Formula 1: Drive to Survive
This is a reprint of the TV essay from Issue #61 of Exploits, our collaborative cultural diary in magazine form. If you like what you see, buy it now for $2, or subscribe to never miss an issue (note: Exploits is always free for subscribers of Unwinnable Monthly).
I don’t care about Formula 1. One of my favorite shows is the Netflix F1 series Drive to Survive.
I grew up with family deep into indycar racing – grown men who would probably cry if you brought up Dale Earnhardt, who happily watch a stock car race around a lap 500 times. That’s what the 500 stands for, by the way. Racecar driving in general seems like an excuse to get drunk in public and get real nationalistic, and yet I have been sucked into the world of Formula 1 racing through Drive to Survive.
Drive to Survive follows a Netlflix documentary staple established by things like 7 Days Out – giving the viewer an intense deep dive into the behind-the-scenes moments of major events. DTS is focused on the F1 World Championship, a series of races in glitzy locales around the world. F1 is a rich person’s sport – the cars are multi-million-dollar machines with corporations behind them, some of the drivers are billionaire fail-sons whose fathers bought them legacy car makers so they’d have a team to race under. Despite the sheer quantity of money and privilege at play, the strength of the show is that it finds the humanizing elements here – the kid who’s racing in his father’s shadow, the team principal who has to do IKEA adjacent ads so his team will be able to race, the himbos who just wanna go faster than anyone else ever has before.
There’s a criticism of DTS, that it just brings fluffy drama to the serious world of F1, and it’s probably well deserved. The series is a clear and calculated move to bring in younger and more diverse viewers to this old man’s sport; F1 needs money like their cars need new tires. As crystal clear as that move is, it’s also effective – five years ago, I never would have had feelings about Formula 1. Thanks to Drive to Survive, I now know way too much about boys who just wanna go fast and the disgruntled old men who are helping them do that.