As everyone is well aware, 2020 was a difficult year. It was no different for Formula 1 and Drive to Survive takes full advantage of that by creating some of the most interesting and engaging narratives we’ve yet seen from the series.
After the initial cancellation of the many of the early races in the 2020 season due to COVID-19, the Formula 1 was eventually agreed to continue for a shorter 17 race season with covid-safety restrictions in place. But a shorter season didn’t mean any less trouble for the teams and DTS managed to capture it perfectly. I want to make it clear right from the start that I am approaching the series as a television show and not a detailed recount of the 2020 F1 season.
I understand that some drivers, like Max Verstappen, have stated that they don’t like their portrayals in the series and have either avoided the series altogether or reduced their involvement. This will be kept in mind when evaluating this season.
Drive to Survive (DTS) has always provided drama and action in equal parts but some storylines they constructed and covered previously were average at best. For example, too much time was spent on the drivers in their off time. This isn’t the case here. The improvements mostly appear in what the documentary team have chosen to focus on. Their subjects are picked carefully and are given the proper amount of time to understand and flesh them out. It isn’t perfect as the limit of ten episodes means DTS cannot possibly cover everything that occurred.
The characters of Formula 1 are depicted in a very human fashion this season. Valtteri Bottas is given an entire episode that delves into his psyche as grapples with the pressures of being a teammate with Lewis Hamilton. He admits it is hard to deal with that and revealed that he considered leaving the sport in 2018 when he was asked to let Hamilton pass him at the Russian Grand Prix. He decided not to and instead use this position as a motivator to win. His strength “is that I want the title more than him.” To prove it, he went on to win the Russian Grand Prix later that episode. A great climax to a slow-burn of an episode. An optimistic ending for Bottas but the same cannot be said of Ferrari.
DTS captured the unhappy, dysfunctional family that was Ferrari in 2020. The car wasn’t working, and neither was World Champion, Sebastian Vettel. His sly remarks about leaving Ferrari are delightfully petulant and an absolute joy to watch. Teammate, Charles Leclerc, feels like an audience surrogate in some moments. It’s incredibly apparent when Ferrari management politely berate Vettel for announcing his agreement with Aston Martin the day before Ferrari’s 1,000th race ceremony. They exchange passive aggressive lines while Leclerc just smirks and winks at the camera. You can’t help but smile.
Speaking of petulance. Daniel Ricciardo’s break with Renault is great, humanising drama reminding viewers that these are indeed real people. Renault team principal, Cyril Abiteboul, was hurt by Daniel’s leaving and laments their potential together in the future. This is one of those moments where the interviews really add some insight rather than simply stating the obvious. The title “The End of the Affair” really is apt too.
The most shocking event in 2020 must be discussed too. How DTS deals with the Grosjean accident in Bahrain was melodramatic but didn’t verge into being tasteless. A big part of that was having an interview with Grosjean and his wife after the accident. Keeping that human element and allowing the couple to discuss how they felt at the time of the accident keeps it from being exploitative, something that would have been very easy to do.
In terms of antagonists, DTS created another one, the billionaire super-villain-esque Lawrence Stroll. The owner of Racing Point (now Aston Martin) caused quite the controversy in 2020 by funding what was nicknamed, “the Pink Mercedes.” This controversial car allowed the DTS team to create an antagonist without even really having to try. It was easy and it does make for great television.
Everything great about the show from previous seasons still applies here so, yes, Toto Wolff is charismatic, Christian Horner is still a Machiavellian character with an intense but respectful rivalry with Wolff. We still get the absolute highs of a podium victory but this time we get two new faces, Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly. Their stories are absolute highlights of this season with some real emotional weight to them. It’s heart-warming to see them succeed at something they’ve worked so hard for and care so much about. There’s no shortage of tears this season.
I won’t bore you by detailing every event in every episode in a series that you, the reader, have likely already seen or wish to see. Just know that even if you aren’t into Formula 1, this show will absolutely hook you.
DTS couldn’t be everywhere for every moment of the 2020 season but they were there for a lot of it. They captured the tumultuous and eventful year quite well, making this a must watch for Formula 1 fans wanting to get insight into the big events of 2020.