It is not live television, it is not reality television, and it is also not a wholly dramatized series; Drive To Survive (DTS) is a unique television experience. A round-up of a season of Formula One, with some heart; it’s a bit of everything, but more than anything else, it is a show with some sense of self-awareness. It humanizes the people in this motorsport business and for what it’s worth, has been credited with a burgeoning fan following for the drivers, the teams, and their personnel within a community of people who don’t quite follow the races, but are invested in the sport via the show.
For the uninitiated, Drive To Survive is an episodic docu-drama series covering the events from the recently concluded season of Formula One. Running in its third season, with a script that was largely out of control for everyone to predict (cause sports), most of the show is fleshed out on the editing table. The creators (Box To Box Films) use the footage recorded from the course of the season panning multiple races across countries and their highlights to create a non-chronological timeline of events that concern the action on the ground as well as dictate the future of these drivers and teams. This is interspersed with comments from the drivers, their team principals, journalists, and billionaire team owners.
The show has created ripples among the fans of the sport and has renewed interest in the politics and the dynamics of how the world of Formula One looks like. It is not incorrect to say that Drive To Survive is most certainly one of the more important television events to have marked the intersection between creating drama and watching the sport as a whole, even if it means they edit out a whole team and their change of administration, an arc they previously covered across season 1 and 2, to conveniently whitewash the portions they were probably not allowed to talk about in this season. I’m looking at you, the new administration of Williams Racing.
In a way, the show offers a different point of view to the fans of the sport, especially when they have seen the things play out live, during the action-packed races. While taking into account that most of these races are played on the circuits, the making of the show and the narrative is in a controlled studio space. If you’re a hardcore Formula One fan, you do know that a lot of this is edited footage to support a narrative the show is trying to point out, while the others seem to really lap on the drama (all puns always intended). That may be the most redeeming or the damning factor about the series, depending on where you see it from.
Most of these episodes are edited with a story arc in mind. In some cases, the story features the history of a team and their car design and how they are accused of foul play, and in the others, it’s about the distinction between the treatment that the two drivers seem to receive from their team boss and principal.
Drive To Survive 3, since the first trailer drop, has been touted as the “best season yet” and for a good measure. If the first two seasons were about whetting the appetite of non-fans and introducing those who had no relation to the motorsport whatsoever to the sport as it exists today, then the third season goes above and beyond to address the old fans and complex politics and relations between these teams, their owners and drivers, especially as they look forward to driving in a year which itself was unique in the history of motorsports. With COVID-19 looming over the world, the first episode starts with everyone within the Formula One community going ahead with their pre-season testing and no safety-protocols in place, which is soon marked with the garage members of McLaren being tested positive and the races being cancelled just days before.
With RedBull Racing (RBR) trying to dominate the grid and compete with Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1, the plot about finding an appropriate second driver in RBR continues, from the previous season. As Pierre Gasly dominates the season with Scuderia AlphaTauri (RBR's B-team), he looks longingly at RedBull, hoping to be rewarded for his consistent effort and work. He finds his redemption at the historic Monza circuit in Italy after winning the race as an underdog. Having been demoted in the previous season to the AlphaTauri (previously Torro Rosso), Pierre has eyes on the goal as he challenges Alex Albon on the track, week after week.
Meanwhile, the prancing horses and the long legacy of Scuderia Ferrari are challenged, after what is deemed to be one of the worse performing season for them in decades. Internally, while Ferrari denies having a number 1 and number 2 driver between the team, it is an episode where one can see the struggles of Ferrari parallel to the struggles of the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Even though I'm not a Ferrari fan, this was difficult to stomach and I was flinching throughout, until the end (which, if you know, you know) for a sweet, sweet revenge surprise.
Between the teams and their internal troubles, there is some sense of groups and ganging up against the former Sahara Force India, now Racing Point, headed by billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll. The drama about Racing Point stealing the car design from Mercedes continued for months through the last season and is summarized in the form of complaints by other team principals on the grid through Drive To Survive and is covered with a 180-degree view of the situation, with other teams and their position on "Pink Mercedes" explicitly put together as a form of a petition to the FIA.
The episode featuring Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas is poignant, as he takes the viewers through what it feels like to constantly be compared and measured against the seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton. It is perhaps one of the more heartbreaking episodes (setting the mood for the Ferrari heartbreaks soon after) and your heart goes out to the person fighting to drive for his position and earning respect within the paddock. I recall seeing the insult for Bottas in a comment section on the eve of the Sochi GP, right after the qualifying race, and thinking if it was brutal or about time to be pointed out. I also recall reading that Bottas himself had retaliated to the hate comment. Seeing the episode the way it plays out and watching Bottas’ redemption is truly one of the winning highlights from the show. Juxtaposed with that is Lewis talking about racing and losing friends, of his years against his teammate and best friend Nico Rosberg, who won the championship from under his nose in 2016 and proceeded to retire. This episode humanizes the team and their drivers, something the internet fails to do. It takes a lot to make winners and victory doesn’t come easy, a fact Mercedes’ episode highlights rather well.
The recurring characters in Guenther and Haas' miserable performance continue, as does Daniel Ricciardo’s change of team drama with his sense of humour while trying to keep his relationship with Renault’s team principal intact. Some sense of disappointment for those who watch the show for the show’s sake is that the previous two seasons and their characters are somehow foreshadowed by the presence of ruggedly handsome Toto Wolff (Do I look athletic? Dynamic? Intelligent?), Otmar Szafnauer, Zak Brown, Cyril Abiteboul and Christian Horner, and you don’t see the other recurring characters including Alex Albon's mother, who could get you sufficiently drunk in the previous season if you were to do a shot at each time she looked nervous during a race.
As someone who followed the complete season and each race, watching the drivers and the teams as a whole go out without masks in the first episode and have regular interactions (side hugs, handshakes, etc) was a bit anxiety-inducing business, that eventually fixed itself from the second episode as everyone starts sporting the mask and practicing the safe distancing protocols. There is a very evident chronological attempt at piecing together the big highlights from last season and yet, Drive To Survive fails short of attempting that level of perfection.
Among the noted absentees, Williams racing team’s principal and their story is the most talked-about bit that is eliminated from this season. There is a notable absence of the Turkish GP, and Sakhir GP highlights, which marked a brutal end for George Russell in Mercedes, along with the general absence of Daniil Kvyat, Nicholas Latifi, and Russell himself. More disappointing is the fact that Nikita Mazepin and George Russell had equal screen time when in fact the latter had an intriguing season especially with his first points in. I wouldn’t call Kimi Räikkönen an absentee because his 30 seconds of total footage in this season is as much of participation as we can expect from him. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen’s involvement in the first two seasons versus this season seems a wee bit disappointing, but cannot say I didn’t see it coming, simply since Grosjean’s accident and brush with the fire became a bigger arc than him and K-Mag losing their seat together.
What surprised me, despite following the season closely, is the coldness from Giovinazzi’s end towards Mick Schumacher and seeing a competitive streak between the Haas F1 team and Alfa Romeo. Certainly, this hasn’t been covered enough or talked widely at least on F1 Twitter and r/FormulaDank, but I hope to see this incoming in the season which starts next week from Bahrain. For all we know, it’s manufactured on the edit table, and that it’s not entirely true, but it was great to see Giovinazzi acquiring some screen time (and much-needed personality), which is usually occupied by everyone else, and in his team, by the infamous coldness of his teammate Räikkönen.
There are a whole lot of bloopers, and even some fictional element to the show. Among them, Daniel’s footage with Esteban’s feet, Lando’s radio message for Perez highlighted as a form of rivalry between him and Carlos stand out. Fairly certain, in the next coming week, we’ll notice more when we revisit. However, given the restrictions to shoot and the conditions the sport had in order for things to fall in place, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Drive To Survive 3 is made of 10 whole episodes, and each of them has juicy bits, as opposed to repetition like the previous seasons and forcefully drawn plots. There’s more to appreciate this season than ever, and yet it falls short of perfection. Drive To Survive 3 would perhaps make for a good midfield team if nothing more.
Some of the other interesting touches for me included the quiet farewell to Claire Williams in her chat with Guenther Steiner, as a matter-of-fact conversation where she was seen asking him for a job (funny). There’s a polite addition in a blink and you miss the appearance from Daniil Kvyat as the Russian national anthem plays on in Sochi during episode 3. In Ferrari’s episode, Charles Leclerc getting schooled on not using the cell phone and the edit in the next scene showing him on his phone was emblematic of bigger things— all drivers are equal to the team but some drivers are more equal than the other.
There’s a lot to be said and a lot to be absorbed in the coming days, especially with the 2021 race season leading to a massive change in the team orders with new additions in drivers line-up and principal change (Cyril’s the second hottest team principal after Toto, fight me if you think otherwise). However, those who didn’t follow the 2020 race season in Formula One, know not what they have missed. For them, this is quality television, the best of sports documentaries in slick edits, and perhaps, their only interest within the world. However, for the ones who worship the sport and follow it relentlessly, Drive To Survive 3 has been disappointing, despite actually putting up a decent show in comparison to the previous seasons.
In the words of a great Mexican race driver who found himself a seat next to Max Verstappen for next season, “Life is not fair at all. Neither is Formula One.”