I would call myself a “necessary driver.” I go where I need to and not much more. But this is what happens when you are in a city where the primary mode of transport is a dilapidated subway – and you don’t start hitting the road consistently until your mid-30s.
It’s also why Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive is one of the most compelling programs you would ever see. If anyone believed that auto racing of any kind was not a real sport, this is a series that proves him, her or they wrong.
Drive is a behind-the-scenes look into the good, the bad and the ugly within the Formula One World Championships. Season 1 chronicled the 2018 campaign as viewers were able to watch tensions come to a head within Red Bull Racing. It saw a relative newcomer in Force India try to wiggle its way out of off-track scandal. One of the icons of the sport, Fernando Alonso, is trying to stay competitive before retiring at the end of the season. Once mighty teams in Maclaren and Renault were fighting for relevance. Most of all, Season 1 told the world that just about everyone involved in F1 that isn’t winning is ticked off, a bit mad and very, very petty.
Season 2 dropped last week to whet the appetite of racing fans around the world before the 2020 campaign begins at the Australian Grand Prix next weekend. Based on how it has been among the top shows being watched according to the streamer, it’s safe to say that the docuseries found an audience beyond those fans.
For the gearheads, the series isn’t one that breaks down the science of the sport, but it does put a spotlight on the psychological makeup each driver (and his team) needs not only to win a race, but try to forge on in a grueling season.
But what Drive does successfully to hook in the uninitiated is focus on both external and internal rivalries, with both doused with a whole lot of the aforementioned petty. Case in point, Season 1 was a huge magnifying lens into the fissures at Red Bull Racing. The team had two headstrong drivers, but clearly the group seems to favor Max Verstappen over Daniel Ricciardo, and the latter is none too pleased. Riccardo would sign with Renault for 2019, but not before Red Bull began to give him the cold shoulder on the way out. Since Red Bull loathes Renault (and visa versa), Ricciardo’s departure makes for a fun introduction into Season 2, where it almost seems like an in-state college football rivalry where beating the enemy is just as important as winning the actual race.
While that’s all well and good, Drive managed to be insanely compelling the first go-round with barely a single word from the man considered the best driver on Earth.
Mercedes and Ferrari did not allow Netflix to follow their teams in 2018, which made the success of Season 1 even more impressive. Without Mercedes, specifically, viewers were not able to truly follow Lewis Hamilton capture his fifth world championship. He was a presence without being remotely involved in the show’s production as all the tension is built from nineteen other cars crashing and burning trying to beat him. Drivers going into fits of rage against each other while the British superstar takes podium after podium.
Hamilton gives us insights from one of the most challenging moments of his career where he was fighting an illness while trying to compete in the rain-slicked German Grand Prix, which was to also be a celebration for Mercedes’ 125th year in competitive racing. Yet, we are also getting to know Valtteri Bottas, who himself must balance the nebulous nature of being Hamilton’s “teammate” and trying to beat the living legend every time out.
There are multiple compelling stories in Formula 1: Drive to Survive beyond what is mentioned here. While it’s cliché to call sports anything akin to drama, that label is, for once, incredibly accurate. It’s not totally unlike other American pro leagues where we are entertained by players shading and sniping at each other on social media (or TV interviews as was saw this week with James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo). But with Formula 1, the dangerous nature of the sport adds just a little more literal and figurative fuel to the fire. And it could not be any more worthy of a weekend binge.
By the way, if you're looking to place odds on Australian Grand Prix – and after binging the series, I can’t see why you wouldn’t – be aware that many sharps still prefer to use betMGM. My money is on Lewis Hamilton to top the podium.
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.