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“Big Egos, Power Struggles, Breathtaking Betrayal”: How Netflix’s Drive to Survive Made Americans F1 Fans | Netflix


ONEThe merican TV viewers didn’t exactly ask for a 10-part documentary about Formula 1, a sport that used to be the most boring of all leisure activities in the USA and which literally went in circles.

“Let’s be real people, F1 is garbage racing in cars and technology that none of us will ever dream of driving,” the former driver and Fox Nascar analyst tweeted in 2018, reflecting a broader sentiment in the US.

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When Formula 1: Drive to Survive launched on Netflix in March 2018, it seemed doomed, especially since the show had no access to Mercedes and Ferrari – the main protagonists of the championship hunt. This forced producers (who blamed title rivals for abandoning the sport) to focus on the teams battling for relevance lower on the grid.

But strangely enough, the Americans didn’t care that the main story turned into a B-plot. Instead, we passed out over Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and other heartthrob drivers; we felt with Claire Williams, the sport’s only female team boss; we drooled over the boss-level cattle between Red Bulls Christian Horner and Renaults Cyril Abiteboul. Then we got to the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas in November, a quarter of a million down, a little more than a Taylor Swift concert the organizers used in 2016 to raise the turnout.

That may be the moment Netflix knew they were having a mega hit. Since Mercedes and Ferrari came on board the following season, Drive to Survive has done what was once considered impossible: turn Americans into Formula 1 fans.

More than 400,000 came to this year’s US Grand Prix. A million more watched the race on television. Overall ratings for this season are up more than 40%, making this the most watched F1 season in America. A second American race through the streets of Miami has been added to the schedule for 2022 – the first time the US has hosted two races since 1984. And it’s not just the US – the sport gained an estimated 73 million fans in markets last year including Brazil, China and France.

Sunday’s championship rally in Abu Dhabi averaged nearly a million viewers, and its controversial ending saw social media users immersed deeply in the NFL afternoon table. Most of the time, they argued about whether Max Verstappen’s excitement in the final round of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was conceived as a ratings advance for the premiere of the fourth season of Drive to Survive in March.

Through a mix of broadcast footage, pre-recorded interviews, and dashcam angles, the series has captured what has been viewed as a sport for anoraks, at least in the U.S. (what with all the obsessive split times, drag coefficients, and tire temperatures) and poses as a high-profile clash big egos, tense power struggles and breathtaking betrayal. The producers understood a fundamental truth of American binge watchers: drama is our love language.

This is the brilliance of Drive to Survive that F1 presents in a form a Real Housewives fan can handle: Daniel Ricciardo is the guy you’d want to lead on your pub crawl. Lance Stroll is the spoiled son of a billionaire Bond villain. Christian Horner is married to Ginger Spice, but Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, alias Racing Arnold Schwarzenegger, lives rent-free in his head.

In addition, the tension unfolds in front of a constantly changing backdrop of private planes, paddock suits and super sports cars. “Formula One is the perfect sport to keep yourself busy because there’s no end to how far down the rabbit hole you can go,” wrote Kevin Clark of The Ringer. “It is constantly reinventing itself and is based on a million small edges that add up to large ones.”

Red Bulls Max Verstappen was crowned world champion after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.Red Bulls Max Verstappen was crowned world champion after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. Photo: PA Wire / PA

The Netflix show drew hundreds of thousands of sports agnostics into Formula 1, including many women.

“On the weekends when I can’t see a Grand Prix while having a dazed coffee on my couch at 9am,” wrote The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull, “I feel a little disoriented now.” At this year’s Grand Prix of Mexico – which follows immediately after the US race – the number of female participants increased by 30% compared to the previous year.

Drive to Survive has also triggered a massive increase in fans among the coveted target group of 16 to 35 year olds. Research from Nielsen Sports found that 77% of the growth can be attributed to this age group. Having so many young, telegenic drivers – not least now a 24-year-old champion – is a casting coup.

Other American sports are in a hurry to give the green light to their own spin-offs: The PGA golf tour is currently filming a Netflix reality series that uses Drive to Survive as a blueprint, while Amazon is its All Or Nothing Sports reality franchise Toronto Maple Leafs, Arsenal FC and the Brazilian national soccer team have added seasons. But these other sports will have a hard time recreating a scene as high as Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who was nearly burned alive in his cockpit after falling from the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Mercedes GP managing director Toto Wolff and Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner.Mercedes GP managing director Toto Wolff and Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner. Photo: Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

Not all in Drive to Survive tracks. Fans have criticized the artistic license taken by show makers for taking snippets of car radio out of context and overheating some interpersonal conflicts. But those complaints pale in comparison to the ardent outrage that followed Sunday’s final. It is enough to make you wonder if this is how F1’s commercial operations director introduced himself years ago when he said the sport should be “a little less predictable” as F1 “went from a motorsport company to a media one. and entertainment brand ”waved.

For many F1 loyalists, the tail is now wagging the dog. With ESPN’s carriage rights expiring after the 2022 season, Netflix was circulated as a potential successor. Such a move would cement the F1 audience as well as blur the lines between sports and entertainment, facts and truthfulness. For the sport’s existing fans, it could mark the end of fairness and objectivity in its 75-year history. But it definitely sounds like damn good television.


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