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Formula 1: Drive To Survive - Money, egos, and 'sexy' drivers

If you're looking for something a bit different to watch on Netflix during these unprecedented ti...

Formula 1: Drive To Survive -...
Other Sports

Formula 1: Drive To Survive - Money, egos, and 'sexy' drivers

If you're looking for something a bit different to watch on Netflix during these unprecedented times, look no further than the Formula 1: Drive To Survive series. 

I'll hold my hands up and admit I've paid only a passing interest to affairs on the track in recent years. But watching 20 episodes of this over the past couple of weeks will change all that.

It's a fly-on-the-wall look at the 2018 (Season One) and 2019 (Season Two) Formula 1 campaigns, with a particular focus on the diverse personalities involved in the sport.

Like snooker, it's a sport that has seen some of its best days already come and go, although if viewing figures are to be considered properly, F1 is on the way up again.

Their total global TV cumulative audience for last season stood at 1.922 billion, the highest since 2012 and a third annual increase in a row.

Sixty-two per cent of new fans recorded in the past two years have been under the age of 35, and shows like this on Netflix can only help.

There's the crazy crashes, incredible access, and high-quality filming. Not to mention excellent contributions from F1 broadcasters Will Buxton and Chris Medland.

Here are just some of the other many reasons why you absolutely need to watch it:

  • Money, money, money

"So I must leave, I'll have to go
To Las Vegas or Monaco"

It's no wonder Abba mentioned Monaco in the song, because the tiny Principality is truly teeming with tenners.

It's also of course where one of the more exciting Formula 1 Grand Prix events takes place, and certainly the one on many A-list celebrities to-do for the year.

Formula 1: Drive To Survive has no bones showing us the insane amounts of money around the sport. Whether it's Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner hopping on a helicopter in his back garden, or the same man pointing out one of his then drivers Pierre Gasly crashed twice in pre-season testing, causing €2m worth of damage.

Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen leads round the hairpin during the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix at the Circuit de Monte Carlo, Monaco

Over the course of the last year, Lewis Hamilton is said to have pocketed close to $80m including endorsement deals. Not bad pocket money if you can get it.

In Season Two, Episode 2, we're introduced to the eccentric William Storey, CEO of British beverage company Rich Energy. Storey pumps a personal guarantee of $35m into F1 team Haas.

It very much has the feel of a man with too much money just finding something else to do with his spare change, and yet he sees his helping the American outfit out as 'David versus Goliath' stuff.

Ultimately, Storey pulls out of the deal - wanting the team to be ahead of Red Bull in the Constructors' Championship standings yet finding them behind struggling Williams is seen by him to be "unacceptable."


  • The 'Sexiest Man Alive' - Daniel Ricciardo

The Australian had me at hello.

One thing I certainly learned from the show was the correct pronunciation of this guy's name - it's simply 'Ricardo' - with even his former Team Principal at Red Bull Christian Horner getting it wrong at one point in a sit-down interview.

The 30-year-old from Perth is unquestionably the cockiest, most arrogant, and above all, funniest, driver on the F1 grid. His vanity is only slightly tongue-in-cheek but very much a welcome comic relief from the sometimes angry, egotistical, and stressful environment around the pits.

At the beginning of Season Two Ricciardo pops up on screen with a wry smile - "I'm back, and I'm still good looking."

You can't help but like the guy, and he's not half bad at racing very fast cars either. He dramatically wins the 2018 Monaco GP in Season One, holding off the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel even as he loses engine power.

His move from Red Bull to Renault, teams with no love lost between each other, is one of the more dramatic moments in the series.


  • To the principal's office

The Team Principal's are to Formula One what Ed Woodward would be to Manchester United if he also decided on the transfers. (Okay, maybe a bad comparison).

These guys are in many cases more fascinating than the drivers they hire, with Guenther Steiner of Haas one perfect example.

We're given a close-up look at him in a number of episodes, and even taken into his kitchen as he cooks dinner with his wife, Gertraud. His accent is extraordinary - "We have to do bet-tor!" being my favourite regular phrase.

He can get angry and passionate too - his reaction of pure exhausted devastation after one race was akin to myself and other Monaghan fans when David Clifford scored that goal past Rory Beggan in Clones in 2018.

Toto Wolff is the man in charge of Mercedes-Petronas, the team everyone wants to beat. His outfit have a lot of money, a lot of employees, and in Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, one of the most feared driver line-ups.

The Austrian has the aura of a man in charge too, and he holds a 30% share in the team. Wolff also speaks fluent German, English, French, Italian, and Polish. Some people are so annoyingly good at everything they do, aren't they?

They've won the last six Constructors' Championships on the trot - although with the currently postponed 2020 season set to be the last of unregulated spending, perhaps the gap can be closed.

Motorsports: FIA Formula One World Championship 2019, Grand Prix of Japan, Toto Wolff (AUT, Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport), | usage worldwide


  • 'Box, box, box'

This is the call the drivers get in their ear when they need to make a stop in the pits. Very often it's a routine change of tyres, but as we see in this series, the pit-lanes can be a place where plenty happens.

I'd compare the people talking to the drivers in their ears throughout the race to the CAPCOM, or Capsule Communicator, during the Apollo Moon Landing missions.

You've got to project an aura of calm, you've got to speak clearly, and give only the necessary information. If your screens in the pit-wall are telling you a car needs to be stopped immediately, that's important for the driver to hear. Neil Armstrong would want to have known if his spacesuit had a leak.

Haas do end up with an embarrassing pit situation during the series, with a tyre change on the front-left wheel one weekend not going to plan at all. It's amazing how human error can cause so much disaster for a team in an F1 race.

Even the greatest aren't safe from disasters in the pits - Hamilton endures a 60-second pit-stop during the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in 2019. An absolute eternity by any standards.


  • You'll never win anything with kids

Four of the last five Drivers' Championships have been won by men in their thirties. Granted, four of those wins were Lewis Hamilton aged 30, 32, 33, and 34, but still.

Having said that, the last driver to win the title in that decade of their life was Schumacher's seventh and final title at the age of 35 in 2004.

Sebastian Vettel to this day remains the youngest behind a wheel to win the Drivers' Championship, lifting the first of his four wins in 2010 with Red Bull aged 23 years and 134 days.

One of the really striking things about this Netflix series is just how young some of the drivers are. When you consider the speeds and the dangers - we learn of the death of young Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert at Spa in Belgium in Season Two, Episode 6 - it really makes you wonder.

Obviously these guys have been behind a wheel since they were toddlers and karting right through their youth, but when you see the baby-faced George Russell driving with Williams, it is frightening.

Motorsports: FIA Formula One World Championship 2019, Grand Prix of Japan, #63 George Russell (GBR, ROKiT Williams Racing), #88 Robert Kubica (POL, ROKiT Williams Racing), | usage worldwide

He's not the only one - other youngsters like Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon, Max Verstappen, and Charles Leclerc are not only racing but competing for podium spots.

The final episode of Season One points out that the 2019 lineup was set to be the youngest since 1950, with half of the grid aged 25 or younger.


  • Spice Up Your Life

One of the more surprising character introductions of Season Two is that of 'Ginger Spice'. Red Bull's Team Principal I mentioned earlier, Helicopter Horner, is in fact married to Geri Halliwell.

Horner is an impressive guy to be fair, and not afraid to make some big calls for the team. These include dumping the young Frenchman Pierre Gasly from his lineup and back into the Toro Rosso team, in everything but name the Red Bull Reserves.

Halliwell and Horner hop on the chopper in Season Two as the kids wave them goodbye. It's the most quintessentially rich British scene in the series, even surpassing Lewis Hamilton's joyous winning celebrations at Silverstone in the 2019 campaign - his sixth British Grand Prix win, the most by any driver in F1 history.

Horner is an avid Coventry City supporter, and with the Sky Blues sitting pretty at the top of the League One standings before the season was postponed, he will likewise be keen to get Red Bull back to the top.

Breaking that grip by Mercedes won't be easy though, and Ferrari would still consider themselves the main challengers.

Motorsports: FIA Formula One World Championship 2016, Grand Prix of Great Britain, Geri Halliwell, Christian Horner (GBR, Red Bull Racing),


  • Psychology of an F1 driver

We're told in Season One that speed is something the Swiss-French driver Romain Grosjean possesses in bucket-loads. Consistency is not.

A lack of confidence is clearly an issue for him after a number of crashes and incidents - notably one at the Belgian GP in 2016 when he took out Hamilton and Fernando Alonso among others.

Grosjean tells us he has acquired a psychologist to help him with the the mental side of being a Formula 1 driver. It's a lot of pressure being at the controls of such an expensive piece of machinery, knowing how many man-hours have gone into its construction.

Then there's the added spice of the in-fighting between drivers within teams. Loyalty doesn't really exist in this sport, and so perhaps that is why drivers don't feel the need to help out their teammate too often.

Let the other guy past because it's better for the team? You must be shitting me.

Christian Horner goes berserk in 2018 as his Red Bull drivers Ricciardo and Verstappen collide in Azerbaijan. Ricciardo ultimately moves to Renault, with Horner hinting he "ran away from a fight" with the young, exciting Dutchman Verstappen.

This kind of competition between drivers on one team is looked at in-depth in the 'Musical Chairs' episode of Season Two, as Nico Hulkenberg's Renault career draws to a close.

It's in understanding drivers and man-management where some Team Principals get it badly wrong on occasion. Haas' Guenther Steiner pans Grosjean at a dinner in Season One, and it leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.

Haas' other driver, the Dane Kevin Magnussen, is the golden child at that particular moment, only adding to the pressure on Grosjean.

Magnussen is everything you expect a Formula 1 driver to be like personality-wise - he is intense, but describes himself as not angry, just "aggressive". He is capable of lighter moments though, taking the viewers sailing off the coast of Copenhagen in Season Two.

He also describes the opening race of any F1 season for drivers as like "in Spring when they let the cows out."

(left to right) Haas' driver Kevin Magnussen, Founder and Chairman Gene Haas, Team Principal Guenther Steiner and driver Romain Grosjean during day one of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

His confidence and demeanour are in stark contrast to that of the young British-Thai driver Alexander Albon, brought in to replace Gasly at Red Bull for the final nine races of 2019.

He is quiet, reserved, and certainly shy. His back-story is one he's reluctant to open up on too much, with his mother jailed for fraud for six years a number of years ago.

Albon is instantly likeable. His mother is among his family members that come to support him at every race, and his Buddhist upbringing helps him meditate pre-race.


  • The Prancing Horse

Ferrari are the team young fans of Formula 1 really take to. It could be the red cars, the expectations of success, or the links with legendary drivers like Lauda and Schumacher.

We are introduced early on to Charles Leclerc, now 22, who ultimately moves from Ferrari-affiliated Sauber to Ferrari's top ranks alongside Vettel.

This adds pressure on Vettel's shoulders, given he already is keen to add a World Championship in red to the four he earned under the Red Bull umbrella.

There's a great scene in Season One, if only briefly, where Leclerc in his Sauber gear watches Vettel's Ferrari fly out of the pits. The youngster isn't afraid to profess his career goal of driving for the Italian giants in his career, and it all happens very quickly indeed.

Leclerc joins Scuderia Ferrari at the beginning of the 2019 season, and is very much the future for the team, with his contract running until 2024.

Mattia Binotto's team still hold the most Constructors' Championships with 15, three ahead of McLaren. Their last Drivers' Championship though was via Finland's Kimi Räikkönen - all of 13 years ago.

Leclerc is the man who will be next to bring the title back to the red paddock.


  • What about Williams? 

The team older fans of Formula 1 will always expect to say near the podium are Williams. A couple of episodes, one in each season, are dedicated mostly to the fortunes of the team who have won seven Constructors' Championships, but these days live at the back of the grid.

The legendary Frank Williams has taken a back seat in the running of the company these days, and with far less resources at their disposal than the big-boys, his daughter Claire has her hands full keeping them competitive.

She's another of the personalities in the series I found myself rooting for, and she's clearly delighted with her driving pair - young British hopeful George Russell, and Robert Kubica, the Pole who has returned from a horrific arm injury sustained in a rally crash in 2011 in Andorra.

Viewership of Formula 1 in Kubica's native Poland rose by an incredible 256% in 2019 from 2018, largely due to their star from Kraków getting back behind the wheel.

Williams had remarkable success in the 1980s and 90s, but haven't seen one of their drivers lift the World Championship since the days of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in 1996 and 1997.

An embarrassing late-show to pre-season testing, and ultimate exit from the company of Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe form the penultimate episode of Season Two, 'Blood, Sweat, and Tears.'

And although young hot-shot driver Russell complains of terrible braking and understeer troubles at Silverstone, Claire Williams ends the series on a determined high, saying her team will keep fighting no matter what.

Claire Williams chats with her father Sir Frank Williams during the practice day at Silverstone Circuit, Towcester.


  • Hamilton's Six Appeal

A lot of people don't seem to like Lewis Hamilton. Maybe it's the flash, maybe it's the fact that he transcends the sport, maybe it's jealousy.

I was admittedly uncertain about him myself before watching this series. I thought he had the air of a diva. He uses a scooter to transport himself around the pits at every race weekend. Each to their own and all that, but it annoyed me and I don't know why.

Former Irish Formula 1 driver Derek Daly jumped to his defence, speaking to Off the Ball after Hamilton secured his sixth driver's title with a win in Austin last year.

"We're talking about an unbelievable athlete at the top of his game, who doesn't show any signs of tiring from the travel and the commitments," said Daly.

"And we're all going to get the question: Is he the best ever? It's hard to have that conversation but he's certainly one of the very best we've ever had the privilege of watching."

And although some of my feelings around Hamilton didn't change as a result of watching this series - I found myself more and more in awe of his achievements.

He's an incredible driver, the best in the world at the moment. And I think as this series taught me the stories behind some of those seeking to replace him at the top, I realised just how good he had to be to fight them off.

Niki Lauda, a hero of Hamilton's and kingpin in Mercedes, once said "Winning is one thing, out of losing I almost learned more."

If that's the case Hamilton isn't getting much chance to learn at the minute as he's winning all around him - and sits just one Drivers' Championship away from equaling Schumacher.

Lauda passed away in May 2019, with his death and its impact on Mercedes also covered in this series. Hamilton is certainly doing his mentor proud on the track.


  • A satisfying finale

We all want a series to end satisfactorily, although the hope is that Formula 1: Drive To Survive will live beyond two seasons.

I wanted Season Two, Episode 10 to tie up any loose ends, á la Breaking Bad, and I wasn't left disappointed.

Max Verstappen wins the Brazilian GP 'between the lakes' at Interlagos, but it's what happens behind him that makes the episode.

Pierre Gasly, dumped from Red Bull and now with Toro Rosso, excels with his first-ever podium and a second-placed finish. Hamilton finishes third but received a penalty after the race - leading to fourth being bumped up into the podium positions.

Up steps Carlos Sainz, Jr - son of a double World Rally champion and someone who, as he attests himself, works harder than any other driver to be the best.

Driving with McLaren, the Spaniard gets his moment on the podium after the original celebrations had finished. He and his team celebrate a terrific third.

The series ends with an almost prophetic 'That's Not All That Is Coming'. Meant to refer to the impending end of unregulated spending in the sport, it could now best be attributed to the spread of COVID-19.

The virus has impacted the sporting world in many ways, including Formula 1, with the start of the 2020 season in Australia postponed.

When Season Three will be released is anyone's guess. But, if you're looking for an exciting sporting docu-series to binge-watch over the coming weeks, this is a good one to start with.

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Charles Leclerc Christian Horner Daniel Ricciardo F1 Ferrari Formula 1 Formula 1: Drive To Survive Formula One Haas Lewis Hamilton McLaren Mercedes Michael Schumacher Monza Niki Lauda Off The Ball Red Bull Renault Sebastian Vettel Shane Hannon Silverstone Valtteri Bottas Williams