This article contains details of the upcoming series of Drive to Survive, which will appear on Netflix on March 11th.
Last year, for the first time since Drive to Survive’s cameras entered the F1 paddock, the series served up a championship fight which ran all the way to the final round.Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton started the finale tied on points. Throughout the race, Hamilton was poised to snatch the title away from his rival. But a final-lap restart handed Verstappen his chance: He seized the lead, won the race and clinched the championship with it.
Sadly what should have been a moment of pure sporting drama was spoiled by the controversy which surrounded it, as the restart of the race arranged by FIA race director Michael Masi contravened F1’s rules. That provoked an immediate (unsuccessful) protest by Mercedes, which was followed by the threat of a further appeal which took days to resolve, and led to an investigation which spanned months and culminated in sweeping changes to F1’s officiating – and Masi’s removal from his post.
Now in its fourth season, how would Drive to Survive relate the complex and controversial story of last year’s finale to the new viewers it has brought to the sport? And, given the extensive behind-the-scenes access the programme makers enjoy, what new details about it might they unearth for the interest of committed F1 fans?
These are covered in the final two episodes of the new series, which were not available to preview when the embargo on reviews lifted six days ago. Now those episodes have been shared with the media, the Drive to Survive take on the 2021 F1 season can be appreciated in full for the first time.
The fight for the world championship dominates the fourth season of Drive to Survive, far more so than was the case in the previous three instalments. Of the 10 episodes, half chiefly focus on Mercedes and Red Bull, meaning we see less of the midfielders and backmarkers than usual, particularly at Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo.
Yet the best moments of season four largely involve teams who weren’t in the title fight. Yuki Tsunoda provides comic relief as he settles into life as an F1 driver. Daniel Ricciardo struggles with a tougher-than-expected start to life at McLaren.
The Haas episode is the pick of the bunch, unearthing fascinating new details about the relationship between team and sponsor Uralkali, and the revealing how morale at the team deteriorated as driver Nikita Mazepin accused the team of giving him inferior equipment to team mate Mick Schumacher. Unfortunately this episode also includes one of the most contrived accounts of a race in the series to date.
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That readiness to treat accuracy as optional remains Drive to Survive’s biggest weakness. Happily, it largely avoids any serious lapses into embellishment in its coverage of the final three races of last season, which are spread across a pair of 50-minute episodes. What has been included is arguably less significant than what has been left out.
It’s amusing to think back to the days when Mercedes wouldn’t let the Drive to Survive crew into their garages even when they were winning world championships relatively easily. Now they are happy to let the cameras look in on their post-session debriefs in the midst of their tooth-and-nail fight against Red Bull. Such as at Losail, where Hamilton excitedly pounces on footage of Verstappen failing to slow for double waved yellow flags in qualifying. “It’s not that easy to see,” he concedes. “Is that a penalty then?”
Max Verstappen’s well-publicised fall-out with the programme makers over what he considers their misrepresentative handling of him during the first season means no face-to-face interviews with him. But the Netflix team have made use of the wide access they do have capture some new footage of Verstappen talking with the team.
This is augmented by more illuminating chats between his father and Christian Horner, and the latter leaning on Masi for information in Losail. And of course no shortage of Horner grizzling at Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who in Horner’s estimation “has no fucking idea.”
It’s telling that both title-contending teams shared a suspicion the competition would be tipped one way or another by those in charge for the benefit of the show. Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin remarks to Hamilton in Qatar that Verstappen is unlikely to be penalised after qualifying (though he later was) as “they’ll want Max on the front row”; similarly in Jeddah Horner fumes after two calls go against his team that “they got what they wanted, it goes to the final race.”
But those hoping for fresh insights into that final race, and the deeply contentious turn of events which unfolded, will be largely disappointed. Not only that, but the most revealing radio exchange previously broadcast from the race is missing. Radio of Red Bull’s Jonathan Wheatley telling Masi to allow cars to unlap themselves “then we’ve got a motor race” went viral on social media last month (despite having been published weeks before) as fans noticed its similarity to Masi’s later retort to Wolff: “It’s called a motor race.”
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Why was this exchange, which captured Red Bull’s successful lobbying of Masi better than any other, left out? Maybe because it didn’t involve Horner, who throughout Drive to Survive functions as a proxy for the lesser-seen Verstappen. But it’s hard to avoid the impression that, while the programme makers have previously been accused of manufacturing drama, they were reluctant to tackle the full magnitude of a genuine scandal which went beyond the competitors and involved championship officials.
The drama of the final race is turned up to 11, and boasts a smattering of previously unheard radio dialogue, but the controversy which followed it is largely ignored. This was partly to be expected: Production deadlines no doubt made it impossible to cover the outcome of the FIA’s investigation over two months after the finale.
But for a series which thrives on paddock intrigue, the decision to ignore Mercedes’ attempt to overturn the result on the night of the race is striking. Nor is there any mention of the three days the team spent considering an appeal, during which time Verstappen could not be definitively declared champion, as the race result remained conditional on Mercedes’ course of action.
As a result the final episode ends with jarring haste. We see some Red Bull celebrations, though even in his moment of triumph it seems Verstappen didn’t deviate from his refusal to speak to Netflix. There’s next to nothing from Hamilton, who imposed a total media blackout of his own shortly after the chequered flag. Nor is there anything further from Masi, who is interviewed earlier in the series, and is still yet to give his side of the story.
Season four of Drive to Survive opens with a stream of social media messages talking up how brilliant the new instalment will be given the astonishing and occasionally outrageous events of the 2021 world championship. “Better to be a controversial sport than a boring one,” proclaims one (the many dissenting views posted in reply to it do not appear).
This certainly isn’t a boring season of television. But there’s clearly a limit to how much controversy it is prepared to relate. When it involves the championship rivals, Drive to Survive goes all-in. But when the controversy concerns whether the sport correctly enforced its own rules, they decided to leave that crucial part of the story to someone else.
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2021 F1 season
- I spoke up for Hamilton because he speaks up for others says fan behind Abu Dhabi petition
- Red Bull Racing spent £230m during Verstappen’s title-winning 2021 campaign
- ‘I can’t box?’: Hamilton and Verstappen’s 2021 Abu Dhabi GP radio transcript
- Abu Dhabi’s legacy one year on: How the controversial 2021 finale changed F1
- The case for changing F1’s penalty points system as Gasly nears ban
22 comments on “New insights but notable omissions in Drive to Survive’s account of F1’s 2021 finale”
9th March 2022, 22:16
Wow! DTS with a jumpy, difficult to follow account of events that is notable for both what is and isn’t included and sees an episode that is dedicated to Haas as one of the shining moments?
How novel for the new series! Never seen these ideas before…
In all seriousness though, good review tho Keith. Perfect reminder for me to not watch it.
9th March 2022, 22:18
Time to give Netflix the boot out of F1.
Did this just expose that the whole season of 2021 was scripted? I have said it before that I do not want to know or hear that F1 persuaded Red Bull and Mercedes to make the championship fight go down to the final race. Although in Jeddah, I absolutely disagree with Horner. If Verstappen was really found to be brake testing Hamilton, he should have been immediately disqualified considering his behavior throughout the entire race. But, given what we have seen so far, did the FIA judge on the document that he brake tested Hamilton, but he actually didn’t?
9th March 2022, 22:18
So the biggest story of Abu Dhabi, Kimi’s last race, is omitted? Won’t bother with it in that case.
Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)
9th March 2022, 22:38
I don’t think he appears once in the whole season!
someone or something
9th March 2022, 22:45
So, slightly over-represented …
10th March 2022, 2:28
No one cares.. kimi himself doesn’t..
F1 frog (@f1frog)
9th March 2022, 22:35
I hope nobody calls this programme, ‘a load of sloblock.’ ;)
I have mixed feelings on Drive to Survive. Initially I didn’t particularly like the fake drama but I realised that this is really a kind of snobbery, not liking hearing conversations about F1 from people who had only seen Drive to Survive and thinking they knew what they are talking about. This should not be a problem, because more viewers should only be a good thing, and so I have tried to stamp out this snobbish attitude from my thinking. In the Grosjean crash episode, it presents it as though all the drivers had returned to the pits and watched multiple replays before he emerged from the fire, which is completely ridiculous but I must admit I found it extremely exciting, despite obviously knowing the outcome. So I think this kind of drama is okay as long as they make it clear in the trailers and description that it is not entirely accurate. But this is still not hugely important.
However, I do have two reservations about the programme. The first is not really down to the show itself, but more F1’s attitude to it. I am concerned that, with it bringing more casual fans to the sport, Formula 1 is beginning to listen to the opinions of the casual fans from this show over the hardcore fans in terms of what is best from the sport, which was evident in Ross Brawn’s ‘avid fans’ interview. Yes, casual fans are more important in terms of bringing in more money in the short term, but in the long term listening to the casual fans is what ruins a sport, because in all honesty if you have only watched this show and then one season you don’t yet know what is best for the sport, and you will likely change your mind if you become an avid fan. If the FA Cup was decided by something stupid like a fan intervention, I would think that was brilliant because I am only a casual fan of football. But I know a real football fan would hate that and that I probably wouldn’t be watching the next season so the FA would be wrong to try and cater to my opinion. And it is the same with F1. But again, not a problem with Drive to Survive, just with the reaction to it.
And my second reservation is directly related to the show, and that is that I believe the massive increase in toxicity from the Formula 1 fanbase is partly down to the exaggerated rivalries on this show, encouraging people to hate the rival and am very concerned that the focus on the title battle will make this even worse next year. But obviously it is impossible to say how much of that is down to this and how much is just down to the increase in the use of social media.
GT Racer (@gt-racer)
10th March 2022, 1:47
@f1frog Your second point is something i have heard several people within F1 suggest also.
Not just with DTS but also the way the sport is been promoted by Liberty as well as a certain UK based broadcaster who often approaches things in a very tabloid way, To create stories & keep them going rather than to simply report on the sport.
There has always been rivalries & fans have always been engaged in them supporting a favorite driver and/or team but the way the sport has been promoted & portrayed over the past few years is creating more division.
9th March 2022, 22:46
Well, not even a proper finale considering the amount of genuine drama they could have properly covered. Also, it seems like Ferrari wasn’t anything worth writing home about this time around, huh? Canceled my Netflix subscription a couple of months ago and by the looks of all of this, I won’t be renewing it either.
9th March 2022, 22:58
Thanks @keithcollantine for review of the show and the missing points.
People on sites like this hang on the details of each race, where DTS is putting on a show that is increasing the fan base and hopefully bringing new members to sites like this to learn more. Remember it is a show and enjoy the story telling.
10th March 2022, 0:10
Like the stage managed season of 2021 DTS is a carefully scripted and edited promo for F1. Yes, it has brought new people to F1 but how many will stay once they realise F1 isn’t the over the drama DTS sells it as.
I note some players within F1 seem intent on continuing the mudslinging and carrying the animosity into the 2022 season, for the show?
10th March 2022, 0:40
It’$ a my$t€ry to m€ why Formu£a On€ Manag€m€nt $upport$ DT$.
10th March 2022, 8:53
@biker56 good one
10th March 2022, 4:13
I will see it, like I saw previous editions, but it’s very disappointing to know the it was ‘censured’ by FIA…
So far, the new FIA guy has not impress me… and I never was a Jean Todt fan…
Fer no.65 (@fer-no65)
10th March 2022, 6:16
What’s the point of it if they don’t show more than we have already seen on telly at the time of the event? Maybe it’s not a docu series anymore, its just a highlights reel.
Red Andy (@red-andy)
10th March 2022, 7:25
To me this is not that surprising. Drive to Survive is primarily an extended advert for F1, after all. To point out how the sports’ biggest winners in recent years behaved like spoiled children and threatened to drag the whole sport into the mud just because they lost “a motor race” would not have served Netflix or F1’s interests at all. It was a shameful episode that is best forgotten.
Ultimately, the appeal was dropped, so Mercedes’ bullish (and dubious) remarks that they would definitely have won in court remain untested. The definitive ruling is that of the stewards, who determined that the application of the rules was lawful.
Alianora La Canta (@alianora-la-canta)
10th March 2022, 21:21
Unless, of course, more lawyers get involved.
10th March 2022, 8:50
I guess this series shows how you can make propaganda.
10th March 2022, 9:20
I remember Tom Clarkson saying late last year when Max, Ham and the cameras, inc Netflix were all together. Waiting for something to be sorted Max and Ham spent the time shooting the breeze, laughing together and completely at ease. Tom thought what a moment to capture how the pair of them really are and leaned into Netflix and said why are you not capturing this? The response was ‘it’s not what we need.’
10th March 2022, 10:04
Tells more than three seasons of DTS, doesn’t it? American show has always been the good vs. the bad, which goes well with their all or nothing concept of society as a whole. Same in politics, it’s Democrat vs. Republican and nothing (of importance) in between.
10th March 2022, 11:00
From Keith’s write up it appears that sadly Netflix failed completely and utterly at making a good season of DTS. Which could have been understandable in early season where there was little tension, drama, politics or intrigue. But to miss the boat on such a level during one of the most exciting seasons in years is a professional faux-pas.
What a shame, but will watch to make a proper judgement.
The season started with the teams not having clear what the track limits were, tracklimits being changed during the race, and being told that leaving the track 28 times doesn’t give a lasting advantage, it was clear for all to see that the FIA direction was going to have far too much influence over the end results.
10th March 2022, 21:04
Which is my point. Why should I watch a fictional account of events when I witnessed the real life drama.
It is not a documentary it is a kind of fraud.
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