Sport Editor Oscar Frost reviews series 5 of Drive to Survive, finding it an enjoyable watch despite its lack of breadth
The fifth iteration of Netflix’s Formula 1 docuseries Drive to Survive follows the drama, intrigue and fast-paced action of the 2022 season. The theme of this season seemed to be a split between the villains and heroes of the F1 circuit, with drivers and team principles put under the microscope in a more invasive way than ever before.
The series certainly did a great job of creating an exciting storyline from a drivers’ championship that was settled very early in the season. Max Verstappen’s dominance in 2022 contrasted with his historic battle with Lewis Hamilton in 2021, which prompted Drive to Survive to follow the constructors’ championship instead. This led to a heightened focus on team principles, with Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto having much more airtime than before. The hilarity of Guenther Steiner also returned as the Haas team principal cemented his status as a fan-favourite.
The change in character undergone by Zak Brown of McLaren was an interesting addition to the series, as he had previously been a reasonably benign personality in the paddock. However, this year he was painted as a strong opposition to Red Bull’s breach of the cost cap. The producers could have shown more clearly why Brown took such issue with Red Bull on this issue as McLaren were far adrift in the constructors’ championship, but I did enjoy seeing the battle of wills between him and Christian Horner of Red Bull.
A similar shift came in Binotto, as he was portrayed as a weaker player in the paddock in previous seasons. This may have been symptomatic of the fact that Ferrari were the closest to challenging Red Bull’s supremacy in 2022. The strengthening of Binotto’s character galvanised the Horner against the world narrative, deepening the plot between the team principles.
The increased importance put on the team principles did add an extra dimension to the series, which made the series very entertaining. Whilst the drivers are shown to have some respect for one another on the whole, the war of the team principles was eye-catching and reflective of the fact that the drivers are not always the most important individuals in Formula 1.
On the drivers’ side, a character shift in McLaren came in Lando Norris, who was portrayed as an immature and playful driver in previous seasons. Norris’ partnership with the class clown figure of Daniel Ricciardo was initially shown to be a comedy duo that would add hilarity to a serious group of drivers. However, in season five, Norris appeared far more serious. His criticism of the McLaren car and its underperformance was expected, but he also seemed glad to see the back of his Australian teammate. It will certainly be interesting to see how he will be shown to interact with his new teammate, Oscar Piastri, next season.
On the subject of Piastri, it is no surprise that his controversial signing to McLaren took up a large amount of screen-time. This worked to reinforce the image of Brown being a colder and more clinical figure, as he poached the driver from the Alpine team. This controversy was welcome content for Netflix, as it helped frame the battle between Alpine and McLaren that appears to continue into next year.
No series can be perfect, but there are some events that are not covered in Drive to Survive that have been criticised by fans. Most significant of these was the lack of attention given to the requirement of Sebastian Vettel, a four time world champion and an icon of the sport. This omission was made all the more questionable as the series concludes with a tribute to Ricciardo. It is true that Ricciardo played a far larger role as a personality in the series, but purist fans were disappointed by the fact that Vettel was not given the same treatment.
Another part of the season that fans expected to be a part of the series was the Brazilian Grand Prix. The race seemed to offer everything that would be necessary for an incredible Drive to Survive episode. Mercedes’ George Russell won his first race in F1, Verstappen and Sergio Perez fell out, and Hass clinched their first ever pole position in qualifying. This could reflect an issue with the series basing each episode around a team or a few drivers, as this was certainly exciting enough to base an episode around.
Overall, Season Five of Drive to Survive was entertaining, but not groundbreaking. It does appeal to the new Formula 1 fan, but it seems that more experienced fans are becoming less interested in the show due to the fact that it misses key moments in the season. I did enjoy watching it, and I will be tuning in again for next year’s edition, but I also believe that it is nearly time for it to change its formula in order to avoid becoming repetitive.
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