The fifth season of Netflix's F1 Drive to Survive is all set to air. When the series premiered five years ago, audiences didn't know what to expect. The pilot season, however, left a strong impression. Usually, behind-the-scenes footage is not covered in the races, and supplementary storylines of drivers don't get much airtime. The series has changed all that.
One of the more unforeseen benefits of the series was that it introduced the sport to a new demographic of fans. As a result of the docuseries, F1 now has a chunk of fans from the United States. This was a market that was left entirely untapped earlier.
Such has been the impact that this F1 season, we will have as many as three races in the US, a number that was hard to conceive in the past. The fifth edition of Drive to Survive could prove to be its 'make-or-break' year.
Fake narratives are a major issue
While everyone has shown a level of admiration and acceptance for the series, the fake narratives have ticked off a lot of hardcore F1 fans. So much so that fans are now enraged and many have stayed away from the series altogether.
Let's be clear: Drive to Survive's objective is not to create hatred within the sport. It is to keep the viewer engaged. In doing so, the series has often been found guilty of trying to create drama out of things that do not exist whatsoever.
While these fake narratives will keep new fans with little to no knowledge about the sport engaged, it enrages hardcore F1 fans who have been watching the sport for a long time. Fans also gave stern feedback last season regarding the fake narratives, as a fake rivalry between Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo was concocted out of thin air.
The feedback was so severe that even F1 head Stefano Domenicali commented on the 'authenticity' of the Drive to Survive product. In the fifth season since its inception, the documentary might need to keep creative freedom in check and not create unnecessary fake narratives.
The reigning F1 champion returns to Drive to Survive
One consequence of Drive to Survive's fake narratives was Max Verstappen deciding not to be a part of the series anymore. In the last few editions, while other drivers have sat down for interviews with the DTS team, the Dutchman has not.
Even in the fourth season, Verstappen was one of the F1 drivers who was vocal about the misrepresentation of the drivers. He specifically talked about how Lando Norris was painted as a bad guy in the series, while in real life, he's nothing like that.
Max Verstappen will be a part of the series this season. He has cleared the air with the docuseries and will feature in it this time. There is, however, a catch: Verstappen is one of the few F1 drivers with a very low tolerance for incompetence. If he once again feels that the 'fake narrative' saga has continued this season, he will speak out about it.
He will not keep quiet and will make his point very bluntly. Having the reigning F1 Champion call out a series based on Formula 1 is a difficulty that the documentary makers would be desperate to avoid.
This is where it will be exciting to see how the docuseries handles the controversial topics of last season that Verstappen featured in. How will the series depict him declining team orders in Brazil? How will the series cover his boycott of Sky Sports in Mexico? The series makers will be walking a very tightrope in doing so.
The law of diminished returns is coming into play
The introduction of Netflix's Drive to Survive was to bring F1 to homes in geographies that were unaware of the sport. The series has done that and four seasons later, the sport is now in a much better place than it was a few years ago.
The American market has been cracked, there are three US races on the calendar, and there were as many as 400,000 fans that came to the 2022 F1 US GP in Austin.
A chunk of these fans could even be attributed to Netflix's Drive to Survive, exemplifying the series' significant impact. The problem for the series after four years is that it has reached a critical mass in terms of its reach. The number of viewers who watched the series first and followed the sport next is decreasing and will now start getting outweighed by the viewers who have some knowledge of F1.
Consequently, a bigger effort must be made to keep engagement high. More importantly, storylines need to be authentic as well. This is precisely why a marked shift is needed in the series and how its production is approached.
Unless the style is adapted accordingly, Drive to Survive might end up falling flat, and we could ultimately see a drop in viewers and sharp criticism to follow. A more authentic and enticing product is the need of the hour, and with all the behind-the-scenes footage that the series has, it can surely make it happen.