Review: Formula 1: Drive To Survive – Is Netflix’s First Dive Into Formula 1 Successful?

by Aaron Gillard
Daniel Ricciardo - Monaco 2018

Formula 1‘s Netflix documentary provides a unique, fresh insight within the sport. Even if you’re an F1 fan or new to the sport, the insight behind the scenes, within the teams, drivers and an uncensored look at the sport is something that feels enjoyable to watch.

The title ‘Drive To Survive’ might seem a bit odd, but the series itself gives the audience viewer a sense of tension, edge of the seat thrill and excitement over the 2018 Formula 1 Season. The editing done by Netflix with the collaboration of race footage and onboard footage allows that episodes and the tension within to blossom.

Along with the footage captured by Netflix over the course of the 2018 season, the show also shows archive footage and pictures from races and the drivers themselves from a young age.

Every episode features interviews with key personals from eight of the ten F1 teams. F1 Journalists Will Buxton and Chris Medland give the main narrative over what is happening in the sport within the episodes.

Both Buxton and Medland’s knowledge and contribution to the series is strong and helps new viewers to the sport get a better understanding of what is going on and what has happened in the past for new viewers of the sport.

While both Mercedes and Ferrari are not featured, their presence is still felt as team radio, interviews and footage of the two teams are presented throughout each episode.

Each of the ten episodes follows a team and driver at certain stages of the 2018 season. There are also side stories included like a rivalry or a different driver within the same race. Every episode provides a fresh insight during the season, topics such as Haas‘ high to low in Australia, the tension between Red Bull and Renault, Daniel Ricciardo‘s contract negotiations, and Force India‘s administration are some that are highlighted in the documentary.

The closest comparison to this style of access within a documentary series is Amazon Prime‘s Grand Prix Driver released in 2018. The series was more of a focus of the build-up of the 2017 season for McLaren, but the four episodes consisted of the team prior to the car release, pre-season testing and then a sudden jump to the agreement of Renault engines and leaving Honda. This series had potential but it left fans feeling a bit disappointed with the final product.

THE SHOW ITSELF

The presentation of this show is well crafted, creating a strong flow of sequences with footage from Netflix, live feed footage or on boards from the cars for the episodes. The combination of these footage creates a different but exciting perspective of the races taking place. Even for F1 fans who know what happens and know what is going to happen, the creative work that has been done by Netflix still leaves you on the edge of your seat.

At the beginning of the series, the viewer is quickly introduced to their first driver: Daniel Ricciardo. The series within the opening episodes focus on him mainly surrounding his home race in Australia, his ‘redemption’ win at Monaco and the leap from Red Bull to Renault. Those new to F1 will look at him and see him as the good, cheerful, happy guy that the viewer will probably like. Ricciardo feels like he is the antagonist in the series and he delivers open, presentable and funny character viewers will like.

Daniel Ricciardo - Abu Dhabi - Red Bull 2018

Daniel Ricciardo is the near centre-piece in this documentary series. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

In the same opening episode, Haas is featured for the first race. In that episode, the team went from a big high from starting on the third row of the grid to suffering a double non-finish due to a loose wheel in the pit stops.

Throughout that episode and in the series, Guenther Steiner is a joy to watch. He’s a character that doesn’t hide his emotions with the consistent amount of swearing and how he cares much towards his team by the number of meetings, praise and chats he delivers throughout. You also see his frustrated side over several issues with Romain Grosjean and their battle for fourth place against Renault.

Towards the midway point of the series, we lose focus of Ricciardo just as we get to the news he would be racing at Renault, and follow different stories that emerged over the season.

Episode 5 and 6 focus on Force India and their administration phase that led to them becoming Racing Point. A fascinating aspect of those episodes was the inclusion of former owner of Force India, Vijay Mallya. His presence in the F1 paddock has been limited due to his exile from India. The interview and episode with him showcase his home and following him throughout the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and it was done well by the Netflix and F1 team to get Mallya involved despite the troublesome time that the team would eventually go through.

The real tension and grit of the series is shown in episode 4 surrounding the clash between Christian Horner and Cyril Abiteboul. You can really see the two not getting along whenever they encounter each other by their awkward silence, often making digs at one another.

It made it all amusing that when Ricciardo decided to leave Red Bull for Renault, Abiteboul was jolly towards Horner over the deal, leaving the Red Bull boss all speechless. The two provided real drama and a sense of growing rivalry between each other, despite having to work with one another over the season.

Whilst the episodes do provide its tension, drama and excitement. There is a sense of emotion that surrounds it, especially with the beginning of episode 8 with Charles Leclerc. The introduction of the Sauber driver reflects on the recent death of his godfather Jules Bianchi from 2014 and his father whilst he was still racing in 2017. You feel emotion and sympathy for Leclerc, but sense that he is on a mission to reach the top for those who he lost.

Charles Leclerc - Sauber - 2018

The start of episode 8 with the inclusion of Leclerc and Bianchi, is the emotional part of the series. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

A few episodes have weak spots such as the episode dedicated to Romain Grosjean. The 27 minute section starts with potential as Grosjean aims to change his fortunes from his 2012 season where he was involved in a lot of crashes. It then dives into the 2018 season where Grosjean was struggling to score into the first half of the season. There was also one scene when McLaren‘s Jonathon Neale said that he won’t make it passed Turn 1 at the Spanish Grand Prix. He only made it up to Turn 3. The episode focuses on his home race in France, where Grosjean is struggling after crashing during Q3. He would recover to deliver a decent performance but left without a points finish once again.

Whilst the following of Grosjean’s story seems weak, it does reflect on the unfortunate reputation he has gained throughout career and the aspect of mental health. It showcases how Grosjean bounced back from the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix (The race where he was given a race ban) by seeing a psychiatrist and how he focuses on blocking out the negative. At the end of the episode, we see Grosjean finally grabbing a points finish in Austria and celebrate with the Haas team, but this was presented in a minute prior to the credits, which is a shame as it would create a feel-good factor about it all and shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

A FEW CORNER CUTS

Whilst the documentary has its positives with the insight of the sport. There are a few things that occurred in the ten episodes that may put some viewers off. The order of the episodes are nonlinear, which may confuse some viewers when diving into a new episode and find yourself seeing the same race again, from a different perspective. That may attract some pros as it presents the race differently but I found it a bit confusing how the narrative wasn’t all in order of the championship.

Some shots were obvious from different circuits or even different years, which doesn’t look good in the sequence of edits. Some drivers you don’t feel connected to during the documentary such as Lance Stroll, who is and presented and sometimes reflected on as a driver who a dad that’s a billionaire.

Lance Stroll - Williams - 2018

Lance Stroll’s inclusion in the Series didn’t feel connected. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Some races are cut from the overall documentary, including arguably the most dramatic moment of the season at the German Grand Prix, when Sebastian Vettel crashed out of the lead of the race. There were glimpses of shots from the race itself but never of the dramatic moment. Whether this was cut out because of Ferrari’s lack of involvement? Who knows. Also can say the same with the Austrian Grand Prix episode where Max Verstappen took a victory and is briefly mentioned at the beginning of the final episode. Or doesn’t show how the victory came about relating to Mercedes’ mishaps in their strategy and the inclusion of Valtteri Bottas‘ retirement. Even in the whole episode dedicated to Ricciardo’s birthday falling at that exact same race, it still wasn’t shown

VERDICT

Overall, Formula 1: Drive To Survive is a fresh, gritty, adrenaline, fresh insight into the sport that has never been presented before in its history. Netflix and F1 have worked strongly with the teams to get access with the drivers and teams in critical moments over the season and capture footage rarely seen from the public eye. It has done a strong job in bringing in strong names onboard such as Ricciardo, Esteban Ocon, Carlos Sainz, Alonso, Horner, Verstappen etc. and with the inclusion of Buxton and Medland, made the audience feel connected to the drivers and the sport. The lack of Mercedes and Ferrari has an effect and takes away the main title battle aspect, which in turn is a true negative as we rarely see the two teams as the series goes on. But their lack of involvement gives a new light to the teams such as Red Bull, Renault and Haas, as well as visits to the remaining teams over the course of the series.

Formula 1 fans will enjoy the Netflix series and so will newcomers to the sport who find this in their Netflix suggestions.

I found that despite following the sport, I’ve learned something new with the drivers and teams, or found a new fascination with the sport Netflix has presented. It’s also a weird feeling during the races, you know what is going to happen, but you’re still on the edge of your seat.

The series presents drama, excitement, tension, some spice and even some emotion. Netflix’s first dive into F1 has been successful and surely can lead into a strong follow-up for the 2019 season, with filming for a Season 2 started already at pre-season testing in Barcelona.

It’s a great watch for those who enjoy the sport to get a look behind the scenes of the sport. A recommendation for those who like to ‘binge-watch’ and want to learn about a new subject through a documentary.

Australia - 2018 - Netflix

Formula 1: Drive To Survive is a well-created series for lovers of F1 and newcomers to the sport. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

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