Netflix's famous F1 series isn't all good, but fans of the sport have to watch it.
There's no doubt that Netflix's docuseries, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, played a massive role in making Formula 1 what it is today. Pre-2017, in the Bernie Ecclestone era, Formula 1 had faded into obscurity. The drivers appeared to be polished gentlemen born without a personality.
The racing and results were so repetitive that F1 broadcasts became a good excuse for a nice two-hour nap disguised as supporting your favorite driver.
Your faithful correspondent lost touch because it was nowhere near as entertaining as he remembers it being. My father once had to go for stitches after a race. He jumped up with so much enthusiasm that he broke the glass ceiling lamp. He refused to leave until the race was done, opting to put his hand in a plastic bag to catch all of the blood. That kind of unbridled joy and sincere excitement was missing from the sport for a long time.
We don't know exactly what went wrong. It could have been a general disinterest in the drivers, who were all well-prepped by their respective PR departments to provide politically correct answers during all interviews. Perhaps that's why everyone loved Kimi Raikkonen so much. He basically said what he wanted and likely caused the death of at least one PR person's career each year he raced in Formula 1.
Or it could have been the formulaic racing. For years Mercedes-AMG dominated the sport, and good for it. The team genuinely deserves its 13 combined championships, but every sport gets stale when nobody can conquer one dominant force.
In swooped Drive to Survive in 2019, telling the story of the 2018 F1 season. Because of Netflix's famous algorithm, it popped up on the feed of every person with a passing interest in motoring and motorsport. 10 short, 38-minute episodes to catch up on F1? Yes, please.
But up popped the relatively unknown Daniel Ricciardo, jogging in Monaco. He talked about the mental challenges of being an F1 driver and how he had good and bad days. He dropped massive truth bombs about how much it sucks to lose and the constant pressure about losing his seat, proving that even these men with ice in their veins are capable of emotional and mental struggles.
Huge kudos to Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo for providing an all-access pass to a film crew; we may never have loved our personal favorite drivers so much were it not for this.
Looking back at the first season, you can't help but notice the lack of access to the other big team - Mercedes. But Drive to Survive has become so powerful that the new season includes behind-the-scenes footage of Toto Wolff having what are supposed to be private conversations with his kids.
Drive to Survive now has an all-access pass, and it's such a pity that it was squandered in favor of two final episodes that were essentially just a repeat of what we saw happen live, minus some important details. The producers do leave out key information, like Hamilton wanting to come in for fresh tires while Mercedes insisted on keeping him out there in fear of losing position.
Drive to Survive offers no extra context, apart from a tasty tidbit Hamilton fanboys might not want to remember: Sir Lewis Hamilton gained an advantage earlier in the race by cutting a corner and never slowing down to give back the advantage. Interesting how all of us forgot about that...
The fourth season starts well, as it's old-school Drive to Survive. It gives a quick peek behind the Bahrain testing and the actual race scenes, quickly moving over to fan favorite Daniel Ricciardo.
He's now at McLaren, doing his best to show that he can be better than his current and future teammate, Lando Norris.
This episode explores the challenging relationship between teammates beautifully - albeit with some creative editing making the relationship appear tenser than it ever was by removing the context of certain quotes and situations - and once again gives us insight into how badly the sport can emotionally damage a racer. In short, Drive to Survive quickly returns to humanizing the characters.
From there, it takes you to Haas F1's Guenther Steiner, another sweary fan favorite. If ever you doubted why Nikita Mazepin deserved to lose his seat, episode 4 is your answer.
Mazepin is an arrogant *expletive deleted* stain of a human being, in stark contrast with Mick Schumacher, who has some right to be highly self-confident yet behaves like a polite professional at all times. This confirms that Mazepin did not lose his seat because he's Russian, but instead because he's a colossal *expletive that rhymes with Rick deleted.* Steiner actually uses the phrase, "This is why nobody likes you."
Suffice to say we're happy to see Kevin Magnussen back where he belongs and feel confident that Haas will perform better without so much arrogance and politicking permeating the team's every decision.
We then return to McLaren and that glorious Monza one-two and an episode that focuses on Williams' slow crawl back to greatness. Williams' new boss, Jost Capito, is another lovable character, and we look forward to seeing him more.
After that, it's all about the battle between Max and Lewis.
Max Verstappen chose not to partake in Drive to Survive because he focuses only on racing and is disillusioned by Netflix's decision to repeatedly misquote and decontextualize. The team boss is the main talking head for Red Bull, and the same goes for rival Mercedes.
Neither Horner nor Wolff comes off as particularly adult-like. Their interactions with each other and the media are downright childish, and we can only hope they watch this season of the show and come to the same conclusion. Oddly, their main drivers seem cool as ice.
Hopefully, Red Bull and Mercedes can put a tough 2021 in the past and start the 2022 F1 season with a clean slate. As Wolff said, Mercedes likes to do its talking on the track. Then again, this is the same team and principal that turned around and dragged Red Bull and the FIA to court. The stopwatch isn't doing the talking for Mercedes; its advocates are.
Because of this heavy focus on the 2021 battle between Max and Lewis, a lot is lost. We never get to see a proper resolution to Bottas' departure from Mercedes. Red Bull's victory at the Mexican Grand Prix is not featured at all, which is a pity. It was a highlight in Sergio Perez's career and one of the best feel-good stories of 2021.
The battle between Ferrari and McLaren for third place is dropped and never mentioned again either. Fan favorites like Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, and Kimi Raikkonen hardly feature. With Kimi in his final season, a tribute seemed inevitable, and with Alonso holding off Hamilton's Merc while piloting a slow and unpredictable Alpine, much of what made this year special for longtime viewers of the sport has been omitted.
The entire Alfa Romeo team is treated like a redheaded stepchild too, which is odd considering that Bottas is driving for the team this year.
Having said that, Drive to Survive remains the seminal behind-the-scenes look at F1. We learned a lot from the bits in between, and all the footage and sound captured when important people thought they weren't filmed. Here are some of this writer's personal highlights:
Drive to Survive remains an epic show, but it has lost the plot a little. We know it has all of the footage we hoped to see because the show is filmed in chronological order. There must be hundreds of hours of footage on the cutting room floor.
Instead of showing us what we've already seen, go back to the old formula of following drivers and jumping back and forth between races to see whether they achieve their goals or not. And if you have to focus on the primary battle, make the season longer.
F1 fans, new and old, love this show. As much as some people make fun of the show for being silly reality television, we know they watch it because Netflix has the kind of access other journalists (ourselves included) are incredibly jealous of.
Great job, Netflix. The first half is epic. The second half could have been better. Is it worth the watch? Of course, it is. The show at its worst is better than 90% of television, at least in our opinion. That said, we know people experience media (especially TV and movies) differently, so please leave your comments below.