Does Drive to Survive Reign Supreme?

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Drive To Survive — But Why Tho

Drive To Survive is a sports documentary developed exclusively on Netflix. The series follows the drivers and teams of Formula 1 motorsport throughout the entire season, covering the biggest dramas, storylines and races over the year. After five seasons, Drive To Survive remains as popular as ever, by does it reign supreme over other sports documentaries? Here are five talking points:

The Action is ready made

Drive to Survive is lucky due to the sport it covers, filling it with dynamism and power that few other disciplines can contest. Whilst golf, tennis and other sports that have documentaries following them, there isn’t one as intense, dramatic or simply as fast as F1. It makes getting fans excited much easier when the subject is about cars moving beyond 200mph. The cinematography of the races is sublime, often using different cameras than what the official broadcasters do. Using sound, slow motion, and other tactics that can be used that make the already incredible spectacle even more intense. This is laced with footage captured by the film crew that find reactions from those on the pit wall or in the garage, providing context and emotional weight to some of the successes and failures. It takes all of the events of a race weekend and manages to tell a story with it.

It makes Stars out of those you don’t see

Drive to survive - But Why Tho

The documentary is constantly making reminders of the fact that Formula 1 is a team sport, focusing not just on the drivers but those within the team structure. At the top are the team principles, those running each team and leading almost every aspect of their companies. They take the full force of the pressure, and the series does an excellent job of providing them with a voice and personality. In the standard coverage, their characters might be hard to see through brief interviews where PR takes over. It must be said that there are those that know how to spin the show, using it to their advantage. At the forefront of this is Red Bull boss Christian Horner, practically wrapping the whole production around his little finger. He and Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff are the alpha dogs of the scene, fighting for dominance. 

But there are others down the pecking order that have just as much of a presence that has been magnified for the public thanks to the Netflix show. The most notable example of that is Guenther Steiner, Team Principal of Haas. He is a foul-mouthed, brutally honest Italian who is a force to be reckoned with when he’s angry. His vocabulary and negativity is something so different than anyone else in the paddock, which is why fans have grown to love him so much.

Takes the stars back down to Earth

Formula One is full of racing legends and sporting greats, including the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso, among many others. They’re rich superstars who live glamorous lifestyles, so can sometimes be difficult to feel a connection with. But Drive to Survive brilliantly explores most of the drivers each series. Some of those, such as Daniel Ricciardo, have been integral parts and stars of the show since the first season, before the big teams of Ferrari and Mercedes joined the series. For context, the first season did not feature those two, so Red Bull was arguably the biggest team on the grid being followed. And at the time, Ricciardo was on the verge of a big move, running his contract down.

Since then, legends and youngsters have been added. For some, they have grown on screen. Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly were rookies when the show began and are now veterans. Their peaks and their troughs have been captured on camera, none more devastating than when a childhood friend and rival was killed in a crash just before their race in Belgium. 

Almost every driver in the last five seasons has been given time on screen, diving into their history and personality. These explorations massively alter perceptions during the actual races, even if the show takes place after the season. When going into the next year, connections have been forged with those going wheel to wheel, and the emotional attachment is much greater to those under the helmet.

Stories are Crafted

Drive to survive - But Why Tho

This is a contentious point as it has been a point of controversy within the Formula 1 community, including the drivers. It has often been levelled at Drive to Survive that it takes comments out of context and can create rivalries and tension between drivers where there isn’t one, crafting storylines for their episodes instead of being genuine. It would be remiss the avoid talking about this, especially as it led world champion Max Verstappen to refuse to speak to them for multiple seasons. Even in Season 5, where he was the defending champion, his interviews are brief and awkward.

Whilst it has led to some issues with certain drivers, the relationship between Netflix and Formula 1 remains strong, and the storytelling by the producers is extremely effective. It would be impossible to know just how truthful either side of the story is. And perhaps it is important to take each episode with a pinch of salt. 

It is the first of many

Drive to Survive is not only a format that would work exclusively for Formula 1, and its producers are already taking advantage of that. The same team have already generated similar documentaries for golf (Full Swing) and tennis (Break Point) This is a sign of the success of the idea of doing a broad, all-access expose on a sport, powered by the finances and reach of Netflix. 

Toto Wolff was fairly honest in one of his first statements on Drive to Survive Season Five, declaring “it’s not a documentary.” And perhaps that is how the show should be viewed, as a piece of entertainment. That might mark it done compared to other documentaries, but almost all of them construct a narrative because they exist to tell a story. But it has come to be viewed as an official companion piece to the Formula 1 season. Just before the races return, Drive to Survive comes up, summing up and readying us for What’s to come. And whilst other sports are following in F1’s footsteps, nothing quite matches the production value or the intensity of motor racing.

Drive to Survive is available on Netflix.

But Why Tho? A Geek Community
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