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‘Drive To Survive’ Season 5 is More Self-Aware Than Ever: “It’s not a Documentary”

'Drive to Survive' is back for Season 5 and manages to avoid a lot of its previous pitfalls, though not all of them. ...

Drive to Survive has always had issues with its representation of Formula 1. During the show’s debut, it was presented as a documentary about the inner workings of Formula 1. What Formula 1 fans quickly noticed was that it was far from it, it was a reality tv show more akin to the Real Housewives. Season 4 of the show saw a large amount of backlash for falsely presenting events and relationships. For example, they really tried to push the narrative that Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo didn’t like each other (by all accounts, they get on fine). For Season 5 however, the producers have become a little self-aware, including lines from Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, like, “This is not a documentary. It’s closer to Top Gun than a documentary.” 

That phrase is uttered in the very first episode of the show and sets the tone for the rest of the show. Which is ironic as Season 5 fabricates less drama than previous seasons. It was for this reason that Max Verstappen, the current World Champion, refused to be a part of the show after Season 1, but Season 5 sees him return. Perhaps behind closed doors there were discussions about the representations of drivers which became the conditions for Verstappen’s return? We may never know for sure. 

This season the producers made the smart decision to focus on the drama that actually happened rather than trying to create their own narratives. We see the Red Bull cost cap controversy, Ferrari’s strategy blunders, the Alpine/McLaren/Oscar Piastri saga, Mercedes’ mechanical struggles, and Carlos Sainz’s first win. There was plenty of real-life drama in 2022 that it would have been foolish not to use it. So for that, Drive to Survive has improved. 

However, there are still problems. Netflix are not present at every race in a season, and that is certainly felt considering how many episodes focus on the race at Silverstone. Granted, it was a good race for Netflix to attend, but as a viewer who watched the F1 season as it happened, it feels limited in its scope as it pertains to actual on-track drama. 

carlos sainz first win silverstone
Credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

The show succeeds in its depiction of the off-track drama, giving further insights to the deals made behind the scenes. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the Oscar Piastri saga. If you followed the news religiously as this event was unfolding, not much of this information is new, but it does offer the perspectives of the respective players from Alpine and McLaren. What it provides is delicious business-driven drama and highlights just how ruthless the sport really is. 

The producers have responded to criticisms and are aware of the memes surrounding the show. You can hear the iconic Will Buxton line about the importance of qualifying, the acknowledgement of Sergio Perez’s thick rear-end, and more. They aren’t presenting the show as a factual documentary anymore and are having a little more fun with it. By dropping the factual documentary marketing angle, the show improves as it doesn’t feel like it’s lying about what it is.  

The editing is horrendous however with over-the-top dramatic stingers and huge leaps in time that aren’t always made clear. There are also cringeworthy scenes of paddock members looking at their phones edited to make it seem that they are receiving the latest news as the cameras were rolling. Hats off to Sergio Perez for his acting ability pretending that he found out about Vettel’s retirement while filming. Thankfully, there aren’t any scenes like Toto Wolff revealing to George Russell that he had the seat at Mercedes which Russell was almost certainly aware of beforehand. 

Overall, the show hits all the big talking points of the 2022 season and its omissions are at the very least understandable. For example, Sebastian Vettel’s retirement (and even his presence) is given minimal screen time and is really only mentioned as the catalyst for the silly season. This isn’t inaccurate, Vettel retiring from the sport set in motion a series of events that none could have predicted, including Fernando Alonso leaving Alpine for Aston Martin, Oscar Piastri ditching his commitment to Alpine for McLaren, and Pierre Gasly receiving Alonso’s vacant seat at Alpine. Some may be upset that Vettel didn’t receive a whole episode for his retirement, but it was without drama really, other than a tribute to Vettel himself, there wasn’t really anything Netflix could have done with the news that would have been interesting to viewers. 

They don’t punch people while there already down much either, the Daniel Ricciardo saga was handled fairly well considering how dramatic they could have made it. That may be a low bar, but at least it shows a willingness on the part of the producers to reign in the melodrama. 

Drive to Survive has improved since season 4 and is still worth a watch for any F1 fan, even if you know the results of everything. The show sticks to its strengths by being able to present behind the scenes perspectives we don’t see on race weekends and for that alone, it’s worth watching. Just don’t expect to get a lot of on-track drama, but then again, you could’ve have just watched the races as they happened for that. 

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