There is no doubt that the Netflix series, Drive to Survive (DTS), has been a real boost for Formula 1 and it’s brought a host of new fans to the sport. During the lockdowns of the last two years, randomly binging Netflix shows seemed like a full-time gig for many and when they stumbled onto DTS, they became hooked.
There are a host of reasons the series is so successful. The dramatization of incidents, crafty editing that builds intrigue and emotion, the actual intrigue, emotion and clashes in the paddock and much more. As veteran fans can tell you, it wasn’t just the racing that got them hooked, it was the politics, technology, intrigue and personalities behind the sport that set the hook and made them fans for life. DTS is successful because it gives fans a look behind the paddock gates…something that very few people ever see.
The DTS did a very good job of baiting the hook in its first season and it continued to write its script around incidents that they could highlight and amplify to create some drama and keep viewers engaged and intrigued.
While some of it may have been amplified, it wasn’t created out of thin air. The friction between Cyril Abiteboul and Christian Horner was real. The same can be said of Horner and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff in Season 4. Was there some creative license on how DTS revealed those contentious relationships? Sure, but isn’t that show biz people?
However, the gloss and shine of DTS is starting to wear off as viewers who became fans of F1 in season 1 and now follow the sport much closer, are not seeing the drama that is portrayed in the series. As Jonathan Noble points out at Motorsport.com, fans and drivers are starting to push back on the series. The series isn’t helped by drivers who don’t participate such as Max Verstappen and he has always had an issue with the dramatization.
“They faked a few rivalries which they don’t really exist,” Verstappen said to AP last year. “So I decided to not be a part of it and did not give any more interviews after that because then there is nothing you can show.”
Max isn’t the only one with a jaundiced eye on the series. McLaren’s Lando Norris recently weighed in saying:
“There are obviously some comments and things here and there which are maybe out of place for sure. When you’re the person that it’s about, you maybe don’t agree with it so much because it can make you look like you said something in a time and place which is definitely not correct.” Said Norris.
Now, with the sentiment shifting on social media, F1 is looking to have an alignment meeting with Netflix and the drivers to safeguard their property, get full participation and pull back on some of the over-dramatization. F1 boss Stefano Domenicali said:
“There is no question that the Netflix project has had a very successful effect,” Domenicali said in an interview with selected media including Motorsport.com Italy.
“In order to ignite the interest of a new audience, a tone was used that in some ways focused on dramatising the story.
“It’s an opportunity, but I think it needs to be understood. We talked about it this weekend [in Bahrain] at a meeting with the teams as well.
“A driver who refuses to participate because he feels he is not being represented in the right way is not being constructive; so a dialogue is needed to understand how he can be included in a format that he feels is correct.
“We will also talk to Netflix, because it is necessary that the story does not move away from reality, otherwise it no longer fits.
“It is a topic that we will address together with the drivers. We have to make sure that a project that has generated such exceptional traction has a language that continues to appeal, but without distorting the image and the meaning of the sport that we live with every day.”
F1 is very keen to see the investment in DTS continue its meteoric rise in new fans but they also are very sensitive about the very successful marketing tool actually damaging the series now that it is four seasons old. To be honest, as a long-time fan, DTS doesn’t need to embellish F1. Drama will happen and it is enough to show the average working behind the scene. Creating drama where there wasn’t any is not a good recipe and over-dramatizing otherwise mundane things doesn’t help either.
Most people like the stories but there is a fine line and if I were Netflix, I would explain that just taking a bunch of footage of the ho-hum day of an F1 paddock is nothing more than a season 5 of B-roll. You have to craft stories, For that, F1 may be forced to recognize that at their heart, they are not merely an entertainment property but they are actually a sport too and not all sport or every race, match or game is wall-to-wall drama and intrigue. Sometimes it’s just a race and that can be rathe r pedestrian at times.