REVIEW: ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ Season 3 Maintains High Standard

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formula 1: drive to survive

Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3 is the third installment of Netflix’s immersive documentary series. The series returns to one of the most exciting, glamorous, and dangerous sports on the planet, but during one of the industry and world’s most challenging years. The Coronavirus pandemic erupts almost parallel with the beginning of the 2020 season. When restrictions are lifted, racing is back, albeit altered to match this new and strange world. The series features exclusive footage and interviews regarding the political wranglings and driver changes, with the grandiosity of the on-track action serving as the icing on the cake. 

The structure of how the seasons play out is always fascinating. Each episode has a particular subject to focus on, such as a rivalry or a specific team. Examples of what is included within the ten-episode season are Ferrari’s downfall, Haas’ fight to survive as an entity altogether, and Albon’s decline in the Red Bull while Gasly flies in the Alfa Tauri car. Each episode is immersive, a perfect combination of racing action and sports politics. 

One of the best aspects of this year’s potential stories is that the pandemic is only briefly covered. It is heavily involved in the first episode and the second. The Australian Grand Prix was a day away from starting before it was canceled, with the teams and fans already gathered at St Andrew’s Park. Some of the independent teams were very concerned for their future, and the changes that had to be made for the races to go ahead were interesting to watch.

But after those opening episodes, the pandemic isn’t as huge a topic. This is a great choice as it allows the audience to escape from that reality for a short while whilst watching the documentary. The masks are still there, as are all of the precautions. They know there is a pandemic but may not want that to be all-encompassing within the media they watch. 

Something important to note in Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3 is that it is barely chronological in its order.  The documentary uses races that are important to that particular episode arc or subject. The series will often pick races regardless of their sequence in the calendar. There will even be cases where the same one is used more than once if there are more stories to tell.

The best example of this is the race at Monza, Italy. This is known within the F1 community as Ferrari’s home race, a truly special place for them and the Tifosi (Ferrari’s fans). Their holy ground is a fitting place for it to be displayed just how far the most historic and decorated team in F1 has fallen. But it is also the place where Pierre Gasly gave the performance of the season. So the race in Italy is featured in both the Gasly episode and the Ferrari episode. The very fluid timeline may confuse some, but it fits the personality-driven plot of the season.

The characters are what drive this show. Some attention is given to drivers that were largely ignored in much of Season 2. Valteri Bottas, the Mercedes driver, offers one of the most interesting perspectives on the grid. Bottas is a talented racer but will always be in the shadow of the greatest F1 driver of a generation. Being the teammate of 7-time world champion Lewis Hamilton isn’t easy, and it shows in Bottas’ demeanor. Episode 3 of this season is dedicated to Bottas, and it shows much more vulnerability and emotion than he has ever shown in the public eye before. Additionally, young McLaren racer Lando Norris actually has some screen time within Season 3, showing off his likable enthusiasm and inexperience. 

Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3 also brings back the characters that have really taken to the Netflix series. Certain figures seem to enjoy utilising the behind-the-scenes material. Red Bull boss Christian Horner appears to relish the interviews, his showmanship clear. But Gasly’s form after being kicked out of his Red Bull seat has put rare scrutiny on Horner’s leadership. Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo is a natural entertainer, his boisterous energy beautifully captured on camera. Lewis Hamilton uses his position to always stand up for causes he believes in. He is very honest when he speaks and soft-spoken, making his speeches easy to listen to. And Guenther Steiner, the team principal of Haas, is one of the fan favourites. He is wonderfully vulgar, verging on brutal, but he has welcomed the inclusion of Netflix better than anyone else in the paddock. 

While some teams and figures give incredibly inclusive access, there are still those that are secretive, directing to the camera team what they can and can’t cover. This is primarily seen in Mercedes and Ferrari, with the latter being the worst for it.

The behind-the-scenes insight into the running of teams is fascinating, but the real drama comes from races. Season 3 has certainly improved over the previous season in terms of bringing the cinematic aspect to the Grand Prix. Season 2 used fewer external cameras to show the race, primarily using the driver and car’s onboard footage. While this was intimate and intense, it was difficult for the audience to get their bearings. In this season, multiple camera angles capture the action. Some are exclusive to the documentary, too, including shots of the helicopter that follows the race from above. The action, twinned with reaction shots from the engineers at the pit wall, can often be more exciting than the actual broadcast versions of the races.

The build-up to each race is powerful. And the ending of each event is an explosion of passion and emotion. Even F1 fans that already know who topped the podium can’t help but be overwhelmed yet again. The extremely high definition footage and stunning sound design, put together by fantastic editors, results in a superb experience when watching the races. As cars go wheel-to-wheel or speed down a straight at 200mph, each emotion is palpable. And when a crash turns severe, the silence that seems to cover the track is deafening. Within this moment, the paddock goes from ten teams battling it out to one community pleading for the same result.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment within this season is the stories that they chose to leave out. Not every situation needs to be covered, but there were glaring omissions. Nico Hulkenburg’s return to the sport as a stand-in for two races was a huge talking point during the actual season. But in Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3, it isn’t even referenced. A sadder event that also wasn’t mentioned was the Williams family leaving the sport when the team is sold. Frank and Clare Williams are crucial parts of the sport’s history, and for their departure to not get any coverage whatsoever felt disrespectful. 

Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3 continues to be one of the best ongoing sports documentaries. While hardcore fans may be upset about what was left out, it is important to remember that this is for newcomers as well. There is still that irresistible energy that bleeds out of every race, and the personalities of drivers and team principals shine through. Many of the drivers are acclimated to Netflix’s involvement now, which takes the edge off how much they reveal. But there are still others, such as Horner, who know how to use the marketing to their advantage. Improvements have been made to bring the excitement back to the races, and the emotions from the younger drivers are hard to resist. In a sport steeped in politics and money, the magic of F1 still prevails. 

Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3 is available on Netflix.


Formula 1: Drive To Survive Season 3
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3 continues to be one of the best ongoing sports documentaries. While hardcore fans may be upset about what was left out, it is important to remember that this is for newcomers as well. There is still that irresistible energy that bleeds out of every race, and the personalities of drivers and team principals shine through…Improvements have been made to bring the excitement back to the races, and the emotions from the younger drivers are hard to resist. In a sport steeped in politics and money, the magic of F1 still prevails.