“It’s no doubt that Drive to Survive has had an incredible effect mainly on the new audiences and also in other new markets like US,” hailed Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali during a call with investors last week.
While Netflix hasn’t disclosed details of the series’ viewing figures, Domenicali is one of many figures in the sport who cite it as a key factor in F1’s growth, particularly in America.
Does the fourth season, which arrives next week, live up to the ever-growing anticipation? RaceFans has seen the first eight of 10 episodes released to the media by Netflix.
While Drive to Survive has undoubtedly been a success story for Netflix and Formula 1, not everyone is a fan. Many have said it takes too many liberties with the truth, examples of which can be found in past reviews.
Its most outspoken critic is Max Verstappen, who first raised his objections during 2020 in response to the original season, which covered the 2018 championship. Last year he revealed he does not co-operate with the programme makers.Horner features heavily in early episodes
That left the team behind Drive to Survive with the problem of telling the story of last year’s spellbinding championship contest without access to its eventual winner. Their solution appears to have been to substitute Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in his place.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff have long got over the initial scepticism of Drive to Survive which led them to sit out the first season. Now they are regulars before the Netflix cameras while, for the most part, Verstappen is seen only through F1’s footage.
It therefore falls to Horner to supply the Red Bull end of the rivalry. He clearly has venom enough for two, the cameras catching several barbs directed at his opposite number’s television appearances.
We also see Horner at home, Horner with his children, Horner with his pop star wife, all of which feels familiar from past seasons. Geri Halliwell seems to get more screen time this year than world champions Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen combined.
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While Verstappen’s no-show (so far as can be seen) was one constraint, the other was the continuing pandemic, which forced drastic compromises upon the previous season. This time the producers have strived to keep Covid out of the picture, except where it is relevant to the story, such as when Hamilton discusses his fear of being infected again.The world champion was unwilling to participate in Drive to Survive
Although restrictions in the F1 paddock and elsewhere eased over the course of 2021, normality never entirely resumed. In-person press conferences only returned in last week’s test at Circuit de Catalunya. Opportunities to capture the kind of banter between members of different teams which felt so fresh in those first two seasons of Drive to Survive were, therefore, limited.
We still see plenty of what goes on within individual teams, and there are entertaining and revealing moments to enjoy. McLaren CEO Zak Brown is “not surprised in the slightest” when new hiring Daniel Ricciardo out-qualifies Lando Norris first time out, but the situation is quickly reversed, and the newcomer endures a painful season before grabbing a redemptive victory at Monza.
The rivalry between Valtteri Bottas and George Russell, as the latter attempts to prise the former out of his Mercedes seat, and the pair collide spectacularly at Imola, is an almost ready-packaged Drive to Survive storyline. Some of the scenes feel orchestrated and exposition-heavy, however.
The most entertaining episode contrasts the fortunes of Esteban Ocon and AlphaTauri newcomer Yuki Tsunoda. Acknowledging the latter’s obvious potential but remarking on his “lazy dog” tendencies, AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost plucks his young charge from Milton Keynes (“the most boring place in the world” – Tsunoda), where he’s struggling with the local cuisine and a mountain of laundry, and relocates him closer to the team’s base in Italy. Tsunoda’s unfiltered observations will be all over social media when the season lands next week.
But on the strength of the first eight episodes Haas have again stolen the show with their contribution to Drive to Survive. The key revelation in episode four, A Mountain to Climb, is covered at length elsewhere, but there’s far more here besides.
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Along with Horner and Ricciardo, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner has emerged as a break-out star of Drive to Survive. Here we see him walking a brutally tough line between the interests of the team’s title sponsor, Uralkali, in the shape of Dmitry Mazepin, and the need to sustain team morale in the face of criticism from Mazepin’s son Nikita, who came as part of the deal. It puts the subsequent departure of several Haas staff later in the year – which is not covered here – in a new light.Report: Uralkali warned Haas it would pull sponsorship in row over Mazepin’s car in 2021
Having explored the Mazepin camp’s doubts over the parity of equipment between the two drivers, the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi is built up as his chance to shine. Leaving aside such apparently insignificant details as Mick Schumacher out-qualifying him by almost four seconds, and overtaking him before retiring with a hydraulic problem, Mazepin’s decision to pit when rain fell late in the race is played up as a tactical masterstroke.
He’s told he “ended up beating Latifi and Mick”, though neither were running at the flag. It’s a shame this contrivance was manufactured when programme makers could have told real and better stories, not least Schumacher wrestling the car into Q2 later in the year.
It’s all the more baffling because if there was ever a season which didn’t need embellishment to entertain, it was 2021. The string of contentious decisions by race control in the latter stages of the season gave rise to suggestions the sport itself was putting spectacle first.
It remains to be seen whether the Drive to Survive team unearthed more about the scandalous conclusion to last year’s championship. Look out for our full episode guide which will complete this review once the final instalments arrive.
But on the strength of what’s appeared so far Drive to Survive season four serves up more of what you’d expect – it’s as fun, flawed and unmissable as ever.
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