March 22, 2023

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“More like a Top Gun than a documentary.” What F1 members think of the Netflix series

Reactions of bosses and racers on Drive To Survive.

Drive to Survive (documentary about past seasons and behind the scenes of racing) is a real phenomenon in the world of Formula 1 . According to American media, thanks to the series, the Grand Prix audience increased by 50%. And in the series itself, Netflix’s contribution to the popularization of motorsport is noted: for example, after the release of the show, the female audience of the championship increased by 30%. And the series also pays for this – for the first season, F-1 distributed $ 5 million between the teams, and the next ones obviously also brought income. Not bad?

The basis of Drive to Survive’s success is storytelling through dramatic story arcs. But at times, scriptwriters greatly change reality: they take phrases out of the context of the interview, change the chronology in places, and ascribe a completely different meaning to what is happening on the track. Therefore, in the paddock itself, the series is constantly criticized for exaggeration – although they recognize its importance for the development of F-1.

“More like Top Gun than a documentary,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said in the recently released fifth season.

Toto is generally one of the main haters of the series:

“I’m watching it – the first series, the second – and I just hate it. You get angry just from participating in all this. They have a very unique way of telling the story. This is how the scenes are put together, which turns out to be very far from reality. I think if you yourself were participants in these events, you would confirm that everything happened differently. But we are engaged in entertainment – and this is its new form.

He does not like documentaries and two-time champion Max Verstappen. And so much so that he refused to shoot in 2021:

“They’re just making up some rivalries that don’t really exist. The problem is that they will always present you in a light that is beneficial only to them. And no matter what you say, they will still make you look reckless, they will try to portray you … Well, in a way that suits the script of the series.

The series really sometimes goes too far with drama – pilots suffer the most from this

For the sake of action, producers try to make enemies out of even their best friends – this was the case with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. They played together for McLaren in 2019 and 2020 – and everyone knew about their close relationship (their bromance even resulted in a Carlando meme for joint photos). Nevertheless, Netflix turned Carlos’ jokes on Lando into the Spaniard’s gloating.

“They challenged each other,” said F-1 reporter Will Buxton on the show.

“Me and Carlos challenged each other, damn it,” Norris responded with irony. “You should have seen us behind closed doors…”

“I think in the case of me and Lando, everything is a little exaggerated,” Sainz said. “In general, all the fans who are well acquainted with F-1 understand that Netflix may have gone too far. But I still think that even with this, shall we say, mistake, Netflix is ​​doing a lot of good for our sport, for F1 as a brand.”

And here is another nuance in the directors’ approach, which Norris spoke about: “Some of the comments are taken out of context – you said something, but it is given in a completely different place and at a different time.

For example, me and Daniel [Ricciardo] are fighting in the first corner [Bahrain Grand Prix] even though we weren’t even close. And [on the radio] I say that he pushed me out – this is generally from a different race. Some things are too much, I don’t particularly agree with this.

But overall it’s an exciting series, which is good for everyone. If you don’t show that a person is acting in a way that he definitely didn’t act, everything suits me.

Verstappen spoke about the same episode:

“In the course of the whole season, they choose moments and sculpt something from them, you can say. Personally, I did not like the moments with Lando and Daniel. I think they are great, nice guys. And there Lando looks like some kind of asshole. This is not true at all. I know Lando, many people know him: he is a funny guy, a great person, he has a great character. When you watch an episode, you think: “Who is this, what the hell is going on?”

Probably, if a person does not watch races, he will not like this Lando. But why should it be? He’s an excellent guy. You get the wrong idea about a good person. The same thing happened to me when the show first started.”

Because of such mistakes, Max refused to participate in the series. But, as it turned out, not for long – in the fifth season, Verstappen returned:

“I talked to them [producers] before doing the interview. I hope they understand my position. I do realize that you simply have to participate in this – especially if you are a world champion.

I think I gave them an interview for 30 minutes or an hour. I hope they use it wisely – I don’t know when I’ll watch the series. But I hope that they are satisfied and that I will be satisfied after watching it too. I know how important this is for F1 and the development of the sport in general.”

They really didn’t try to make Max any more part of any plot: in the fifth season, he simply commented on his opinion about how the role of the champion feels, how he treats some rivals (mostly quotes about their coolness) and about the behavior of rivals during the scandal with the revealed excess of the spending limit at Red Bull.

It is important to understand: filming participants do not have the opportunity to review or correct anything. As Alpin pilot Esteban Ocon said, the pilots cannot influence the editing: “Not very much, to be honest. Obviously, we ourselves signed up for all this when we signed a contract with Netflix.”

At the same time, Okon also became a victim of drama: “There is a resemblance to reality, but rather strange. It surprises me all the time when I finish eighth in France with the words [on the radio] that I feel like “we won”. I never said that! I think I may have said so after finishing fifth in Austria or fourth in Japan – but not eighth in France. I don’t really care, but I want to be clear: I would never compare eighth place to a win!

This looks weird. But I guess it’s just part of the show. We can’t complain to be featured on such a popular platform.”

By the way, this is an excellent occasion for a fact check, who is right: in France, Esteban really did not say anything like that –  he only apologized to the team for shouting during the race and repeated “accepted” five times.

The most unique opinion about the documentary, perhaps, belongs to Aston Martin pilot Fernando Alonso – he believes that it is simply not needed: “I understand that this is a good thing for sports, but we are already very busy with teams, with sponsors. So it’s not easy for them [the crew] to make time. I think we’ve talked enough about life in and out of the paddock. In general, I’m a small fan [of such series].”

In the fifth season, Alonso was given about seven minutes, but the Spaniard simply accepted the rules of the game and a new image: “F-1 always needs good characters and bad ones, heroes and anti-heroes. Well, I’m… on the dark side.” This is how he commented on the transition from Alpin to Aston Martin – obviously, it was easier for him to answer possible questions about the reasons than to go into lengthy explanations that would cut off anyway. And he came out of the situation elegantly: “I’m still the bad guy.”

In F-1, there were still fans of Drive to Survive – the scandalous boss and Alonso’s replacement at Alpin

Pilots can criticize the series as much as they want: it will not affect the numbers in any way. But it is they who excite the main people in F-1 – sponsors. And this is well understood by the head of Haas, Gunther Steiner – by the way, he owes his popularity to the documentary (it was from there that everyone learned about his love of foul language):

“In general, this is good for Formula 1. If young people are interested in Formula 1, our future is secure. And it’s not just me, but many other people. People need this these days.

I get a little more tired than three or four years ago, but you just have to plan. I need to do more interviews. But if you ask any other person on the team, nothing has changed.