The past week and a bit has been a big one for Formula 1, mostly because Winter Testing took place, wherein teams get to test their new cars for the first time, but also because we’ve now seen the return of Netflix’s “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” series, which is now in its third season.
For those that aren’t aware, Drive to Survive is a fly-on-the-wall style documentary series that follows the teams and drivers through the previous years events. It gives the viewer an insight into the sport that we didn’t really used to get to see. I mean, for years we would get biographies, magazine articles and the odd documentary about the most popular drivers and teams or biggest events.
It goes without saying that the 2020 season was unprecedented. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and restrictions being placed on everybody the world over, changes had to be made, so the hope was that this would be reflected in season 3 of Drive to Survive, it was and it wasn’t, but we’ll come to that.
The goal of Drive to Survive isn’t to appeal strictly to Formula 1 fans, this is seen by Formula 1 (the business) as an entry to the sport, get to know the teams, the major players and their relationships to each other, then watch the racing. Because let’s face it, most see Formula 1 as being dull and “cars going around in circles”. I mean, they’re not wrong, it can be monumentally dull, particularly when you have a team and driver pairing as dominant as Hamilton and Mercedes or Schumacher and Ferrari, but that ignores what else is happening throughout the field. So, if Formula 1 fans are expecting this to be about the technical side of the sport and the cars the drivers compete it, then that’s not what you’re going to get. But, this is season 3 now, a lot of the drivers and teams have been around for a while and had a chance to show off their personalities in previous seasons, now, in my opinion, is the time to start bridging the gap a little.
Instead, we’re presented with situations, like how tough some drivers found Qualifying at Monza to be, with images of Sebastian Vettel struggling to cut through the traffic, but there’s no supporting explanation of how that traffic has come to be. Instead, new viewers may feel like its some kind of road blocking from rival teams to prevent the famous red car from getting to the front. But on the other hand, we’re given a bit of exposure as to how Ferrari’s performance has differed between 2019 and 2020. There’s a level of inconsistency here that’s kind of insulting to the viewer, regardless of your knowledge of the sport and that’s not even tackling the consistency errors that have always been apparent or the “neat” little edits such as the commentary that’s created specifically for the show and feels incredibly artificial.
Also, as its season 3, it has developed a formula (bah-dum-tish), each episode follows a driver or a team through a few Grand Prix weekends, sometimes it’s just the one, some time we’re given a little more, and previously this has worked well. However, for season 3 it feels very much like the whole season took place in Austria (which admittedly had two races), at Monza (there were three races in Italy but at three separate circuits (Monza, Mugello and Imola) and then latterly in Bahrain, and thus there are quite a few key events that are missing from the season.
However, this isn’t its biggest problem, that goes to the editing of the season and how it is put together. I’ve already mentioned that it spends a lot of time at Monza, and with good reason as that race had a lot going on, so I’ve no objection to the three episodes (I think) it had dedicated to it. But the way those three episodes were broken up throughout didn’t really work. The showrunners dedicated a whole episode to Ferrari’s weekend, that’s fine, it’s their home Grand Prix, and there were a bunch of events surrounding it that were specific to them, we also spent an episode with the rather handsome Pierre Gasly (who has an air of Francois Cevert about him if you ask me), again, considering how his weekend played out and his story as a whole, that’s fair. We also spend a sizeable chunk of an episode focused on McLaren at Monza, particularly the closing of the race, but by the time we get to that particular episode, the tension in the races final laps is non-existent because we already know the result.
The editing is also showed up elsewhere, in the second of the series we spend a lot of time with Lando Norris and his result at the opening race, but the crew decided to heavily edit the events that transpired when really, the easiest and most effective option would have been to just show the final couple of laps with Norris’ onboard camera and the radio chatter between him and his engineer.
Easy. You set the scene: Lewis Hamilton has picked up a penalty for a collision involving Red Bull driver Alex Albon, Lando Norris is 6.5 seconds behind with two laps to go, if he can reduce the gap to less than five seconds he’ll finish third, earning himself his first Formula 1 podium, then you just play this footage.
That then bridges the gap between the “show” and the “sport”.
So by now you’d think I think season 3 of Drive to Survive is absolutely rubbish, it’s poorly edited, it trips over itself and there’s a lot of stuff missing (how COVID-19 impacted the whole season with numerous events being cancelled, Perez, Stroll and Hamilton all testing positive at various points resulting in driver substitutions such as Hulkenberg coming back and George Russell getting a temporary promotion from back of the field Williams to the number 1 seat in the sport, the carnage at Mugello, Honda’s decision to leave the sport at the end of 2021 and Red Bull looking for a new engine beyond that and how the Williams family ultimately had to sell their team, Hamilton’s campaign to discuss Black Lives Matter which is basically given about 8 minutes of the final episode), but overall, it’s still a really entertaining watch, I don’t tend to binge shows that I watch on my own (my partner doesn’t care for Formula 1) but I got through all of this in less than 24 hours. There are some brilliant moments throughout, seeing Cyril Abiteboul looking like a man who’s just been told his marriage is over whilst discussing Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to change teams, Sebastian Vettel’s appearances in general, the Man on Fire episode and Grosjean’s wife’s response to him referring to himself as “The Man who walked out of fire” (or something to that effect) and obviously special mention to the pantomime villain of the paddock that is Christian Horner, and for those, season 3 is still worth watching and it’s still a great way to get into watching the sport ahead of the new season kicking off this coming weekend.