I have a problem with Amazon’s Grand Prix Driver

Have you ever watched a show or movie and found it entertaining, insightful or enveloping? Maybe you saw the most recent Star Wars and used its predecessors to determine how much you enjoyed or disliked it and the reasons you did. Perhaps you watched a documentary on the planet or solar system and compared it to other documentaries about the earth or universe in which to measure its efficacy.

I have a problem…I just watched the Amazon Prime show called Grand Prix Driver which follows McLaren during the off season and first test of 2017. I would like to tell you how good, mediocre or bad I thought it was but quite honestly, thanks to some genius of the filmmaker (Manish Pandey of Senna movie fame), McLaren, Zak Brown and the marketing and communications team at McLaren, I have nothing to compare it to. This is unprecedented for F1.

I’ve not seen anything quite as revealing, honest, and self-deprecating as this in Formula 1. The closest I can come are some past features and documentaries on Ferrari or other teams or the sport of Formula 1 but to be fair, they aren’t quite the same. F1 is locked down tight, or has been, and it is rare to get an inside look at a F1 team such as this series gives you.

It starkly portrays the journey of Stoffel Vandoorne as a new driver and offers insight to his life-which, as a guy whose day job is with a company based in Stoffel’s hometown of Kortrijk, was terrific fun to see-and then centered on the massive let down McLaren faced with the new Honda engine during testing last season.

I’ve not spoken to Manish about this show but if he was simply trying to be a fly on the wall and give fans an unvarnished, real look at how hard work, thousands of hours, marketing programs and hope can all be killed nearly instantly, he did a fabulous job.

We all knew McLaren were in trouble last year during initial testing and the team were equally frustrated but the “Straight Talk” meeting was a powerful manifestation of the sheer disappointment as the entire company circled around Jonathan Neale as hope lay bleeding in the center of the room and the anguish on the faces of McLaren employees was heartbreaking.

I am a Ferrari fan but I have always had all the time in the world for McLaren and its employees. I love the team and it pains me to see the gutted looks on the faces of the men and women of McLaren who damn well know how to win races.

Sure, the documentary is going to talk about McLaren and deliver its marketing message, but you would expect that. Very much like the recent Williams documentary, both films were stark, revealing, sad and an incredibly rare look into the world of a Formula 1 team. If F1 wants to anchor its fans into the sport and find new fans, these types of films should be a real key initiative with their marketing folks.

I’ve said for a long time that F1 should do a complete series like The Deadliest Catch where they follow several boats during the crab season and then put it all together in a terrific show on Discovery. Amazon could have a terrific series on its hands as it documents several teams for a season and then weaves all the ups, downs and strategy that went behind the year.

I digress…this show is terrific and one of my favorite parts is seeing my friend, Jason Swales, at the dinner table, after testing, already explaining precisely what happened, what could happen and what they should do. He’s a Delphic Oracle that Jason-and yes, I use the word friend liberally as I suspect I like him far more than he likes me because I am the president of the Jason Swales fan club.

I also enjoyed the brief scenes of Kortrijk Belgium which I’ve been to a couple of times and wandered around those streets and walked back and forth to the HQ of the company I work for. It’s beautiful there and the people are wonderful…yes, including all of my co-workers.

If you get a chance to watch the film, I highly recommend it and would love to see McLaren do another one with a Renault lump in the back and a much happier Fernando and Stoffel…then again, I think everyone would. Bring on the Papaya!

PS- One last thing…I was just watching the show but even I could see the cultural gap between Honda and McLaren and feel the tension. Not good. 

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Grand Prix Driver was scandalously candid and accessible. I thought McLaren and Manish gave fair treatment to Honda and the internal challenges the team was up against. Ron must be screaming at the stars with this sort of access!

sunny stivala

McLaren has been doing two things. one is blaming Honda for every ill in the world. and the other is to bombard the press with material. Autosports/Motorsports and other sites that Zak Brown owns, seems to have more McLaren related material than all the teams combined.


I disagree slightly on the “fair treatment” point. I couldn’t help but notice that everytime someone slagged off Honda or the engine, the very next shot had a very prominent Honda logo. Be it on the top of Fernando’s helmet or the word-mark on the back of the technicians’ shirts.

This show struck me as an anti-Honda advert as much as a pro-McLaren piece.

I’m very glad, however, that they didn’t shy away from showing the very raw and immediate reaction on the faces of Jonathan Neale and the others.


This has been in my wishlist for a little while now… I think its finally time to check it out, making the popcorn now.


Episode 1 down. That was interesting, McLaren have a hugely impressive set up, and leadership team, plus a huge engineering staff. Despite the series title, I’m hoping we get to see much more of the Team.

Heath Newland

the idiot woman from ESPN.


You are 100% right. Insightful intelligent hugely entertaining. And you found yourself rooting for the very people that make the sport what it is. Bravo and thank you NC for turning me onto it

sunny stivala

All 4 episodes are out (prime account). Frankly embarrassing from a technical point of view for Honda. It also confirmed mclaren was behind schedule last year and the car on the simulator wasn’t OK. Having to cancel Silverstone shakedown and nearly missing test because of the floor and other parts not being ready does show that mclaren were not organized, at least Honda turned-up with their engine on time.

Joseph Simmons

Watched all 4 episodes yesterday, it was fascinating to see the precision of McLaren; for example, the boardroom meeting with the setup by exact distance of chair and pad/pen setup. Or how precise the creation of the floor for the new car! You could really see the challenge of Honda and McLaren meshing together; engine start up, fitting the car, and the challenges oflanguage/time/collaboration. But I was curious about the number of individuals who had chief in their title; did McLaren become a bank? Has to be the shadow of Ron Dennis. But I do admire the candor in the… Read more »


The concerning part was that McLaren’s ‘precision’ didn’t carry over to the car itself. Add Honda’s floundering efforts and they could have easily called the show ‘Grand Prix Formula for Disaster!’


I think you summed it up perfectly in your review. To me this raises 2 important points about f1 in relation to a budget cap. Looking around this fantastic, but ultimately failing facility; 1/ When you boil an F1 team down it is mainly a team of people and by limiting expenditure you are effectively limiting salaries of people who are not on Lewis/Fernando style mega bucks. 2/ Max Mosley used to be a proponent of “if it’s under the skin(gearbox, engine etc…) then no one cares about it. But if you have a great documentary like this explaining everyone’s… Read more »


I was impressed (or more surprised?) that McLaren (and especially Honda if they had any say in the matter) allowed this to be released at all. It confirmed many / most of the worst fears and rumors circulating prior to the official announcement that McLaren was moving to Renault power last season.

‘Where there is smoke, there is fire’, indeed.

Now I’m wondering whether McLaren is having another try at a second season of “GRAND PRIX Driver”. Something tells me that won’t be possible post Honda.


What would be good is to see the other teams give this a go. I can imagine in the high performance, constantly changing environment these people are in that the other teams would only be slightly better and also slightly worse than this… unless you are Mercedes. It did go to show that without control over the whole car/PU that things are much more difficult, maybe this is just a Honda thing. It baffles me as to why McLaren even needed to ask for the drawings of the PU to transmission interface! Those should have been supplied carte blanche and… Read more »

sunny stivala

You are not the only one to have been baffled as to why McLaren who produce their own gearbox/transmission asked Honda for the drawings of the power unit to gearbox/transmission mating interfaces, because according to FIA rules/regulations these mating interfaces are standardized:- “Gearbox/transmission mountings to engine may only comprise six M12 studs for connection. The mounting faces of the studs for connection of the transmission to engine must lie on one vertical plane normal to the car center line and be located at Y100/Z15 (2). Y150/ Z140 (2).

sunny stivala

It will be interesting to know if Toro Rosso who uses an RBR manufactured gearbox/transmission encountered the same mating interfaces problems to the Honda engine McLaren did.


Maybe it was a rounding error in the conversion between Shaku and Millimeters! Its not like we haven’t sent probes all the way to Mars just to find out that Metric was used vs. Imperial…


I watched all 4 episodes the other night and was disappointed that it suddenly skipped from the first day of testing when the engine problems became apparent to the end of the year after Honda was out. I guess Honda really objected to showing the whole year – a shame, it would have been interesting. I hope they have a second year of this with 10-12 episodes.


I can’t find it on prime. I just starten my 30 day trail, but when i enter Grand Prix driver in the search box but it doesn’t come up in the results. Can’t find it on YouTube eighter, but that was to be expected :(

Oh and the folk over at Amazon think we speak German in the Netherlands…


Realizing it’s probably a different link for you in the Netherlands, never the less give this link a try.



Waste-of-time documentary. Added almost nothing to any of the diligent reporting at the time. Despite all of their “unprecedented” access, I can’t think of anything that I didn’t already know. All the positive reviews are from POV of F1 fans, not fans of great journalism and documentaries.

Nick T.

Sad you got downvoted for this comment because I agree I didn’t learn one thing I didn’t already know as a hardcore F1 fan. However, I appreciated the footage of the season prep, the staff meetings, the little moments with the drivers, etc. So while I didn’t learn anything I didn’t know, it was still entertaining.


Freaking LOVED IT! Can’t believe how awesome gathering a glimpse behind the scenes it is. I believe this is a new direction for F1. Letting go of past lack of access and moving F1 into the light. Consider- what if historic sponsorship/F1 funding isn’t regulated to square inche ad space on bodywork but through BTS series and productions like this?
Also with F1 rumors of something F1 via Amz or Netflix, this might be an early market test

David Rosenblatt

I agree, great filmmaking. Vulnerable, passionate, thrilling, an absolute pleasure visually, and narratively as both a filmmaker, and an F1 fan.