FormulaSpy reviews Netflix’s new ten-part documentary, Drive to Survive, which captures all the highs and lows from the drivers, teams and key personnel from Formula One:
When streaming platform Netflix announced that they’d been given unprecedented access to eight of the ten Formula 1 teams, the idea of peeking into the relatively closed curtain of the sport behind the scenes was an exciting prospect.
Now that all ten episodes have started streaming, how does the show stack up with the drama and excitement that is evoked by the worlds’ biggest motorsport series?
It would’ve been quick to judge the show on its title “Drive to Survive” as being a bombastic and explosive romp of danger and peril. It’s with relief to report that the show dives into the bits that we don’t see; the more intimate and human side of the sport.
The format follows a mixture of televised footage, freshly recorded segments privately with the drivers and key staff, and some talking heads with well-known faces such as journalist Will Buxton. Their passion and knowledge shines through, and whilst the show does take the time to explain things to newcomers, it’s not dumbed down.
Each episode focuses on a sub-plot in the main story that is the 2018 Formula 1 season. We follow Daniel Ricciardo’s tumultuous season with Red Bull and his eventual choice to move to Renault, citing that he wanted to move to make a fresh start. It’s telling that his move had to be to a team with a “happy atmosphere”, and somewhere he feels he has the chance of winning.
Ricciardo comes across as a playful character who just wants to win. We don’t see a lot of what we don’t already know here, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the Australian ended up with his own show!
Red Bull’s fractious relationship with Renault is laid to bare and this is probably the most intriguing story in the show’s run. The increased tensions because of the Renault power units’ lack of power and reliability that cost Red Bull victories comes to breaking point.
When Red Bull boss Christian Horner joins Renault chief Cyril Abiteboul in the French Grand Prix press conference, it’s a Game of Thrones-esque war of words and tension as Red Bull announced they’d use Honda power just before.
At Spa, Renault announce the signing of Daniel Ricciardo with Abiteboul and Horner having an awkwardly tense exchange. “You need a driver and an engine,” says the Renault boss, with Horner adding “Have you got any money to spend on your engine now you’ve spent it all on your driver?”
The story of Romain Grosjean’s battle with himself and his confidence is an emotional dive into the pressures that are put on the shoulders of these 20 drivers. Steiner’s patience is tested with the Frenchman’s continued mistakes, but the as the show unravels Romain’s psyche, you really start to feel for him.
Steiner is one of the standout stars from the shows run. His honest, no holds barred approach is refreshing in a sporting world where sometimes honesty is at a premium.
In the first episode where Haas’ weekend goes from hero to zero, and both cars retire with a pitstop mistake, we take a privileged look behind the scenes in the gut-wrenching moment that the team’s boss has to call Gene Haas with the news.
It’s raw, unfiltered, and a fascinating look into the polarising world of motor racing. “The buck stops with me”.
Every team and driver get a bite of the cherry at some point. Whether it’s focusing on intra-team rivalries within Racing Point Force India and Red Bull, or how the weight of a nations hopes rest of the shoulders of Spaniards Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz, we see a side that we’d never see in a media scrum.
There are odd cartoonish sound effects dubbed over the action, but the presentation is outstanding. Every episode feels like an event. But it also feels really close at times. “Oh my God, we f***ing did it!” blurts Gunther Steiner when Kevin Magnussen sets his qualifying lap in Australia. The joy and elation behind the scenes is something you genuinely feel in your stomach, in an environment that you never see.
From the man who brought us the 2010 film Senna, it’s expected that we’d get something with the care and attention that F1 deserves and James Gay-Rees doesn’t let us down. The small moments are what make this show shine. You can feel the tension in the garage when there’s a qualifying lap; heads in hands, dry lips, bouncing knees. An overtake for the lead it met with wide, warm smiles, clapping of hands – all the stuff you never really see on screen during a regular race.
It’s unfortunate that Mercedes and Ferrari don’t feature at all. The two championship contenders are the only two teams who declined to feature in the programme. It would’ve been a fascinating insight into the teams, especially during one of the closest championship fights in the last few years. This is not really the show’s fault and the choice made by these teams tells its own story.
Overall, Formula 1: Drive to Survive is a drama-filled experience that often takes time to slow down and enjoy the small and intimate moments. Not having Ferrari and Mercedes feature other than passing mentions can be distracting at times, but for fans new and old, this is a genuinely entertaining insight into F1. Bring on a second season!