Netflix ‘F1: Drive to Survive’ Season 5 Is Now the Best Racing Telenovela
Five seasons deep, the soap opera retelling of F1 has finally found a nice balance of outright drama and compelling behind-the-scenes action.
It’s here, everyone. Our favorite dramatic retelling of the past Formula 1 season recently hit Netflix. After the strange twists and turns of the previous Formula 1: Drive to Survive, I hunkered down before my TV over the weekend and prepared to consume the latest chapter in the racing entertainment equivalent of Doritos. This is what we all were waiting for—and it was actually half decent.
Here’s the deal: Being five seasons deep, DTS has arguably done what it needed to do. It introduced F1 to an entirely new legion of American fans and has almost singlehandedly mainstreamed the esoteric, ultra-rich, and very not-American sport. Now, it’s in a weird no-persons land of having a dedicated audience of people who have watched the previous F1 season or are at least aware of it.
Now it needs to supplant the spectacle of F1, not introduce it. And season 4 failed pretty handily at that, with its outright bizarre storylines in vilifying Lando Norris, apologizing for Nikita Mazepin being an asshole, and allowing Toto Wolff to don a black turtleneck. Season 5, however, sprinkles some leafy greens into that bowl of Doritos and actually is a great watch.
Instead of making stuff up, it offers new knowledge that even the most hardcore of F1 fans (like me) didn’t even know. Right off the bat, the DTS hot mic picked up Max Verstappen saying that his teammate Sergio Pérez “has a fat ass.” You won’t catch that in any post-race coverage.
But actually, there are some seriously great moments throughout the season. Episode one begins with a cute bro date in the Italian wine country between former Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto and Haas boss Guenther Steiner in which the two men are shoulder-to-shoulder in a Fiat Cinquecento. Binotto apparently grows wine in his free time. But the rest of the episode quickly turns into the prerequisite Haas episode, which satisfyingly glazes over Mazepin’s firing from Haas and celebrates Kevin Magnussen’s return to the grid.
It gets real in episode two, which chronicles the struggle of the formerly dominant Mercedes-AMG F1 team. Depending on who you were a fan of when Abu Dhabi 2021 happened, this episode will be depressing or sweet comeuppance for you. But the best part of it isn’t the look at Mercedes' underperformance, frankly, it’s mostly things we knew already. The best part was the footage from the meeting of all the team principals with F1 management.
While all of it clearly wasn’t shown, seeing Wolff tell the other team principals “I will come after you” in regards to porpoising, a phenomenon that Mercedes particularly struggled with, was top-shelf comedy. Even better were the patronizing and combative responses from the other team principals. At the end of the day, F1 team principals are also man-children, and it was the best drama of the entire season.
Episode three then turned to the story of how Ferrari managed to have one of the fastest cars they’ve ever built struggle to finish second in 2022. The tone was strange, definitely apologetic to Ferrari, and missed a lot of the lows we saw as fans during the season. For those who remember, it seemed Ferrari would always find a way to screw up. For DTS, the story is told through the perspective of the defensive Binotto, while Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were clearly given a short leash for interviews. Stick around for the shots of Binotto looking away from the pit wall during difficult moments and only to find a DTS camera pointed right at him.
There isn’t much to dwell on for the fourth and fifth episodes as it's one of the few that makes a mountain of an anthill. It tries to make Mick Schumacher’s struggle to get points seem colossal, but with the omission of Alex Albon for the series it feels like a bit of a waste of time, while episode five spends too much time with Otmar Szafnauer, including an unbelievably forced scene between him and Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi. What is better is episode six, which dives deep into the Oscar Piastri drama between Alpine and McLaren.
The holy grail: footage of McLaren boss Zak Brown and newly minted Alpine boss Szafnauer in an apparently clandestine meeting where Szafnauer threatens to sue Piastri over a $5 million “unjust enrichment” for jumping ship to McLaren. It’s clear that the DTS producers knew the meeting would happen, though the hot mic is clearly from some distance away. It is downright incredible to hear.
Nothing much else happens for episode seven’s chronicle of Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez, while episode eight is a nice detour into Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda’s utter bromance for each other. It isn’t the standout classic Tsunoda episode of season four, but it's nice to see. It all gets very spicy for the ninth episode: the Red Bull budget cap drama. It gets pretty good, with some insider looks into the fallout of Red Bull overspending during the 2021 season, including parts of a meeting between the FIA President and Red Bull boss Christian Horner. This is the stuff that is worth watching.
Episode ten wraps it all up, giving me a chance to breathe and reflect on the fact that I sat in my room for over six hours straight with a wonderfully kind Daniel Ricciardo tribute, which is around the time I realized Sebastian Vettel, Alex Albon, Nicholas Latifi, and Valtteri Bottas basically didn’t exist in this season.
But you know what, this season is good. Sure, it’s still cheap brain food, and the neural passageways I’m accessing are largely the same as the ones I use for shitty reality TV, but this is entertainment folks. Just lay back, enter a deep trance, and consume.
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