Hyperdrive - is this the future of motor racing?
Forget all the other reviews of this new Netflix series - read this now!
I'd seen a couple of scathing reviews of Hyperdrive, the new motor racing competition show on Netflix, and been almost entirely put off. Nonetheless, when it popped up on my home screen, I thought I'd take a sneak peak anyway - that peak lasted the full 10 episodes. I was absolutely hooked!
All the naysayers are wrong, here's why. Don't worry - there are no spoilers ahead (you'll thank me for that!).
Let's rewind, not so much the show, but my relationship with motorsports. In the 80s I was an avid fan of the World Rally Championship - guys like Ari Vatanen and Juha Kankkunen were my heroes, and I had a crush on Michelle Mouton who so nearly took the overall WRC crown. The rampaging Group B rally monsters from Audi, Lancia and Peugeot brutally terrorised the terrain. It was fast, exciting, unpredictable and dangerous.
Then power was essentially outlawed and I lost interest. Plus rallying is really hard to follow, so you have be totally dedicated.
In the early 90s, after witnessing an epic battle between Senna and Mansell at Monaco, Formula 1 had me. And I stayed with it right up to the mid-2000s. Then the cars got smaller and less exciting, behind-the-scenes politics and blatantly unsporting team tactics took over from real racing, and the drivers became carefully choreographed PR and marketing robots. I switched off.
More recently though I enjoyed attending drag-racing, autocross (otherwise known as autotest), and the drift events in the Middle East, the latter featuring local stars like Jordan's Ahmad Daham and the UAE's Ahmed Al Ameri. I find Ken Block's Gymkhana antics also a laugh to watch.
Hyperdrive combines the elements of all of these spectacular disciplines, mixes in Hollywood style theatrics, escalating levels of difficulty and perceived danger, and packages it as a relentless and merciless enduro, staged over several days, pushing drivers and their cars well over where the FIA nannies would draw the safety threshold.
Yes it's a little OTT, the overly dramatic visuals and editing can be jarring to motorsports purest, and worst of all the presenters and hosts (of which there are at least one too many) assault your ears with WWE Wrestling style inanity. Only one of them knows anything about cars, two are superfluous, and one seems to have wandered into the wrong show. Frankly I could do a better job - and happily would!
The out-of-synch confessionals are also too reality-show spurious - I much prefer it when they catch the drivers in the pits fresh out of the cars. And there's perhaps a little too much time given to heart-string tugging back stories.
Although these do help to flesh out the personalities and you end up developing an empathy and appreciation for them, particularly the plucky little girl and her dad who sold stuff just to fly over from South Africa to take part, the Pizza delivery chap, the duelling Brazilian friends and the German husband and wife rivals - the latter of which displays the sort of valiant heroism and determination you don't see in F1, not since the days of Martin Brundle surviving a horrific crash then running back to the pits to jump in the spare car. There's wonderful camaraderie and mutual appreciation between the drivers too - all of them urging each other on.
Don't dismiss it as a drift series either. Yes there's a vast element of drift in it, but this is a timed competition, and with challenges like threading through a gap only a couple of inches wider than the car whilst absolutely flat out; balancing on a terrifying 10-storey high see-saw; sliding the car's underbody on rails across a canal - get it wrong and you potentially drown; as well jaw-dropping feats of precisely hitting impossible targets, at absurd speeds, in mind-boggling scenarios - this is like Speed Racer made real!
It's a leveller too, not just in terms of one of the obstacles which is named as such, but in the way a girl in a V6 Mustang can go up against a 1000bhp all-wheel drive Lamborghini and... well... it doesn't go as you might expect. This is the ultimate precision driving challenge, a test of skill, talent, patience and persistence; having a big budget and fancy car won't necessarily help. It's anyone's game, don't assume anything!
And the cars are as much the stars as the drivers. Just as you witness the track taking its toll on the racers, you see it exacting a physical price from the cars themselves, some of which crumble before our eyes but keep going and others that stoically make it over the line before succumbing to their injuries - you may think it's scripted, but it felt real to me.
So here then could be a formula that finally comes up with a transfixing challenge of driving skill and engineering endurance - and is more exciting, enthralling and engaging than any other current form of motorsport I know. It's short, sharp and spectacular action that will have you on the edge of your seat. It's genuinely nail-biting. And you'll be rooting for some of the competitors and shedding tears for others. By the end of the series, genuine stars are made and the hosts are forgotten.
I want to see more. And more than that, I want to see it expanded. I want to see individual regional championships across the world. I want to see F1 and WRC drivers taking part to prove their worth outside of their typically clinical environments. I want to see stunt drivers like Terry Grant and Ben Collins and more unknowns from far flung places you never imagined harboured such talent. Imagine a kid from Karachi in an 82 Corolla going up against F1's Lewis Hamilton in an AMG GT - in Hyperdrive that would be conceivable and what a show it would be.