Documentaries are not everybody’s cup of tea. Documentaries trying to balance the scale between fact and fiction are certainly not for the masses. Yet, Drive To Survive on Netflix found the popularity and the reasons to grab the eyeballs. Being touted as responsible for bringing a new generation of the audience to the highest level of motorsport, the series was conceived keeping in mind attracting the American audience to the elite world of Formula One.
Four seasons later, Drive To Surive has managed to piss everyone off.
The young fans hate it because the drama is “manufactured” and “unreal”, despite the drivers themselves claiming otherwise on their interview. The old fans hate it because there is no need to bring Netflix to their niche world; gatekeeping is still a big thing in the world of sports. Cinema and TV fans hate it cause wtf are these cars going in a circle and why should they give a fuck about Hamilton and Max and anyway, who are these people and why should they care? Even the cinephiles hate it, “everything looks so made up… It’s fake”.
Then, why am I here? Why are you here?
My worlds intersect at Drive To Survive. The thrill of watching a sports documentary that I understand without anyone needing to explain things meets the sport I actually give a shit about; what’s not to like?
The series itself is conceived at the intersectionality of fiction, documentation, and dramatic editing. There is a lot of drama, but at the same time, there is an incredible amount of footage at play and the editing suite used to manipulate that. If an average season of F1 includes 20+ races, Drive To Survive is expected to carry out footage from most, if not all. If you’re working with a maximum of 3–4 camera set up, like Box To Box Films (the creative team behind DTS) does, then that’s a bit of a gamble. What if the camera is on a team that does nothing spectacular but the other team in the narrative does something big? You miss the footage.
Season 3 drew immense criticism for that reason, why wasn’t George Russell’s Sakhir stint in Mercedes covered? Why were portions from a different race edited to look like they were a part of some other race? Why were Esteban’s racing shoes shown during a clip about Daniel (implying that the feet on screen were Daniel’s)?
You won’t get those answers unless you’ve edited a project of this scale or seen enough documentaries to know that logging hours of footage with nearly the same content isn’t easy. The fourth season has gotten terrible mass reception, while those involved in the series were all praises. I understand both perspectives, not necessarily agree with the criticism of Drive to Survive being staged or “dramatized” for eyeballs in this season at least. Of all their attempts, this is by far the closest to the actual season that played out.
It’s conceived to be a docu-drama series; the sit-down interviews will be serious and look staged and the footage will be edited to look dramatic. The series will look “made up” unless you know what you’re watching and most fans watching this haven’t touched the grass, both from the perspective of making a documentary or making fiction.
Among the folks to look out this time are Susie Wolff and Yuki Tsunoda. In times of adversity and talking about the teams and competitors, Mrs Wolff showed immense calmness and made sense. I was also extremely grateful for the introduction given to her, not once was she listed as “Toto Wolff’s spouse” and instead given the label: ROKiT Venturi Racing Formula -E Team Principal. She brought great composure while not mincing her words and that tact is why I feel she’s the real star of the season.
Meanwhile, Tsunoda and Tost’s portion was a great insight into the equation with the rookie at Alpha Tauri. Their relationship was under scrutiny when Tsunoda lost his cool at the team during a radio call after a crash, and he insinuated that there were different cars and systems for him and Gasly. While that specific portion was not included in the series, the aftermath of him being sent to live in Italy followed and that was a refreshing take from the amount of “pushing” every other driver typically seemed to put in their training in contrast with Tsunoda looking visibly bored.
That’s the single most exciting thing about this season’s editing for me- there is no sugar coating. If CarLando’s rivalry last season was insinuated via Will Buxton’s narrative interview, then this season the question on Ricciardo and Norris’ relationship was addressed with social media narrative peddling and directly asking Norris. He doesn’t mince his words and for once the team at DTS tries to give an objective telling without bending to please one driver over the other. However, this plot has again been criticized cause the audience and the fans watching this in real-time seem to have forgotten that their relationship has presently improved but they did not start out on good terms.
The top cringe contender of this season is tied between Christian Horner and Will Buxton. While I understand that you cannot tell a team principal to behave in a certain way and “stage” their responses, Horner himself does that; it seems forced with the way he dials up the rage and mutters “shut up” and “fuck off” around Hamilton and Wolff on TV. While Mercedes’ folks live in his head rent-free but even for a man like him, there has to be a place where he stops to look inwards and thinks he’s talking shit deliberately each time the camera is around. Horner is also into fetishizing the driver with their physicality and looks instead of treating them as sportspeople and judging them on their performance. Time and again, Horner draws reference to the “looks” of the driver, even when he talks about the issues between Ricciardo and Norris and implies that Ricciardo might have an issue with Norris and one of the many reasons for that is the good looks of Norris (?).
Buxton, on the other hand, is the KING of patronizing dialogues. I get it, the series is addressed to an audience that knows little about the sport but four seasons in, if the new audience is watching it now, they’d be smart enough to understand “one point” increase means “one place” increase in the constructors standing. To what extent can you generalize and simplify a sport that is already been presented to the viewer as a documentary, is beyond me. In the first episode, while Buxton tries to act cool, he does show that even the journalists are looking to amp up the heat and the competition, which can look a bit demonizing if you see those interviews from Team LH’s lens, aka the fanbase of Lewis Hamilton. He may not have the intention, but he straight up antagonizes against Mercedes, and was uncalled for, unless, you’re David Coulthard and being asked to be a “journalist”.
I enjoyed the bits on drivers being chatty and their portions interspersed through the series, trying to lighten through the intense situation between Mercedes and RedBull battle out till the final. This season was also a relief from repetitive shots and slow zooms (barring a few reaction shots that were duplicated). In all, this season of Drive To Survive is not high on fictional drama but more on literal documentation of the season, and while this has upset the ”DTS Fans” and “Non-DTS Fans” alike, I for one am curious to see what they bring out next season.
The series is available for streaming on Netflix in India.
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