Formula 1: Drive To Survive is a global phenomenon. The Netflix documentary series, now in its fourth season, gives a unique behind-the-scenes look at the drivers and teams competing in the Formula 1 World Championship – and has completely transformed the sport it covers.
It’s been responsible for bringing in a huge number of new fans, particularly in America, and turned many F1 drivers into mainstream, international superstars. It’s also quickly become one of Netflix’s must-watch shows.
The 4th season of the show, which debuted on the 11th of March, covers the 2021 F1 World Championship, one of the most dramatic F1 seasons arguably of all time. It’s fantastic watching. Here are the most important plot points to know so you’re all prepared to watch 2022’s F1 races in real-time.
Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren
One of the best storylines from Drive To Survive S4 was Aussie legend Daniel Ricciardo’s first year with McLaren and his triumphant win at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
‘The Honey Badger’, who has been one of Drive To Survive’s biggest stars, has had a rather rough go of things over the last few years. Since leaving Red Bull for Renault at the end of 2018, only to jump ship again to McLaren at the end of 2020, Ricciardo has struggled to find consistent success – something previous seasons have covered in depth.
S4 gave us a close look at how much Danny Ric struggled to wrap his head around his new McLaren, as well as how comprehensively trounced he got by his younger teammate, Lando Norris, for most of the season… All of which made his impressive win at Monza so much sweeter. We love a redemption arc.
Ricciardo’s win at Monza was his first since the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix and McLaren’s first since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix. On top of that, Norris finished second (Norris’ highest result in F1 ever), making it a one-two finish for McLaren; the team’s first since the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix.
Something that was quite surprising to see from this season was how tense the relationship between Ricciardo and Norris seemed to be in 2021. Before Ricciardo’s move to McLaren, fans had predicted that the two would get along very well, with both drivers sharing a reputation for being funnymen.
Instead, the season revealed a rather fractious and at some times petty relationship between the pair – but as Max Verstappen has recently come out and said, there’s probably a lot of editing involved there, and you need to take things with a grain of salt.
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More struggles for Haas
Haas, the plucky American team that’s been a big focus for Drive To Survive, ended the 2021 F1 season with no points. It was yet another nightmare year for Haas team principal Guenther Steiner (a breakout star of the series), whose difficulties corralling a recalcitrant Nikita Mazepin being a focus of the show’s 4th season.
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The 23-year-old Russian’s maiden F1 season was pretty inglorious. Not only did he quickly gain a reputation for bad driving – gaining the unfortunate moniker ‘Mazespin’ – but he was pretty comprehensively outdriven by his teammate, Mick Schumacher (son of the legendary Michael Schumacher).
This is despite his father, billionaire oligarch Dmitry Mazepin, pouring millions of dollars into Haas, with Uralkali (a Russian chemicals company he’s a major shareholder in) becoming the team’s title sponsor. Drive To Survive painted a grim picture, too, of how much influence the Mazepins seemed to have over the team – with the revelation that Dmitry threatened to pull funding unless they gave Nikita a new car a particularly shocking moment.
At one point, a frustrated Steiner curses at Mazepin on the pit wall, saying “f*cking hell, that’s why people hate you.” Later, the team boss has a frank chat with the young Russian, saying “we really try to help you, but you need to help me as well… When you speak on the radio, do not be aggressive – you don’t achieve anything.”
“[The engineers] are afraid of you. You are not a p*ssy. I’m not saying you need to be loved. I’m just saying to be very neutral. Not being ‘Oh this is f*cking sh*t’. That doesn’t help anyone.” Grim stuff.
Verstappen vs Hamilton
Of course, the major storyline of the season was the title fight between seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton and an ascendant Max Verstappen, and how tense it got between the two drivers – as well as their two teams, Mercedes and Red Bull, and rival team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner.
There was almost more airtime dedicated to Wolff and Horner’s beef than there was to Hamilton and Verstappen’s racing – although we’d say part of that is because Verstappen, unlike Hamilton, refused to participate in the filming of S4, meaning Netflix had to really lean on Horner’s commentary.
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While Red Bull gets plenty of airtime throughout the season, Drive To Survive definitely sets Verstappen up to be the villain for the title fight. Contributing commentators like Will Buxton and Jennie Gow are very obviously Team Lewis, and Hamilton doesn’t mince words about the Dutchman during his interviews, calling him “dangerous” and. a “bully”. Again, maybe if Verstappen actually participated in the show, we’d get a different edit.
Anyway, you couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic finish. As we’re sure you probably know by now, Hamilton and Verstappen went into the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi equal on points, and after a controversial call by FIA race director Michael Masi (who has since been ousted thanks to the immense backlash), Max secured the win and therefore the World Championship.
Surprisingly little time was dedicated to the controversial nature of the win, perhaps because it’s a sore spot for F1. A clearly angry Wolff has the final word in the season, though, when asked if Red Bull has a target on their backs: “everyone has a target on their back”. Firey.
Where was everyone?
Drive To Survive can’t cover every driver or team’s story – hell, even George Russell made a comment this season that he barely had any screen time last season – but season 4 featured noticeably fewer storylines and drivers than previous seasons. This is easily our biggest criticism of S4.
No time was spent on new team Aston Martin or its star driver, fan-favourite Sebastian Vettel (or indeed how he clinched the team’s first podium in Azerbaijan). Kimi Räikkönen’s last season in F1 at Alfa Romeo didn’t even get a mention either – although Kimi’s notorious hatred of the press might have had something to do with that – nor did Fernando Alonso’s return to the sport with Alpine. No love for the old dogs, then?
Unlike in other seasons, they also didn’t give any airtime to driver moves for the 2022 season, other than Bottas and Russell. They didn’t talk about how F1’s about to get its first Chinese driver in Guanyu Zhou next year or about Alex Albon’s return to the grid with Williams. That could just be the result of Drive To Survive’s hectic production schedule, but it’s still a glaring omission.
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In short, Drive To Survive S4 is a brilliant watch, and sheds a lot of light on the 2021 season – but it leaves just as many questions unanswered as it answered. This isn’t really a bad thing. It just means you have to tune in to the 2022 F1 season in real-time to get the full picture in time for the next season of Drive To Survive.