REVIEW: ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ Carries the Speed

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Drive to survive - But Why Tho

Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 4 is a sports documentary exclusively on Netflix, following the Formula 1 motor racing series. The show’s executive producers are James Gay-Rees, Sophie Todd and Paul Martin. Returning to the racetrack, the new season depicts the hard-fought title race between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Not just that, but the lives, success and struggles of the other drivers on the grid, and the politics behind them. 

The structure of the documentary remains roughly identical to the last two seasons in particular. The first and last episodes are focused on one race each, bookmarking the racing calendar and the stories unfolding. The other eight are split, often centered on a couple of teams or drivers. In these instances, time very much becomes irrelevant. There is a non-linear progression to the season as certain races are chosen because they fit the story for the episode. An example of this is that one race could be used to showcase one driver’s misery. But later recalled highlighting another’s victory. 

Every episode is investing as it reveals behind-the-scenes footage that is unavailable anywhere else. It shows almost every level of the racing world, from the drivers and their routines to the team principals. This in-depth look is one of the crucial aspects of the documentary for F1 fans as the races have already been seen. 

With Formula 1: Drive To Survive in its fourth season, the documentary reunites us with old faces that have been onscreen before. The most prominent of these is Christian Horner, team principal for Red Bull Racing. Out of any inclusion, Horner may be the figure that understands how to use this documentary for his gain. There are glimpses of the private lives of drivers and some of the other heads of the teams, but not to the same extent as the Red Bull chief. The open access to his family life is a clever way of garnering the likeability of the man. The same is done for Toto Wolff (Mercedes’ team principal), in order to showcase similarities between the bitter rivals, but it isn’t as intimate as Horners.

The series does an excellent job of carrying the storylines of previous seasons whilst also updating them with new perils. Daniel Ricciardo’s journey across teams has been well documented, though he appears to be placed under much more scrutiny in this chapter. And potty-mouthed Guenther Steiner and the Haas team are again depicted as an underdog team, although Haas has a new Russian influence (a topic that will be a much bigger problem next season). 

There are also new elements to Formula 1’s last season that the documentary takes into account, whether they be new teams or new faces. Perhaps the most noticeable is Yuki Tsunoda, a young driver for Alpha Tauri. He is presented as this talented but undisciplined newcomer. The documentary is structured in a way that these storylines return throughout, even in episodes where these subjects aren’t the core focus. They can just be flashes of an angry outburst but it suggests that what is shown over an hour in their own episode is actually taking place over months. 

As with the other seasons, however, a glaring aspect of Formula 1: Drive To Survive is what they choose not to cover. It is not entirely surprising Kimi Raikkonen, a very quiet man who has resented interviews for the entirety of his career, does not make much of an appearance. However, this is his final year in the sport and for not only him, but his entire team, to be absent on-screen entirely is unexpected. Similarly, Aston Martin’s return to Formula One and their roster is unmentioned. Even Hamilton, an iconic figure and 50 percent of the title contenders is really quite underused. 

But the most glaring omission is that of Max Verstappen, Red Bull’s talisman and the other fighter for the world championship. Verstappen refused to be a part of the interviews, citing the way the documentary creators manipulate these clips for their own context. For to achieve the intended theme of the show, occasionally interviews can be made that can make certain individuals look however the storyline chooses.

This is not suggesting that there are falsities in the events, but some of the drama may not be entirely accurate. Verstappen is still present in the show through the camera operators capturing him whilst at the racetracks, both in the car and whilst he is in the paddock. Verstappen not having a voice, as well as the only opinion about him coming from other people, frames him as the antagonist of the season. 

Drive to survive - But Why Tho

The most impressive thing about this documentary is the camera work and the editing. The racing is incredible, somehow even more exciting than when the race initially aired. Gone is the overuse of cockpit cameras as cinematic shots. That exhilaration that was present at its best in the first season has returned. In addition are the reaction shots of the pit crew. This is the most glamorous of sports and that is clear, but it is also one of the most dangerous. The sound and the color grading all add up to a visual masterpiece.

Formula 1: Drive To Survive Season 4 carries the speed of the previous seasons. Very little has been added to the format but that is largely because it works brilliantly. Every episode is personal and gripping from the combination of interviews and hard racing. It creates connections with not just the drivers but with other figures. Some will be loved and some will be hated, but that is to be expected with so many characters.

Reliving the emotion that was felt during many of the most intense moments in Formula 1 history is a delight and the sheer spectacle is magnificent. The last campaign was one of the greatest ever, and that is represented well. The personalities on display are varied and prominent. However, there will always be a doubt about the authenticity of some of the editing. Whilst there are individuals that rely on it, that are many that resent it. 

Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 4 is available on Netflix.


Formula 1: Drive to Survive
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

Formula 1: Drive To Survive Season 4 carries the speed of the previous seasons. Very little has been added to the format but that is largely because it works brilliantly. Every episode is personal and gripping from the combination of interviews and hard racing.