The highly anticipated second season of Netflix’s Drive to Survive has been released on the eve of the 2020 Formula One season, and while it built on the first entry 12 months ago, the nonlinear arcs and narrative-serving fact-bending remain tough to palate for diehard supporters.
The contrived plots of season one are dialled down, yet short of being abandoned, it remains unrepresentative of the reality, over-emphasising surface-level rivalries and often casting individuals in an antagonistic light without any context.
A case in point is the second episode detailing Haas’ struggles throughout 2019. Its portrayal of team principal Guenther Steiner – who garnered something of a cult status courtesy of his eccentric depiction in season one as a relentlessly expletive-prone maniac threatening to dismiss personnel at any given moment, alongside its ill-fated partnership with Rich Energy – lets a good story get in the way of the truth.
While the outfit endured some self-inflicted setbacks, the termination of the sponsorship had little to do with on-track performances. The notion that it was Rich Energy’s mysterious owner, William Storey – who inexplicably features in the episode despite his previously reclusive status – who instigated the separation belies the reality that the latter owed the team tens of millions.
These faux dramas are undoubtedly aimed at prospective fans, and the uptake in casual onlookers becoming full-time supporters on the back of the first season was undeniable. This trend will almost certainly continue once (if the Coronavirus doesn’t intervene) the racing resumes in under a fortnight, so from this sense the series has served its purpose.
Insights provided by several teams – some returning from season one such as Haas, others opening their doors for the first time, namely Mercedes – offer a fascinating and at times compelling contrast in explaining how they find themselves in their respective positions in the pecking order, exhibiting the lows and highs of life on the grind.
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Having not featured last season, the German manufacturer’s decision to open its doors to producers coincided with its disastrous display on home soil at Hockenheim. Yet it was in this rare instance of disappointment that it quickly became apparent why the outfit has swept all 12 titles on offer since 2014.
Beneath the immense frustration of messing up in front of stakeholders at their most important race of the season, personnel – led by team principal Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton, who went on to claim his sixth crown – exhibit rational behaviour acknowledging individual errors and moving on, rather than festering over a blip on the radar with the larger picture in mind.
Another operation that didn’t feature last season, Ferrari, had much potential, but like their championship efforts, the episode is a damp squib. This is primarily by virtue of the primary access granted by the Maranello outfit occurring at Austin, which culminated in failure, and with both drivers already out of title contention.
Even so, Netflix barely touched on the qualifying dramas on home soil at Monza, which ramped up intra-team tensions and shows little of the friction caused by its strategy at Singapore.
Instead they focus more intently on Russia – where perhaps ironically, Ferrari squandered a 1-2 through another polarising strategic call, despite the central theme of the episode being the notion of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc coming to increasingly frequent loggerheads with each other.
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On a general level, key components of the season are melded from how it actually happened to serve each episode’s arc, with other moments glossed over even when they’re significant in the context of the championship fight.
Some of the episodes do feel a little like filler material, though they’re arguably more intimate when they follow several drivers away from the forefront of contention, such as Carlos Sainz and the pitfalls of shopping in a foreign land.
One aspect that is done well is in respect to Anthoine Hubert’s tragic passing in the F2 race at Belgium and the effect this had particularly the younger drivers who had competed alongside the Frenchman.
Will Buxton’s narrative became more grating as the season developed, culminating in an extremely partisan gleeful remark in regards to chief technical officer Paddy Lowe’s acrimonious departure from Williams. It can be suspected that he has the toe the party line as the series’ mouthpiece to incite drama and as Formula One’s resident paddock reporter.
From a purely fan perspective, the content itself is bliss and light years removed from the relatively recent Bernie Ecclestone era, yet there’s no escaping the reality that the series remains a recruitment tool rather than a hardcore delve into the critical junctures of a Formula One season.
With a little tinkering and greater transparency from certain teams there’s a lot more potential, but we should be grateful for the access we have received, and if nothing else what it does very well is whet the appetite for the year ahead.
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