Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive finds pressure at the core of F1

For much of this century, the sport of Formula 1 was trapped in amber. Its owners were more interested in sucking out profits than reinvesting them. As a result, the sport’s management was able to ignore the Internet for as long as possible, a fad that would soon surely die. But in 2017 Liberty Media bought F1 from the vultures, with a promise to embrace the Internet, not ignore it.

And it has. F1’s YouTube content is great, and the sport got a bit more tolerant to people sharing their experiences on social media. Last year, Formula 1 launched a streaming platform in markets where TV contracts allowed the sport to do so. And now, F1 is on Netflix.

is a 10-part series from the producer of the documentaries and . It’s officially blessed, which means cameras got access to in a sport that’s spent years redefining the art of keeping people out. The series follows F1 across the 2018 season, one I think was better than most of the recent hybrid era what with two teams vying for the title. Don’t expect to see much of that story, though. When Liberty asked all the teams to take part, Mercedes and Ferrari told them to pound sand.

That means no Lewis Hamilton trolling his haters or Vettel talking about pressure and unforced errors. Their loss is the rest of the sport’s gain, and the show is better because of it. Daniel Riccardo shines, swearing like a trooper along the way. As does Guenther Steiner, the similarly foul-mouthed team principle for Haas, the sole American team in the sport. The title makes plenty of sense: each episode, we get a new example of the pressure one can feel at the leading edge of motorsport.

Bar Red Bull, none of the teams have a chance at a win. But points mean end-of-year prize money, so where you finish over the course of the year matters a lot. Particularly if you’re a once-proud team looking to rekindle former glory.

For the drivers, racing is often personal. They (mostly) get paid a lot but only if they perform, and repeated mistakes won’t be tolerated. Sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy, like Romain Grosjean. Sometimes though, another driver is your worst enemy. Max Verstappen’s made few friends with his driving. Kevin Magnussen, even fewer.

The most vicious spat is probably between Christian Horner and Cyril Abiteboul. Horner runs the Red Bull team, while Abiteboul does the same at Renault. But in addition to fielding its own team, Renault also supplies Red Bull with engines. And Red Bull is not happy with its engine supply, not at all. In the days before F1’s current hybrid era, Red Bull and Renault were a great combination, winning the driver and team championships four years running.

Every year since 2014 has belonged to Mercedes. Red Bull was so embarrassed by Renault’s engines that, in 2016, it rebadged them as TAG Heuer; in 2018, Red Bull was clearly looking around for other options. Horner is vocal and effusive in his displeasure with the team’s powertrains, and a move to Honda (with works-status) is in the cards. Renault, meanwhile, wants to get back to its own winning ways, and Abiteboul has little time for Horner’s problems.

Little of this will be new to F1 junkies. But even if you’ve been a fan of the sport for decades, is worth a go, if just for the spectacular footage.

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