Drive To Survive Season 6 Actually Has Some Substance

By automotive-mag.com 9 Min Read

It’s the inspiration or the ire of the motorsports world: Formula 1: Drive to Survive is back for its sixth season of drama, haphazard editing, and juicy paddock gossip. New storylines, new faces, and a particularly spectacular year of off-track drama means that season six had all the tools needed to succeed. With the biggest asterisk possible, the newest season nails what a rinse-and-repeat DTS should look like. It’s just not entirely what race fans might want.

To be clear, DTS has never been about appealing to hardcore race fans, and despite criticisms about the aggressive recutting of dialog and team radio, nothing much has changed there. If anything, DTS‘s focus on what an actual race weekend looks like has only gotten foggier, with confusing jumpcuts to different races at will, and generous reuse of exasperated communications from drivers during races.

Oh, and of course, the talking heads are back and better than ever. Will Buxton makes a return saying Incredibly Obvious Things, but two new people make a debut as season-long commentators: Claire Williams, former team principal of Williams, and Danica Patrick, former professional driver and racing commentator. With that primed, season six is sure to be a journey.

The Hits

Beyond the strange editing that is now trademark DTS, season six really hits its stride with off-track action. The F1 paddock has gone through the full cycle with Netflix’s ever-observant eyes and ears: The first season was a genuinely candid capture of the drama and politics of F1. The middle seasons were missing some critical figures because the first season’s depiction of F1 put some PR teams on edge, while the last two seasons have been wielded as a promotional tool. That shift in attitude has also changed DTS.

Now, those hot-mic scenes aren’t so candid anymore. Highly secretive meetings between major paddock figures (Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton discussing his move to Ferrari, for example) are now fully staged at the apparent request of the teams. Usually, this would be very annoying, but the teams have signed on to some degree of looseness and fun, not strangling their leaders and drivers into PR drones. Team principles talk their shit, and the drivers who have some personality shine through.

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Two standouts were James Vowles and Lando Norris. Vowles was somehow more charming and likable than he already is, and spoke openly about Williams’ struggles as a back-of-the-pack team. Meanwhile, Norris was just a hilarious figure for the entire season.

The first episode centered around Aston Martin’s shock surge to the front of the pack, which was mostly a commercial for the Stroll family. Keen F1 fans will remember that Lance Stroll broke his wrist in a pre-season cycling accident and almost missed the Bahrain season opener. Against the odds, he made it. In a scene where he, Norris, and Carlos Sainz meet during the race weekend, Norris drops the best line of the entire season: “Can you wank yet?” He also regularly breaks the fourth wall and looks into Netflix’s cameras like he’s Jenna Fischer from The Office.

Some episodes hit the mark. Episode two centers around the saga of Nyck de Vries, who got ousted halfway through the season to shoehorn Daniel Ricciardo back into F1. Scenes where de Vries’ confidence immediately gets the better of him show a different story to the narrative fans have known for nearly a year. The following episode covers McLaren and has a few high-pressure scenes with team boss Zak Brown getting grilled by McLaren board members and shareholders.

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In fact, the entire first half of the season is strong. It’s where the series’ storytelling is at its best, diving deep, and actually offering a look at what fans can’t see during the race season. And it also has to be said that there’s a new level of comedic timing coming from DTS‘s editors that keep the human-centric parts entertaining. But where it falls a bit flatter is the racing-centric second half.

The Misses

OK, the editing and timelines for races is unacceptably bad. It’s confusing for a hardcore F1 fan like myself and often inaccurate. For example, an episode is dedicated to the saga of Liam Lawson standing in for Daniel Ricciardo after he broke his wrist at Zandvoort. Instead of showing the logical, and more exciting prospect of Lawson getting the call to race with a moment’s notice, the editors smash cut from Zandvoort to Singapore and try to depict Singapore as Lawson’s first F1 race.

Then, of course, the generous application of out-of-place team radio is stronger than ever. I think I heard Sergio Pérez say the same string of curse words every time he was on screen. DTS went even harder on radio chatter, adding much more general banter in places where it has no business being. DTS also didn’t tackle some of the recent post-season developments of Lewis Hamilton moving to Ferrari or Christian Horner’s investigation into yet unnamed allegations. And also, Horner’s Santa Clause scene with his family was the stuff of hilarious nightmares.

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Drive to Survive – Netflix

But the biggest sin is just how useless most of the talking heads were in season six. With the excellent presence of F1 journalist Jennie Gow absent from this season for health reasons, the producers of DTS subbed in Danica Patrick and Claire Williams to bolster Will Buxton. Buxton reprises his role as Saying Obvious Things Guy, while Patrick is now Saying Obvious Things Girl. It’s a shame because she does have genuine insight as a racing driver, insight that wasn’t deployed or was edited out by DTS.

The saving grace of the talking heads was Williams. Her experience as a team principal gave her the latitude to talk about the psychology of the most high-pressure jobs in motorsport, something that has been missing from the series. With the team bosses featuring so heavily, William’s commentary and insight were a genuine breath of fresh air amongst so much generic (but necessary) reality show-style commentary from Buxton and Patrick.

Like A Bag Of Chips

Let’s be real for a moment. DTS was and never will be the hardcore sports documentary some fans want. It’s striking a balance that is decidedly aimed at the casual and even non-motorsport fans. With that angle comes plenty of simplification. Motorsports is complicated, even if it’s all down to who gets to the finish line first.

 

I could argue that the errors motorsports fans see in DTS aren’t really all that obvious to a casual observer. Sure, it pisses us off, but folks who just want to be entertained will find that in the series. It’s like a bag of chips: Very tasty, a nice treat, but not too much substance that it overwhelms you for the actual meal of watching F1. It’s a drama, a telenovela. It’s entertainment first. And for that, talking heads like Buxton and Patrick serve the casual observer just trying to understand the basics of racing.

DTS is starting to arrive at a better balance for everyone. Hardcore fans will see insider storylines from the season play out on screen in ways that articles and speculation could never communicate. For that, season six is worth watching. Just ignore the parts that involve actual racing.

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