Formula 1: Drive to Survive is the reality show — er, docuseries — dedicated to breaking down each Formula 1 season as it happens. Last Friday saw the release of season five, which covered the goings-on of 2022. If you followed F1 live as it happened, you probably won’t be all that surprised by what you find “unveiled” by Netflix — but nonetheless, the show has its positives, and there were some great moments that really shone in a slew of some otherwise overwrought storylines.
The Schumacher-Haas Animosity Was Strong
If you tuned into the on- and off-track storylines of F1 in 2022, there’s a good chance you got a sense that the Haas team and its driver Mick Schumacher seemed to kind of… hate each other. Of course, any team is going to be displeased with a driver not performing to high standards, one who has a few nasty crashes — but now we’re able to see where that anger was coming from.
DTS gives a little more insight, though, into the struggles Haas faced from German media, which seemed to believe that the team was actively treating Schumacher poorly. It’s a similar line to the one Dmitry Mazepin shared about his son Nikita in the previous season, and it’s understandable that Haas would get frustrated… and you also see that Schumacher comes to races with his own protective posse.
Once again, though, it’s fascinating that the series is seemingly led by Haas’ drama. It goes to show that the smaller teams have much more to gain from a liberal working of the cameras than behemoths like Red Bull, Ferrari, or Mercedes.
The Alpine-McLaren Drama Was Personal
The Alpine-McLaren fight over Formula 2 Champion Oscar Piastri features in two episodes that also sprinkle in some midfield storylines about the teams battling for fourth in the Championship. Honestly, these episodes are the shining stars of season five, as jam-packed as they are with Fernando Alonso’s promises to remain with Alpine, a horrifyingly awkward at-track birthday celebration, an uncomfortable in-person team announcement to confirm Piastri as being an Alpine driver, and the politics of junior driver signings.
Otmar Szafnauer mentions a few times that Alpine has funneled $4 million into Piastri, which means that he owes his future career to the team. Piastri, of course, doesn’t feel like he owes anything to any team beyond the confines of his contract — which is why he’s able to sign with McLaren. I was struck, though, by how personal the drama got; it’s damn good TV.
RIP to the AlphaTauri Bromance
Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda were a rare thing in 2022: Teammates who actually genuinely seem to like each other enough that you wouldn’t be surprised to see them hanging out away from the track. DTS features a whole episode that shines a light on the way those two drivers interact, whether they’re singing karaoke together for a promotional video or simply chatting in the same shuttle.
It might just be because Gasly is leaving the team, but he was very open about his relationship with Tsunoda, sharing fascinating observations on the Japanese driver’s development as a competitor as well as the take-no-shit personality that makes him such an outlier in a sport of notoriously bland personalities.
We’re Not Discussing the Hard Stuff
DTS is, above all, a promotional series for Formula 1 — but it was honestly pretty fascinating to see what has been left out of this season. Remember all the Red Bull team orders drama in Brazil? Netflix isn’t touching that, even as it highlights Sergio Perez’s role as a supporting driver, his push for second place in the Championship, and Max Verstappen’s Championship pursuit.
Netflix also largely ignores Sebastian Vettel’s retirement, the activist pursuits of various drivers, and the dangerously rainy conditions of the Japanese Grand Prix; there are mentions, but don’t expect the series to delve into those kinds of complexities.
Daniel Ricciardo Isn’t the Star Anymore
Since its inception, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call Daniel Ricciardo the darling of DTS — but that has changed this year. We’ve seen the Australian driver leave Red Bull for Renault and Renault for McLaren since the series debuted, but Ricciardo’s goofy personality and seemingly realistic comments (remember “Netflix are a real bunch of cunts, aren’t they”?), but this season sees Ricciardo take a back seat. Is it because there are more interesting storylines to pursue? Is it because there’s no real reason to establish Ricciardo as a fan-friendly driver if he’s not going to be in F1 for 2023?
It’s not fully clear, but this year sees a pretty significant shift in the portrayal of Ricciardo. Once a darling, the series now sets him up as being something of a princess: A driver who wants too much money to deign to stay in the sport with Haas but also one who has asked multiple teams to totally reorganize themselves around him without the reward of results. He gets a significant “in memoriam” style clip at the end of the final episode — one that far exceeds the farewell offered to Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.
Max Verstappen’s Minor Contributions
Reigning World Champion Max Verstappen has long declined to participate in Drive to Survive, but this year marked his first time consenting to give interviews. He wasn’t exactly very verbose, though: Verstappen’s contributions to season five were limited to a few comments about his season and one shockingly touching interlude about… Mick Schumacher.
I can’t say it necessarily occurred to me that Mick and Max, the sons of two former Formula 1 drivers, would have grown up together, but Verstappen speaks to the holidays he went on with the Schumacher family, the memories he made growing up in a similar sphere. The Dutchman’s most genuine moment in the series was his observation that Schumacher has to live up to a lot of unfair treatment and unnaturally high expectations just because of his last name. It’s a level of compassion I don’t know that I’ve ever seen from Verstappen before.
Christian Horner Is Fully Owned
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has been fully dedicated to becoming one of Drive to Survive’s main characters, and he’s still giving that his all for season five. You’ll get his uncensored thoughts akin to what you hear if you listen to the Sky Sports broadcast, paired with a huge amount of at-home footage with his wife, his kids, and his pets. I’ve seen some people wondering, jokingly, if Horner has a contract with Netflix that guarantees he gets a certain amount of airtime.
There were, blessedly, a few different moments that helped reign in Horner’s stunning ego — at least a little bit. In Miami, Caitlyn Jenner waxes poetic about just how much Ferrari has done for F1, going as far to say that Ferrari is F1, all while we watch Horner grimace. Later, Horner asks a group of children about their favorite drivers. After they answer Lewis Hamilton, Horner asks, “Anyone Max or Checo fans?” One child responds that their dad likes it. Another shot of Horner seemingly biting back a comment. It doesn’t totally make up for the fact that we have to hear Horner’s thoughts on literally everything, but it helps.
Pre-Season Testing Observations Are Underrated
Season five has felt unnaturally PR-y in ways that former DTS seasons haven’t, but there are still some fabulous unscripted moments that really shine a light on the personalities on the grid (one of my favorite being Pierre Gasly sidling up to a group of what I presume to be AlphaTauri and Red Bull communications team members for the latest gossip).
But some of the best moments came, interestingly, from 2022's pre-season testing in Bahrain, as drivers get their first peek at the competition. These are fun, genuine moments that can seem to be pushed aside as the season progresses and drivers get a little more conscious of the things they’re saying to the cameras.
Thirst Traps Reign Supreme
For a series that shunned social media a mere few years ago, F1 has wholeheartedly welcomed the thirst trap. If you follow drivers like George Russell or Pierre Gasly on social media, there’s a damn good chance you’re more than familiar with their pecs by this point — and that’s something that DTS has really begun to adopt. Expect a few gratuitous shots of half-naked drivers and a fair few comments on their good looks from, say, photographers or makeup artists.
It can be easy to roll your eyes at this kind of stuff, but it signals a huge shift in the way F1 approaches the marketing of its drivers — in this case with a stronger focus on the female gaze. This is something these drivers have also been adopting in their own social pages, creating dedicated audiences of women with softly posed photos in bed or by the beach.
Where’s the Off-Track Content?
One of the things that initially made DTS so appealing was the fact that Netflix grabbed a ton of off-track content. We got to see Daniel Ricciardo at home in Australia, or Valtteri Bottas baring all in his sauna, or Carlos Sainz Jr. pushing through his training routine. Those moments made things special, since it was something you just didn’t see anywhere else. But where are those clips this year?
There are some, sure — but the bulk of at-home clips are centered around Christian Horner and Guenther Steiner, two non-drivers who have had those at-home clips sprinkled into countless prior seasons.
The problem here is that 2022 just wasn’t that interesting. If there was any time to rely on off-track storylines, this would be it. Instead, we’re treated to a fairly formulaic approach to some pretty boring on-track action, with certain events (like Zhou Guanyu’s gnarly crash at the British Grand Prix) repeated multiple times, just to eke some more content out of the few fascinating things that took place.
Team Principal Drama Is Made for Netflix
With a lack of compelling on-track storylines, Netflix was tasked to carve out some interesting stories elsewhere, and that means the cameras were set up for a team principal meeting regarding the porpoising fiasco. Toto Wolff and Christian Horner butt heads, with Wolff arguing that regulation changes need to be made to reduce porpoising while Horner argues the Mercedes team should have just built a better car. Meanwhile, Andreas Seidl and Jost Capito watch on in amusement.
We’ve seen similar moments before, especially between Horner and Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul, and it remains one of the best parts of the series. Who doesn’t love to watch a bunch of rich dudes just lay into each other?
You Don’t Learn Much About the Cost Cap
One of the biggest dramas of 2022 was Red Bull’s overspending of the cost cap, and that definitely features in the penultimate episode of season five, but I was fairly disappointed in the way Netflix approached the situation.
The cost cap breach, while a big deal, doesn’t necessarily lend itself to good TV, since a significant amount of its drama took place as a bunch of FIA regulators inspected finances, but Netflix spends a lot of time on a subject that doesn’t provide any additional insights beyond the acknowledgement that, yes, Red Bull did a naughty.
Show Me Ferrari and Mercedes Falling Apart
Yes, we do get a smidge of insight into the perpetual mismanagement of the Prancing Horse, but I don’t really feel like I actually got a full sense of what happened. Part of that, I think, comes down to Netflix’s liberal use of timeline jumps, but I just didn’t really feel the gravity of the team falling off. And, yes, we learned that Ferrari wouldn’t be a Championship factor fairly early in the season, but there could have been so much more meat. I didn’t come away with a strong sense of what happened, nor did I feel like I actually understood how the drivers felt. That’s likely down to the way Ferrari participated in the series (it’s been notoriously hesitant to really let the cameras in), but the reliance on on-track clips to tell the story leaves so much behind.
Similarly, the series doesn’t really get its hooks into Mercedes. Yes, DTS talks about the way the team suffered from porpoising to the point that it ultimately failed to become a reliable competitor, and we see Toto Wolff going to bat for his drivers, but it felt like the problem arose from nowhere, and there was also very little resolution.
Netflix, of course, isn’t meant to elaborate on the nuances of technical regulations, but the comprehensive rule changes were the whole reason why Mercedes struggled! This was a chance to talk about how that can provide its own dramatic angle, how past regulation evolutions have resulted in eras of dominance for some teams while other former stars fall apart.
Remember These Guys?
Every year, there are a handful of drivers that simply don’t make the cut. For season five, those drivers are Lance Stroll, Nicholas Latifi, and Valtteri Bottas — three drivers who make absolutely no appearance whatsoever, beyond the occasional clip of them in the paddock. Vettel and Zhou Guanyu both make brief appearances in interviews with Netflix, but don’t expect anything in depth from them, either. And, interestingly, Nyck de Vries gets a few minutes to introduce himself, but Alex Albon — whose appendectomy enabled de Vries to make his first F1 start — isn’t featured (and that aforementioned appendectomy is actually not, um, mentioned).
This isn’t shocking, since that’s the Netflix Way, but the absences felt extremely glaring this year.
Jennie Gow Shines
Longtime F1 journalist and BBC pit reporter Jennie Gow made headlines as, really, the only woman to actually take part in DTS for the first time back in season four, and she’s here again for season five — albeit in a slightly reduced capacity. Gow suffered a stroke after the conclusion of the 2022 season, which may have impacted her participation in this year’s edition of DTS, but her contributions remain astute. The show, much like F1 itself, has historically been bad at highlighting the voices of the women who take part, so Gow’s presence serves as the shining reminder that, yes, we’re here, we’re competent, and we deserve a place to share our thoughts.
Gow is currently in recovery, offering the occasional update on her progress as she aims to get back to the F1 paddock. We’re wishing the best for her.