TV review: 'Drive to Survive' S5
Opening up Grand Prix racing to swathes of newer and younger fans, the new season of Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” was eagerly anticipated.
The fifth season of Netflix's hit “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” launched on Friday 24 February, with the show responsible for fuelling the explosive growth that the racing series has enjoyed worldwide. Season 5 opens like a BBC4 travel show, with odd couple Guenther Steiner and suave Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto on a road trip through the Italian countryside. So why are these F1 VIPs sipping wine at a random table in a field? It’s impossibly contrived and requires a heavy suspension of disbelief to imagine these two fellows hopped into a classic Fiat 500 one morning because these are the sorts of japes they always get up to. All the usual “Drive to Survive” highlights are there – here comes journalist and commentator Will Buxton, with something vitally important in the way of obvious and unnecessary explanation such as, “First place is crucial if you want to come in the first place”, or “engines are useful”, or other revelatory statements like that. He speaks like a fortune cookie filtered twice through an online translation tool.
Season 4 of the series, which featured the 2021 racing season, earned a 17% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes - with largely negative feedback based on the perceived manufacturing of rivalries to suit a narrative rather than being faithful to the actual relationships within the paddock. Indeed, Max Verstappen boycotted the show this season because he did not like the fact that liberties were taken with the truth. It seems that criticism has been heard at Netflix HQ, and it is, therefore, refreshing to see story arcs faithful to what actually transpired during a season, dominated by “porpoising” and the Red Bull cost cap saga.
The closest we come to any actual rivalry is when BWT Alpine is looking for a replacement for Fernando Alonso and, with the team being publicly rebuffed by Oscar Piastri, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo become the protagonists. Zak Brown trying to broker a deal with Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi and Otmar Szafnauer to swap Piastri for Ricciardo is hilarious when you consider the financial implications of the Australian's eventual move back to Red Bull as a third driver. Szafnauer quipping "Good luck to Oscar" after Alonso rose from 13th on the grid to finish ahead of Lando Norris at the Dutch GP was equally a fun moment that showed how Alpine rose to the occasion on track despite losing out in the Piastri contract debacle.
An unfair advantage?
The handling of Red Bull's breach of the cost cap is done with enough objectivity for the viewers to make up their own minds on the whole controversy, with key interviews where Brown, Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Mattia Binotto all present their case showing just how serious it got between the teams. While this is fantastic behind-the-scenes content, this segment is badly let down by the ridiculous depiction that McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari were out to hamper Red Bull and Verstappen's title charge in Singapore. The show makes a point of highlighting Ferrari's double podium in that race, but the fact that Sergio Perez was the winner is conveniently forgotten and overlooked. However, following Verstappen's title win in Japan two weeks later, footage of Horner receiving the infamous call from Shaila-Ann Rao, in which the former FIA Interim Secretary General explained that the Red Bull Team had breached the cost cap does make the cut. Along with the fantastic, in-depth explanation of what the cost-cap is and how it affects teams, the series is at its strongest when dealing with porpoising in the early episodes. Viewers are taken through exactly what the aerodynamics phenomenon is and why it is so dangerous for drivers. This all leads up to an explosive team boss meeting where Toto Wolff is given a rather blunt retort when calling for changes.
A meeting of sport and pop culture
Overall, season 5 is a classic “Drive to Survive”. It is the type of behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Piranha Club that is seldom seen. As is having Geri Horner (Ginger Spice from the Spice Girls) read out Piastri's memorable 'I will not be driving for Alpine' post to a shocked Christian Horner. It is exactly what you have come to expect from the show and, while random, demonstrates the connection F1 has to popular culture. These, coupled with the fly-on-the-wall moments - such as Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda absolutely butchering an Adele classic during Karaoke - make it unique for die-hard and new fans alike.
There’s nothing particularly revelatory in this fifth season of the show, aside from how awful the Haas team were to Mick Schumacher, slating him on camera. If you’re an Aston Martin, Williams or Alfa Romeo fan then there’s no point squinting at your screen waiting for a background glimpse of one of your guys. Of course, for those hardcore followers of F1, the genuine action is on the track and “Drive to Survive” merely offers a year-old psycho-drama for casual watchers. Consider our bouche amused, though, we’re certainly looking forward to the return of the real thing to our screens this weekend. “F1 is F1 and Drive to Survive is Drive to Survive,” as Will Buxton might helpfully clarify.
Given the success of “Drive to Survive” for Netflix, is it any surprise therefore that more shows have been commissioned on other sports such as “Break Point” and “Full Swing” for Tennis and Golf, respectively?