Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive has given viewers one of the most in-depth peeks behind the curtain of Formula 1. The first season allowed viewers to see the drama involving Red Bull Racing, Renault, and McLaren but noticeably absent were Mercedes and Ferrari, arguably two of the biggest and best teams in Formula 1. This has been remedied in season two. The most recent seasongives viewers insightinto the brilliant teams behind Mercedes and Ferrari. With season three on the way, let us take a quick refresher on what came before.
This documentary series has shown what it is like to be in the cockpit and the paddock.Now we get to see this experience from the point of view of the best teams in the world. Starting with Mercedes.They have Lewis Hamilton, one of the best drivers racing today.Hamilton is currently tied with Michael Schumacher for World Drivers’ Championship titles andholds records for the most wins (95), the most pole positions (98), and the most podium finishes, with 165 under his belt.He was voted as one of the most influential people in the world by Time in 2020 and the following year was knightedat the 2021 New Year Honours. The man is no joke andDrive to Survive gives us a small insight to his success.
Hamilton wants to win and is driven by the challenges set before him. Whilst he is immensely successful,he isn’t someone you hate. He’s soft-spoken yet confident, he wants to win but will admit when he does wrong and doesn’t blame other people. His immense success hasn’t gone to his head, at least, that’s what is portrayed. We do get to see one of Hamilton’s faults, he is not a particularly good loser but given the nature of the sport, there are hardly any drivers who don’t have this fault. There is one scene where Hamilton spits the dummyduringthe German Grand Prix after going off the track twice in wet weather.Hardly, difficult to blame him given the conditions but this is what makes the show great. We understand Hamilton’s frustration because were given context into the lead up to this moment.
While things were smooth sailing for Mercedes(for the most part), the same cannot be said of Ferrari. The two drivers this season were Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel,hadan extremelycompetitive rivalry that may have beenfuelled by ego. It’s brilliant to watch. Grab the popcorn and revel in the drama. Vettel is a great driver with an established driving history and Leclerc is the new, young driver with plenty of talent and promise. Throughout the season you can see the pair fighting for dominance rather than working together. It’s like a car accident that you can’t look away from. Vettel wanted to keep his standing as one of the best, but Leclerc wanted the chance to prove himself. The results of which proved disastrous. You have only to look at their performance during the 2019 Brazil Grand Prix in which the two collided with six laps left, resulting in the pair retiring from the race. Both drivers have since apologised for their performance.
Drama in the top teams isn’t the only thing that the documentary has to offer. The Haas team had some big problems of their own during the 2019 season. Their car simply didn’t work and no one could seem to figure out why. Their team principal, Guenther Steiner, is truly a character. It’s such a joy every moment he is on screen. His emotionality and passion are explosive. So, to see him and the team fail on numerous occasions is both heartbreaking and engaging. Whilst seeing a team fail isn’t good for those who support Haas, it does make for engaging television.
Some of the driver’s stories are brilliant even if they themselves are lacking some of the dynamic character and personality that Steiner and Mercedes principal, Toto Wolff, possess. Alex Albon is a great example of this. He has a delightful story detailing his rise in the ranks at Red Bull racing. A rise that coincided with the fallof former Red Bull driver, Pierre Gasly. The only problem that arises is as a piece of filmmaking, Albon seems to lack the screen presence necessaryengage viewers on an emotional level. To be clear,this is not an evaluation on Albon’s skills as a driver, merely a discussion of his presence in the documentary. These driver’s are trying win races not put on a good show for Netflix.
Pierre Gasly’s story, however, is truly compelling. After a turbulent and emotional start to the season, Gasly was dropped from Red Bull Racing and moved to Toro Rosso. From there he succeeds and achieves his first podium victory, proving to Red Bull he has what it takes to be a champion. The documentary establishes arivalry between Albon and Gasly that generatesnail-biting moments as seen in the Brazil Grand Prix, the site ofGasly’sfirst podium, after Albon’s promising start and later failure in the race.
Williams is a sad story that is as disappointing as their performance. It does succeed, however,in highlighting the grim realities of the sport. When you cannot perform and be the best you can possibly be, it does not matter what your team’s history is, you will fall to the back of the grid. There is no happy ending here, with team principal, Claire Williams, being asked if the future looked dark for Williams Racing. She denied it but has since resigned from her role as team principal. A sad state indeed for a formerly great competitor.
The drama surrounding their botched car designed by Paddy Lowe. The car ultimately could not perform at the same level as their contemporaries, securing their position at the back of the grid. The Williams team also didn’t have someone like Steiner to help audiences empathise on an emotional level to make their portion of the show more engaging. Ultimately, they are a racing team and not television stars so it cannot be blamed on them, but it bears mentioning as a viewer. It is not their priority to perform for Netflix. Their priority is to win races. Which they aren’t achieving either.
A disappointing aspect of the documentary was Daniel Ricciardo. Much like his performance with Renault, it was not bad, but it was underwhelming. Given his status as a driver it was disappointing to see him have less of a presence this season. Disappointing for viewers as well as for Renault. His performance gives the impression that he is coasting on his success. It is difficult to determine if the issue is with Renault or with Ricciardo. Perhaps season three will provide insights as currently there is not much to go on.
The real star of Renault this season was Nico Hunkenberg. Nico’s story was one of missed opportunity that effectively made you empathise for a great driver with terrible luck. He missed his spot on the podium during the German Grand Prix, his home turf, due to a mistake that could not be blamed on anybody else but him.Yes, the weather was wet but his performance up until the last lap was spectacular so while it was definitely a contributing factor, it ultimately wasn’t what sent him off course.He went a little too far off the track and spun out in the wet weather.It was devastating to see him dropped by Renault making his future in Formula 1 uncertain.
The silent achiever this season was McLaren and Carlos Sainz Jr. He has managed to take McLaren out of the rut they had previously been in and given some of the best performances of his career. Sainz has character, charisma, and a drive to win that can only be described as admirable. His performance in 2020 will be something to look out for.
Season three will appearon Netflix globally on 19 March 2021. It will cover the 2020 Formula 1 season which will, without a doubt, be one of the most interesting seasons in Formula 1 history. New regulations and spending limits have been implemented for the first time in Formula 1’s history. This will force the big teams with plenty of money behind them, like Ferrari and Red Bull, to think differently and work within the new limits. They can no longer throw money at any problems they may have.
Not only does Formula 1 have to think about new regulations but as the world is well aware, a pandemic hit in 2020, and with it, came new challenges for the sport. With a planned 22 Grand Prix, only 17 were run. It will be very interesting to see the competitor’s reactions to these events and will surely make for brilliant television.