As we have said several times here at Bloom, we are big fans of Netflix’s Drive to Survive series documenting the drama of the Formula 1 season. I think it is an entertaining stopgap for fans when there isn’t s race on for a few weeks (that shouldn’t be taken too seriously,) and an accessible way for non-fans to get into the sport and learn about the inter/intra team dramas that make the season itself entertaining. With the 2021 F1 season starting this weekend, I watched the Netflix series to remind myself of where we’re at.
My verdict: meh. I stand by what I said about it being an accessible way of getting into the sport, but for purists, it was lacking in a lot of the season’s key moments. Hours are dedicated to much the same storylines as last year (Lewis Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas insisting he can be faster, US team Haas underperforming on the track provoking anger from their team boss, Red Bull insisting they can make star driver Max Verstappen the youngest ever F1 world champion.) Maybe it was the fact that, last year, I paid almost religious attention to the F1 season as it unfolded that I just already knew and didn’t need to be reminded. But Netflix had plenty of interesting developments to choose from that just didn’t make it into the series.
Being a fan of the McLaren team myself, I found an episode where the two drivers are portrayed as developing an intense rivalry over one (Carlos Sainz) exiting for a seat at Ferrari contrived. Sure, there are going to be instances where one driver is favoured by the team over the other in search of the best overall result; but you can guess who’s going to suffer if one has announced he’s off to one of your big rivals with a list of your team information. Throughout the season they appeared, to me at least, to have a lot of respect for one another and a good friendship. They may not have shown it so much when they were racing each other, but would you give up a championship so your friend would shake your hand afterwards? Racing drivers respect racing drivers.
Netflix also completely glossed over huge developments with the Williams F1 team in 2020. It was the last family-owned team on the grid (having been started by Frank Williams in the 1970s and run recently by daughter, Claire.) Sustained poor performances and financial difficulty forced the Williams family to sell the team to investment group Dorilton Capital – creating a period where fans and even staff didn’t know if the team would go on existing as Williams. This put the career of young driver George Russell (hotly tipped for a seat alongside Lewis Hamilton in 2022) in jeopardy amid worries he could be swapped for a driver who would bring greater funds to the team. This was all despite assurances in Series 2 that the Williams team would never be sold. And yet, Netflix seemed to forget they existed! Instead, we had to watch what largely seemed like a rehash of popular episodes from the preceding series.
George Russell also had a phenomenal opportunity to take Lewis Hamilton’s space at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, which Hamilton had to miss due to COVID-19. Russell only had hours to get up to speed with the car and managed to qualify impossibly close behind Bottas, who has been a full-time Mercedes pilot since 2017. He took an early lead and his race was only derailed by tyre issues caused by a radio error in the Mercedes garage – yet he still managed to recover from almost dead last to the top 10 with only laps to go. By all accounts, he should have won. It was one of the most emotional moments of the season, again by Netflix (who had cameras present!)
Of course, poignant tribute was paid to an unsettling crash that nearly saw Haas driver Romain Grosjean killed. His back wheel clipped another car which catapulted him through a steel barrier and ignited the contents of his car’s fuel tank; which almost resulted in the first F1 fatality since Jules Bianchi’s tragic accident in Japan in 2014. It was reassuring to hear drivers voice their thanks for safety developments in F1 and officials from all garages admit how terrifying motor racing can be; and how much effort goes into making it as safe as possible for everybody involved. As recently as 2019, Anthoine Hubert was killed in a Formula 2 race in Belgium. A real tragedy and one that it is positive to see officials and drivers keen to prevent from happening again.
All in all though, I was disappointed. Yes, it’s very nice to see the cars on track and the drivers making snarky Netflix comments, but I felt that it was a better experience just to watch the season as it happened as series 3 was far too similar to season 2.