What draws the audience into this show is the drama, rivalry, power play, egos and controversies behind the scenes rather than the racetrack.
It’s a well-known fact that Indians are cricket crazy. But one show on OTT has now converted people into fans of a sport that sees men driving around in circles. Yes, Formula One. The Netflix series ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ released in 2019 and given the pandemic that has engulfed the world in the last two years, this show has taken on a life of its own. Thanks to this docuseries, F1 viewership, in the United States, for instance, was up 41% in 2021. In the UK, the series was streamed in over a million households in the first month it was released on the OTT platform.
What draws the audience into this show is the drama, rivalry, power play, egos and controversies behind the scenes rather than the racetrack. What Netflix has cleverly done is package a sport into a high-octane reality show bringing out the individual personalities of the drivers and team management. Despite the fact that sport is extremely intense physically and technologically, the producers focused on the drivers, their bosses and their lives outside the racetrack. And the fact that most of the drivers are young, good-looking and highly likeable also added to the show’s popularity.
But the 2021 F1 was possibly the most unforgettable one of the last few years with Max Verstappen fighting for his first World Championship and Lewis Hamilton trying to win a record-breaking eighth title. The controversial Abu Dhabi GP saw a new World Champion emerge. Did Verstappen deserve to win? Was Hamilton robbed of his title? Season 4 of Drive to Survive, which dropped on March 11, takes us behind the scenes once again highlighting the raging tension between Red Bull and Mercedes.
Watching this docuseries has created not just more F1 fans but fans who have developed clear favourites based on what happens off the track. Lando Norris goofing off and playing golf; Daniel Ricciardo pranking people; Roscoe, Hamilton’s pet bulldog, accompanying him to the paddock; and Alex Albon’s mother, who has served jail-time, appearance in the series makes for exciting viewing for the audience.
So on the one hand, while Drive to Survive is creating ripples and has turned into an entertaining series, on the other, not all F1 drivers are on board with how Netflix has packaged the docuseries. Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen are two drivers who have vocally expressed their disappointment with the show, allegedly stating that aspects of it feel fake. Unfortunately, the hard truth is that reality shows need drama and controversies to get the average audience hooked onto it and this docuseries seems to be made keeping this in mind. The idea seems to be to create an interest in F1 and capitalise on the fanbase that already exists. Viewers already get to see the faces on television and the docuseries simply has to go beyond that.
Come March 20, the 2022 F1 season kicks off in Bahrain and all eyes are on 24 year-old Verstappen and 37 year-old Hamilton. Though Mercedes won the Constructors Championship last year, Hamilton will be fighting hard to win back the world championship title this year. This real-life drama is set for an even more exciting season this year and while the drivers will fight hard to survive, the audience will root hard for their favourites.