Kevin Magnussen. Photograph by Daniel Vojtech from IMDb
Culture Movies

Review: Netflix’s ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ is a compelling portrait of ambition and the price of speed

For the armchair speed demon, the docu series is a blistering and pulse-pounding adrenaline rush that is sure to satisfy anyone’s need for speed.
Alcuin Papa | May 05 2019

In the beginning there was man. And man saw fit to rig a platform with four wheels turned by a combustion engine. Then man felt the need to travel on this platform as fast as he can.

Automobile racing was born. And in turn, it birthed its wild bastard child, Formula One racing.

The Netflix documentary “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” is a testament of this perfect and at the same time imperfect marriage between man and machine. Both are tuned and built to go as fast as possibility can. The simple rule is that rubber touch the tarmac.

Esteban Ocon. Photograph by Daniel Vojtech from IMDb

For the armchair speed demon, the docu is a blistering and pulse-pounding adrenaline rush that is sure to satisfy anyone’s need for speed.

It takes us inside the 2018 Formula One season and is focused on middle tier teams. Not too much of Ferrari and Mercedes here. But that doesn’t mean the docu doesn’t capture the drama, action and the passion of F1.

Playing a big part of the landscape of this docu are the team principals and owners of the teams. Cool and calculated Christian Horner of the Red Bull Racing team, trying his best to chase the top teams, locking horns with Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul. There’s the troubled Williams team of racing legend Frank Williams with his daughter Claire as one of the bigwigs struggle to return to winning ways. Then there’s the colorful Force India principal and co-owner Vijay Mallya facing down legal woes.

Lewis Hamilton. Photograph by Daniel Vojtech from IMDb

A strength of the docu has to be the camera work. The advent of new camera technology puts the viewer right at the starting grid and in the drivers’ seat. The camera is also behind the pits and in the boardrooms of the companies that race some of the world’s fastest cars. It’s a fly-on-the-wall view that might have slightly suffered from too much human interpretation. A couple of the team managers have come out to say the portrayal of their conflict in the docu was not too accurate.

But the heart of the docu are the drivers, many of them with the “fighter pilot” mentality to be first, to be the best. Give them an inch and they will want the whole yard. Humility is for those in the back of the pack. Living in the literal fast lane isn’t enough for these cowboys. They want to drive as fast as they can into eternal glory, and to hell with everything else.

Photograph by Daniel Vojtech from IMDb

Wide smiling Daniel Ricciardo of the Red Bull team struggles to keep his place in team’s driver roster. The relentless veteran Fernando Alonso is at the end of his illustrious career and desperately towing his underperforming McLaren team. And Romain Grosjean of Team Haas grapples with his inner demons.

They throw caution to the wind to reach for nirvana at 300 kilometers per hour or more. A lucky few achieve a spot on the winners’ podium. The others crash and burn, their cars wrecked, their ego in tatters. Some of them pay the ultimate price – their lives.

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“Formula 1: Drive to Succeed” isn’t all about the cars, it’s really more about people, as any good docu should be. It’s about the team managers and drivers and the battles they fight with each other, with their own teammates, with their own egos and humanity. Viewers looking for insights into the success of the top teams and the top drivers might come away slightly disappointed. But the struggles of the middle and lower tier teams already make for a compelling and dramatic narrative. For sure, if the focus was on the top teams, the docu might have been less interesting.

For the men who race and build the cars, Formula One is life. Speed is a drug that’s a mere means to an end. Winning is the only goal, no matter the price.