The phrase “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” screams around my mind just as a Formula One (F1) car does on track. The motorsport of F1 racing is growing rapidly in the United States with the help of one major streaming player: Netflix. The entertainment giant for the past five years has closely followed F1 racing, the lives of the 20 drivers and the lives of the team principals to produce a very well-crafted docuseries about the sport.
The goal of this docuseries, called “Formula One: Drive to Survive” (DTS), is to give people, who are either unfamiliar with the sport or perhaps only follow it loosely, an easy to understand dive into the world of F1. To Netflix’s credit, DTS achieves that goal handily—another reason for the show’s explosion in viewer base. For people unfamiliar with how F1 drivers and teams get points, how the starting line-up on the grid is formed or how the season is designed they will be able to learn all that from the series.
But, as more seasoned viewers begin to watch the sport as a true fan and get into it on their own, they begin to see important moments in races or drama in the paddock which end up not getting airtime in the series. For DTS’ fifth season, there was a level of depth expected from the producers that they gave to seasons three and four where they explained the point system and tire strategies in great detial. And to be fair, this season they dedicated that attention to car design and budget reviews.
Season five of DTS focuses on the 2022 F1 season which was one of the most unique seasons in the sport’s history. This was due in large part to the technical changes the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA, the governing body of Formula One) placed on the teams’ budget and car design. The 2022 season demanded an entirely new car body, which broke from the 20-year trend of using the same body type, from all the teams and it became an instant point of conflict and confusion for the ten teams. Their cars were porpoising, meaning they bounced back and forth launching the nose of the car in the air and then the rear, which was the cause of a lot of pain for the drivers in their backs. The 2022 season also placed a budget cap on all the teams in an attempt to make the sport more even between teams and drivers. It was caught that Redbull violated this cap, resulting in overspending penalties from the FIA that DTS explained well.
So, to be fair to Netflix, it can be said that they did dedicate a good bit of their attention towards car design and budget analysis. There was a clear educational focus on car design and improvement throughout season five which gave depth to the struggle the teams were facing to make their cars better during the racing season.
But this focus on a couple major topics throughout the season and watching how teams managed to overcome that challenge left the viewer with little time to see two of the most dramatic and influential moments throughout the season. Those being the fight between Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen giving Haas their first-ever pole position in Brazil.
For the first time in the team’s history, the American F1 team, Haas was able to earn pole position for the beginning race. To earn “pole,” drivers compete to see who can drive the fastest lap on track the day before the race—fastest time starts first and so on. So, during that qualifying lap for the Brazillian Grand Prix Magnussen was able to get the fastest lap and win Haas their first pole position. A moment so emotional for the team they celebrated as if they won the race. A key moment in the team’s history which could show the rise of the American underdog! A key moment Netflix would have been wise to include more in the series than the six seconds of air time it received.
But perhaps even larger than team history being made is team solidarity being broken. In the last quarter of the 2022 season Verstappen had already won enough races to secure the grand prize of the sport—the title of World Champion. But his teammate Sergio “Checo” Perez was still fighting Ferarri’s Charles Leclerc for second place. This could have been done easily if Verstappen in one race had let Checo pass him so that he would earn more points by finishing in a better place. However, Verstappen did not follow team orders so he did not let Checo pass him in the race. This opened the door for Leclerc to finish second in the season over Checo. The fight between these two teammates became central to the camaraderie of the team and almost split them up. Yet, another moment Netflix passed up on this time around.
All this to say that Netflix has a good method going for it when they film, cut and produce the DTS series. But as their viewers become more involved in the sport it is important for them to grow the series with the viewer. Otherwise, the series will be left stagnant and each season a carbon copy of the last. This formula may not necessarily be broken or outdated yet but Netflix would be wise to begin making even the most minor of fixes to their program.