OPINION: ‘Drive to Survive’ is not for all racing fans

Season 6 of the Netflix-exclusive docuseries “Drive to Survive” revs up the excitement for many Formula 1 fans as the 2024 season is well underway, but unfortunately, while the show delivers in some areas, it lacks in several others. 

As an avid fan of Formula 1 and motorsports as a whole, I generally find myself prepared to be a very picky and harsh critic, focused on the details of the racing elements whenever a new racing-related show or movie appears. Such was the case with “Gran Turismo” (which I did not enjoy), but with the newest iteration of “Drive to Survive,” I did not have to be any of those – and not because I was immersed in the show — but instead because the false narratives it created stood right out. 

A long ongoing critique of DTS, and one which holds up just as good (or bad) in this season, is its tendency to sensationalize events and conflicts for the sake of entertainment. While drama is a natural part of any sport and especially modern day F1, the series often prioritizes narrative arcs over authenticity, which leads to moments that feel exaggerated, contrived and outright misrepresented.  

As usual, the storytelling in DTS appears great on surface level, and for newer fans I can see why the show is perfect in capturing the celebrity-side of the sport. Right from the first episode, the two newest Grands Prix introduced in the United States, Las Vegas and Miami, are given glamor and portrayed as massive party places – which they sadly were. Along its wider push of becoming the staple motorsport in the States, Formula 1 has not only increased its races here but also much of its marketing efforts has shifted westward as well. This is consistent with the fact that Formula 1 previously used the Indy-exclusive tagline “Greatest Spectacle of Racing” to promote its US-based races, a stunt which was rightfully met with much backlash from its IndyCar counterpart. While yes, the show is great, many fans (myself included) feel that F1 is sacrificing its once awesome racing, which should always remain its top priority, to instead maximize its pop culture and appeal to celebrities. 

Having watched every F1 race in 2023 from the formation to the flag, I can confidently say DTS has downplayed many of the racing narratives – and “downplayed” is generous, actually. Granted, they did have to squeeze in 22 race weekends into just 10 episodes, but to brief over on things like Carlos Sainz’s Grand Prix win in Singapore, the only non-Red Bull Racing team win all season, and Oscar Piastri’s Sprint Race win in Qatar, again the only non-Red Bull Racing team win all season (but this time for Sprints), feels very criminal. Accordingly, I feel that the show focused on some of the wrong stories and there were far better angles to approach, with the exception of episode 3 featuring my beloved McLaren, of course. 

But the number one gripe throughout this show that almost made it too difficult to sit through is the unbelievably and blatantly misplaced radio messages between drivers and their pit wall. I could count numerous instances of this plaguing every episode, and especially when they are thrown in at the beginning of races, where it is dead silence for ultimate diver focus. It really makes you think just how far Netflix goes to doctor elements in its episodes while many better, real ones already exist. None of this made for a better show; it was purely cringe worthy. 

My favorite episode from the season would have to be “Under Pressure,” but that’s probably because I’m a biased, diehard McLaren motorsports fan, and even more so a Lando Norris fan. In my humble opinion, I think there should be “Drive to Survive: Lando Norris,” an exactly similar documentary to the current DTS we have, but instead all ten episodes are about Norris. 

Put together, despite its problems and cliches, “Drive to Survive” undeniably does well in capturing the drama and the emotional side of the motorsport. If you’re watching to learn about the sport, you’re in the completely wrong place to do so. But if you’re in it for the action and thrill, DTS has got lots to offer.