If I were commissioning a 10 part docuseries on the 2018 Formula 1 season and the two main protagonists: Mercedes and Ferrari declined to be involved, I might have said okay, that’s that. Let’s park it for this year, there’s unlikely to be anything in 2018 so sensational that means ‘Drive to survive’ can’t wait until next year. Or the year after. Whenever everyone’s happy to be involved.
Imagine a series of programmes about the 1999 UEFA Champions League, featuring everyone but the two finalists Manchester United and Bayern Munich, and only casually referring to the final, without showing any of the goals.
That’s exactly what Box-to-box films have done in creating Drive to Survive for Netflix.
I’m assuming that fairly early in the planning of Drive to survive it was made clear that neither Mercedes nor Ferrari would be involved, preferring instead to focus all of their attention on their respective championship battles.
“Competing for the world championship is an all-consuming business that demands every ounce of focus from the entire team.” said a Mercedes spokesman.
But the programme makers, perhaps urged on by Netflix, perhaps Liberty (Sean Bratches is executive producer) seeking some added interest in their product ahead of the 2019 season opener in Australia in a week’s time, soldiered on and to their credit have made the most of what they had available to them.
The two main players’ exclusion has meant is that we have a series devoted to the teams that might not enjoy as much of the media coverage as the big two.
We get to see behind the scenes at Haas, Force India, Williams et al, and we’re introduced to drivers and team bosses that many of F1’s casual viewers will perhaps have been unfamiliar.
As a result of this, many people watching F1 in 2019 will have a broader interest in teams in the midfield (and dare I say towards the back of the grid) and their drivers who are less familiar with the limelight, undoubtedly increasing their enjoyment in the racing beyond what is often perceived as a predictable fight at the very sharp end of any given Grand Prix.
The main beneficiaries of Mercedes and Ferrari’s unwillingness to be involved is Red Bull, who feature strongly in no fewer than half of the ten episodes during which their strained relationship with engine supplier is documented, along with Daniel Ricciardo’s protracted contract negotiations that (spoiler alert!) result in him jumping ship at the end of the season to join arch-rivals Renault.
What this series does beautifully is finding key rivalries – whether between teams, team-mates or drivers – and juxtaposing them with one-another, one per episode.
So we see an insight to Force India’s two drivers Ocon and Perez and how their relationship deteriorates, we see Gasly vs Leclerc – a friendly rivalry that began in karting and that looks set to continue in the future, Magnussen vs Hulkenberg, Red Bull vs Renault, McLaren vs Force India and Romain Grosjean vs himself!
But there’s no getting away from the fact that the big rivalry is missing.
And while it’s understandable that the team at the very back of the field has the least airtime, I do think the programme makers missed a bit of a trick by giving so little time to Williams (other than his crash with Perez in Singapore as part of the Force India storyline I don’t think I heard Sergey Sirotkin’s name mentioned), their history and the brewing story about Robert Kubica’s sensational return.
But maybe I’m biased.
That I watched all ten episodes on the day Drive to survive was released on Netflix speak volumes. It’s an excellent watch, and will undoubtedly increase interest in F1’s midfield and increase the enjoyment many people glean from watching a Grand Prix.
And it’s not just for the purist – It’s entertainment and drama that can be enjoyed by fans and non-fans alike.
Consider my appetite whet. Bring on Australia!
Rating: 8 stars
Star of the series: Guenther Steiner – accidental comedy genius
Favourite scene: Pierre Gasly sitting in a wheelie bin
Unnecessary addition: Rocky style sound effects whenever there’s a collision