‘Drive To Survive’ season 6 is entertaining but leaves a lot on the table

5 minutes, 42 seconds Read
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Drive To Survive is back for its sixth season on Netflix, and per usual, it’s a mixed bag of good and bad. Like we’ve become accustomed to, hardcore Formula 1 fans will be cringing at the racing, radio commentary, much of the pundit interjections and the staged/dramatized scenes. That said, there’s a lot of genuine behind-the-scenes footage you won’t ever see on a race broadcast those same hardcore fans can stay engaged with over the course of 10 episodes.

The first episode kicks off with what is arguably the prettiest and most compelling scene from a cinematography standpoint with Lando Norris popping around Monaco in his Fiat 500 Giardiniera pickup. It’s the sort of feel-good scene that makes you want to settle in for the next 10 episodes of what many might consider one of the most boring Formula 1 seasons in recent memory – Max Verstappen won 19 of the 23 races. It was a Red Bull rout, though Red Bull fans won’t see much of it in this season of “Drive To Survive,” as the docuseries spends most of its time chronicling the fight for the midfield and the pursuit to not be last. It’s hard to blame the show much for that. Watching Max win every race in real-time got plenty monotonous, and we didn’t need to see it all happen again on Netflix.

What did receive a lot of air time was the nearly two-episode Alpine feature that went in deep on Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and the short leash Otmar Szafnauer suffered from, having been fired partway through the season. Learning about the motivations of drivers, their personal histories and why particular rivalries within teams might exist is one of the benefits of “Drive To Survive’s” existence. It’s also a potential point of contention.

When Netflix spends so much time diving into a certain angle of the season, that inevitably means other storylines get left out. It’s not the case for every circumstance, but some of the controversies left out are ones that might paint Formula 1 in a poor light. A big one was the heat disaster that Qatar was last year. Lance Stroll reported passing out mid-corner from exhaustion; Esteban Ocon threw up in his helmet, and drivers needed medical attention after getting out of the car. It was not a pretty scene post-race, but we didn’t hear a single mention of it on Netflix. Also, coincidentally in Qatar, despite the whole (first) episode devoted to Aston Martin’s standout performance in 2023, we saw nothing of Stroll later shoving his trainer out of frustration after a string of poor performances. Instead, we got to learn plenty about Lawrence Stroll, the owner of Aston Martin who was promptly compared to “Succession’s” Logan Roy on social media – it fits.

Viewing the show came with some of its own awkward moments if you’ve kept up with the biggest news going around the paddock in the off-season. Netflix royally drummed up the controversy around whether or not Lewis would stick it out with Mercedes. That segment ends with a happy Toto Wolff and Lewis confirming that he’s signing with Mercedes for two more years, but not long ago, Hamilton’s departure to Ferrari for 2025 was made public. It makes some of the dialogue in the show about Lewis’ contract feel more like a stab at comedy than serious drama as a result – that’s still fun viewing, but it sure does put a damper on the angle Netflix chose to take.

The same can be said for Christian Horner’s awkward moment with his wife, kids and Santa Claus. Horner is asked if he was “good” this year, and while he’s reportedly been cleared by Red Bull of any inappropriate behavior, it sure is a line that’ll make your jaw drop knowing the context.

And lastly, this one has to make Netflix extra sad, the season-spanning drama about whether or not Guenther Steiner will stick with Haas or quit is pretty hollow knowing that Haas went ahead and sacked him after the season anyway. Steiner’s been one of the most popular figures on the show, so it’ll be a real loss, though perhaps now we’ll be spared from any more phone conversations between Gene Haas and himself cursing (literally and constantly) their bad luck.

The pundits that narrated this latest season are almost all new, though Mr. Obvious Will Buxton carries over and continues to be Mr. Obvious – the memes just write themselves at this point. Danica Patrick makes a surprise appearance in what feels like a bid to the large American audience of the show. Patrick’s commentary certainly had the potential to be good considering all of her experience and success in racing IndyCar and NASCAR, but it ultimately left us with the same feeling as Buxton’s. On the other hand, Claire Williams, ex-team principal for Williams was a fantastic addition to the team and outshone her partner pundits by adding true substance to the conversation as a result of her having run a Formula 1 team for as long as she did. We’d love to see her back on the show for the next season, perhaps with even greater screen time.

The biggest criticisms of the season are what they’ve always been, so don’t expect them to fix the bizarre radio transmission snippets, non-sensical jump-cuts between races or just flat-out misleading ordering of events – Liam Lawson’s entry to the Alpha Tauri team was especially egregious from that angle, making us feel like his first race was the ninth place points finish in Singapore instead of his 13th place at Zandvoort. Those are all the elements that hardcore fans of the sport need to soldier/laugh through in order to enjoy the otherwise fun banter and behind-closed-doors conversations between drivers you would’ve never been privy to prior to Netflix’s series.

If you’re wondering if this season is worth watching – and according to the metrics, many still are because viewership is significantly down this season versus the previous one – season six is still totally worth the time for both casual and more serious fans of the sport. It’s more cinematic and compellingly shot than ever before; many of the driver and team features (Williams’ James Vowles and Ferrari’s Fred Vasseur are especially fun watches) will teach you something about the characters you didn’t know before. And while the show definitely comes across as a Formula 1 commercial at times, it’s not all fluff and promotion. 

We’ll be looking forward to next season once the 2024 championship is over, and speaking of, make sure you check out our season preview to see what might be awaiting us for when the lights go out in Bahrain this weekend.

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