Qualified - Drive To Survive Is About The Underdogs
Formula 1 really has become a two horse race over the past 6 years. Judging by preliminary and notable times in testing that may not be the case for 2019. But in the past, the major stories in Formula 1 have been about Mercedes and Ferrari. And let's be honest, for all fans, it's been boring. It's also been frustrating at times.
Netflix's new docu-series turns that theory on it's head though, and that's not a bad thing. In fact, it's a very good thing. I'll tell you why: it's because Drive To Survive gives all fans an understanding of just how important the mid-field race is. But even more so the emotional and real world stories of the underdogs of Formula 1, and their struggles to get back to the top of the sport.
I half expected Drive To Survive to be a non-serious fun poke at the sport, because that seems to be what audiences are responding to nowadays. It's definitely not that, it's quite serious. But it also reminds me of another recent docu-series released by HBO and Netflix last year called The Defiant Ones (about Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine's rise to prominence in the music industry). That series ended up being one of my favourite pieces of TV from 2018. I even liked, The Defiant Ones, more than the Dr. Dre biopic released the year before, Straight Outta Compton.
No, Drive To Survive is very serious. But it's not necessarily sad. It has it's moments, which obviously are to show the sparse differences in the highs and lows of Formula 1, but it's more uplifting than anything. It gets you emotionally invested in the mid-field of Formula 1, instead of just the top team battles. It shows that teams like Renault, HAAS, Red Bull and McLaren aren't just happy with their third or below spot on the grid. They're pushing for more, season by season.
Quite importantly as well it gives an insight into the heroes, the characters of Formula 1. A bit of a favourite of mine is Carlos Sainz Jnr. Someone who we haven't seen much of on the grid or otherwise in the past, mostly because his results have been unremarkable, but also because the cameras haven't been focused around his personality. But this series makes me love the kid. It makes me excited to see him potentially succeed this year in McLaren. Drive To Survive also sets up a rivalry between Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz which ends, much to viewers delight and sadness, in Alonso's retirement and Sainz's promotion to McLaren. A move which some would consider ironic in the grand scheme of the sport.
Another hero the series centers around is Daniel Ricciardo. If you were to choose a protagonist of Drive To Survive and against that protagonist, an antagonist it would be Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Verstappen is so under represented in the series compared to Ricciardo, that you genuinely feel awful for Ricciardo after the Azerbaijani Grand Prix. An incident between Verstappen and Ricciardo which, objectively, we all know is so ridiculously hard to call. An incident which honestly has divided the entire Red Bull fan base. In fact that incident spawned the Australian colloquialism; Crashstappen. A term Ricciardo's fan base has been using to tank Verstappen (myself included at times). Christian Horner puts it perfectly in the series "managing drivers is like managing donkeys".
The series also gives you a close look at Ricciardo's contract decision. It's so behind the scenes that whilst it explicitly is not said, you can tell that Azerbaijan peaked Ricciardo's frustration. And as a result his change in attitude to contract negotiations for Ricciardo. Episode three actually shows Ricciardo talking to his advisor Glenn Beavis about teams of choice to pursue for a contract. Red Bull doesn't even make the short list in this specific conversation.
Max Verstappen is frustrating in the series as well. His first one on one moment, with the camera, is with his manager talking about how much a yacht in Monaco costed and how he had spent time on it in Ibiza. That compares to Ricciardo's, first moment, where he introduces himself as a car mechanic. This is further apparent in a season where Christian Horner has a moment with Joe Ricciardo (Daniel's father) in Monaco. Horner attempts to convince Joe, in this moment, that Red Bull's goals and aims are not based around Max Verstappen's success. A fact the viewer knows just isn't true and is further confirmed by Will Buxton is a cross interview moment during the scene.
The main take away from Drive To Survive though is that Formula 1 isn't just cars going in circles anymore, in fact it never was. It panders both to the hardcore F1 fan base and the first timers. And it shows just how high the highs are in Formula 1. To put it statistically if you want to be the best soccer player in the world you have about 211 teams to choose from (in the FIFA World Cup) and from those 211 teams there are 11 members per team. In Formula 1 there are only 20 spots in the entire world. That makes these drivers super human. It puts them in a position that is un-achievable to any mere mortal.
There are moments that take away like this. Like the moment that introduces Lance and Laurence Stroll. The introduction that starts with "Laurence Stroll has invested heavily in Williams over the past years. Lance, his son, is one of the drivers at Williams". To be honest though that isn't really a fair assessment. I've pinned Lance as an F1 talent in previous years. It's just unfortunate that he hasn't been given a competitive car as of yet. It's not to say with his promotion to Racing Point and their relationship with Mercedes that he won't be in the future.
Anyway, I've enjoyed Drive To Survive. And it's making me look forward to the big stories of 2019, stories that by the sounds of Netflix's series renewal will be told in early 2020. I'm excited to see more of Carlos Sainz, more of Kevin Magnussen and much more of Daniel Ricciardo. Because Formula 1 may be about having the team win the Constructor's Championship. But the fans are about watching their hero win the Driver's Championship.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive is available on Netflix now.