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F1: Drive to Survive taking liberty with creative freedom could lead to its demise

F1 Drive to Survive makes a return with its fourth season (Image source: F1/Twitter)
F1 Drive to Survive makes a return with its fourth season (Image source: F1/Twitter)
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Charanjot Singh

Netflix's Drive to Survive has been a welcome addition to how F1 was broadcast to the world. A ten-part docu-series that covers what happened in the previous season in the form of specific storylines has contributed to bringing in a new audience to the sport.

The docuseries, however, has its shortcomings. These shortcomings do get questioned time and again by not only the fans but sometimes the F1 personnel as well.

Until last season, the docuseries was not under too much scrutiny because of some of the creative freedoms that it had taken. This season, however, the wheels might have started to turn in the wrong direction for the series.

It started with MotoGP introducing its own docuseries this season that would launch a few days after Drive to Survive but on Amazon Prime. The MotoGP docuseries, just like its F1 counterpart, was released earlier to a section of the media. Overwhelming feedback says it is better than Drive to Survive.

This was where the wheels initially started to turn for the docuseries. Things took an even tougher turn when F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali came out and said that Drive to Survive needs to add value to the sport for it to continue in the future.

To add to this, the reigning F1 champion Max Verstappen, who had opted out of taking part in sitting for interviews for Drive to Survive, has ruled out any further association with the docuseries.

Meanwhile, the series launched today and, in a way, marks the start of the 2022 F1 season. In this piece, we talk about why the series might be on very thin ice and, unless it brings in major changes, it might be looking at an early exit.


Props to Drive to Survive

Formula 1 announces audience and fan attendance figures for 2021.Our fans reacted to the season, new formats, and new venues, very positively and Formula 1 has seen growth in our TV audiences and on our digital platforms.corp.formula1.com/formula-1-anno…

Before we go ahead and talk about why the series finds itself in deep waters, we need to first acknowledge that what Drive to Survive has achieved was never anticipated.

The docuseries brings new and interesting storylines and behind-the-scenes footage that are not available in your daily coverage. It brought to fore the never seen before side of the sport that was intriguing for the fans, and even for those that had not seen the sport at all.

There is this management quote that says: 'Acquiring a new client or a customer is costlier than maintaining the ones that you already have'. As a business, F1 benefitted from Drive to Survive bringing in eyeballs. Undoubtedly, the increase in viewership, however incremental it may be, does have some contribution from the docuseries.

Although the new MotoGP docuseries might even be touted as the better product right now, the origins of that series have to be attributed to the success of Drive to Survive.

Having said that, let's now get to the crux of the matter and have a look at why the docuseries might be in a spot of bother.


Fake Narratives and Storylines

The biggest turn-off for hardcore F1 fans is the fake storylines that the series leans towards at various moments in the series. Even this time around, there seems to be a narrative where Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris do not get along well and throw snide remarks at each other.

Last season there was an almost outrageous narrative shown in the docuseries where Valtteri Bottas was using mind games to beat Lewis Hamilton. The series focussed on what happened in Russia, a point of the season when the championship was almost done and dusted. It was, however, never touched upon why such mind games were not played earlier, or even after the Russian Grand Prix. Of note here is the fact that Bottas was, if we are fair, thoroughly outclassed by Hamilton throughout the season.

We're heading back to the paddock for the most controversial season in Formula 1 racing. Drive to Survive Season 4 launches March 11. https://t.co/sryIwUMF5Y

The veracity of such episodes is always brought into question when these fake narratives are built upon for one episode but do not hold when you look at the season in its entirety. As a spectacle and drama, it might look good. As an F1 fan, however, when you know that there is no truth to the narrative, it forces you to not only question, but in some cases, switch off the series in its entirety.


F1 drivers starting to lose interest

When Drive to Survive was first launched in 2018, teams like Mercedes and Ferrari opted out of giving any access to the docuseries. Consequently, in the following years, these teams have come round and opened the doors to the docuseries.

Last season, however, Max Verstappen was quite vocal in opting out of giving any interviews for the documentary. The Red Bull driver expressed his disapproval of the way the producers had taken snippets of what he had said completely out of context, and used it entirely to create a provocative narrative.

To add to this, it does become even more apparent in the docuseries that drivers like Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen (both of them legitimate world champions in their own right) do not have too many sound bites in the series.

Which makes it plausible is that the two may have even stepped back from giving interviews to the docuseries after Verstappen's stance.

Verstappen is not the only driver, though, who has spoken out against the docuseries. Even Lando Norris had mentioned in his Twitch stream of not liking the fake narrative of tension between him and Carlos Sainz in 2020.

Although drivers like Sergio Perez have been supportive of the show, it does not mean that they will be okay with fake narratives that could be portrayed involving them. That's where Netflix has taken a step too far with their creative freedom.

The 2021 season was arguably one of the greatest seasons in the history of the sport. And Drive to Survive did not even have access to one of the protagonists of the rivalry because he lost faith in the docuseries. If that's not a big loss for the docuseries, then it's hard to know what else will be.


The series does not show the real F1

Max Verstappen says he has decided not to take part in the upcoming 'Drive to Survive' series on Netflix 😤 https://t.co/khWIAvJZpX

The biggest challenge faced by the series right now is the fact that somewhere down the line, by focusing on drama, entertainment, and maybe even a bit of controversy, the real sport is missing out. A new wave of F1 fans has without a doubt started following the sport only after watching Drive to Survive. The problem for them, however, is that the perception that they have of the sport does not match what they see on the screen.

They see Valtteri Bottas being a good and obedient number two to Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes and getting truly dominated by the Briton almost every weekend. They see Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz still being friendly despite driving for different teams. More importantly, they do not know who the cream of the crop is. They do not know how great a talent Fernando Alonso is because he hardly gets any recognition in the series, even in the episode where they highlight Ocon's win.

Netflix and c̶h̶i̶l̶l̶ thrill! 🤩 New #DriveToSurvive tomorrow! 🎉 https://t.co/VC8FbZJacg

That is exactly why some fans take some time to get used to the sport and start enjoying it for what it is. Others, however, leave the sport altogether because the product that they are seeing on their screens is not what was advertised in Drive to Survive.

This is what seems to have forced Stefano Domenicali to speak out and make a clear statement that the docuseries needs to add value to the sport. Is bringing new eyeballs to the sport adding value? Sure, it is. You have to ask, however, how many customers stick around if they don't get what was advertised? Not many.

The docuseries is at a critical juncture at the moment, with hardcore fans as well as even some of the drivers starting to turn their backs on it. It might just be high time for the series to start making amends and using their creative freedom wisely.

It needs to regain the trust of the reigning champion, re-think how it approaches the rivalries, and most importantly, not take the creative freedom and portray a product that is far removed from what F1 truly is.

Domenicali's words should be a clear indication that the series is not in the most comfortable of situations. If it doesn't make the desired changes, F1 might either look elsewhere or call it off entirely.


Edited by Anurag C
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