The 2021 Formula One season feels just one step closer after Netflix dropped the latest series of Drive to Survive on us last night, the third installation of the behind-the-scenes drama/doco which has been anticipated as much as George Russell’s first points.
Season one which covered the 2018 season was a revelation, a truly ground-breaking series which stunned existing fans of the sport and arguably did more than anything else up until that point to draw a new crowd to the world’s most prestigious motorsports category.
Last year’s second season took the experience to new heights with insights from Mercedes and Ferrari who were absent in the first run of ten episodes, culminating in the “Netflix curse” when the Mercedes team fluffed up what should have been a dominant weekend at the 2019 German Grand Prix.
Now, it’s the difficult third album and right from the off, Netflix would have had issues. The 2020 season, or nearly non-season, had so many different storylines at almost every race that it would be almost impossible to cover every major or even mildly important storyline across the ten episodes.
We may as well get the most important and talked about point out there in the open: there was no feature on the wet and wild Turkish Grand Prix nor George Russell’s heroics at the Sakhir Grand Prix. The only time you could’ve even guessed that there was a race in Turkey would be from the short clip Lance Stroll’s maiden pole position gets, despite it being the scene of Lewis Hamilton’s record equalling seventh title.
The Emilia Romanga Grand Prix at Imola also misses out on any kind of coverage, again only getting a few short seconds on screen as Max Verstappen slid into the gravel trap after a tyre failure. No mention of the Daniel Ricciardo vs Daniil Kvyat battle for the podium nor Russell crashing out of a potential points finish under Safety Car conditions.
It’s those kinds of details which will piss off the hardcore, dedicated Formula One fans, as will the needless overdubbing of engine noises and pointless team radio. For example, for pre-season testing they include some of Lando Norris’ iconic “Scenario 7” radio messages which featured in the Austrian Grand Prix when it would’ve been better to leave that for the part of the episode where it was actually featured.
Minor details like that leave a bad taste in the mouths of fans, especially those who saw the season play out but want a bit more depth to what we see on the already world-class broadcast. It’s just a shame that Netflix has to cater for the lowest common denominator and market their product to those who don’t already know the sport rather than those who live and breathe it 365 days of the year.
However, there were many good points. The episode centring around Ferrari and their 2020 woes (read, their whole 2020 season) was telling about how the team treated Sebastian Vettel who wasn’t re-signed to the Scuderia despite being loyal to them since his move there from Red Bull Racing in 2015.
Similarly the next episode, based on the split between Ricciardo and Renault, showed that the Australian perhaps wasn’t as comfortable with his move as the season progressed given the team’s progress. See also Cyril Abiteboul being as salty as an order of fish and chips then putting down his emotions to being French.
Great insights were provided with the Alex Albon drama throughout the season, culminating in the Red Bull driver losing his seat despite only being in the sport for two years. The comeback of Pierre Gasly was great to see again but just as telling was Christian Horner’s defiance to admit he was wrong to move the Frenchman back to the junior team so soon when Albon was later retained after putting in arguably worse performances.
If there’s one major gripe I personally have, it’s the way that Romain Grosjean’s horrific crash in Bahrain was shown. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with showing the accident and replays of it like they did, and you’ve got to commend Formula One for how they handled it at the time, but for Netflix to milk absolutely every moment out of it in the show is a bit crass.
We see the car hit the barrier and split in two which is followed by many different shots from other garages or cars to show reactions. What they got wrong was the constant cutting away from the crash scene to try and build up the scene, adding more drama to a spectacle which really didn’t need it.
As previously mentioned, it would have been hard for season three of DTS to match the hype and praise which its predecessors enjoyed, especially when the season itself was more like a Hollywood script from a crackhead than a regular outing of race cars around the world.
However, it’s still a good watch and is ample for those who want to get their blood pumping before the season gets underway in a week, back at Bahrain with a bunch of new faces in new places on the grid.
Would I watch it again? Probably not but I haven’t re-watched the previous seasons again either because I feel they’re made to be watched in the moment rather than as something to look back on. That’s what season reviews are for.
With Formula One putting in a massive push of late to get on top of their social content across Facebook, Instagram and specifically YouTube, it’s easier than ever to immerse yourself in content which is something Netflix is now up against when it comes to keeping those dyed-in-the-wool fans engaged.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive is now available on Netflix.