth and set the fastest lap in the race somehow.
It’s worth noting that in the second running of the Bahrain GP Kvyat ended it down in 14th but most of the other drivers ended up in broadly the same positions, Raikkonen and Grosjean being the other two notable exceptions.
That’s not to say the game was always inconsistent. For example, both British Grands Prix happened to be wet from start to finish and Hamilton, who when fully upgraded has 100 out of 100 in wet weather ability, won both events and set the fastest lap in both.
Verstappen was second in both with the second-best wet-weather stat, and then all-rounder Raikkonen took Alfa Romeo to the bottom step of the podium both times.
All of that resulted in Red Bull ending up as the constructors’ champions, unsurprising given Verstappen’s very high potential stats and how widely used Albon is by the player base.
Just 12 points separated Red Bull from Mercedes in second and then Ferrari in third, which isn’t too surprising given that the car performances are still very much based around the 2019 season.
It’s almost certainly the difference between Red Bull and Alfa Romeo’s cars in the game that meant Albon outscored Raikkonen, but Raikkonen’s truly exceptional driver ratings meant Alfa Romeo ended the 12-race championship in fourth with Grosjean almost single-handedly taking Haas for fifth for the same reason.