You wonder if Netflix and Box to Box are just too close to F1 to mention such matters. Or perhaps after four seasons grand prix personnel have just got much more canny in what they do and don’t reveal to Netflix.
There was no escaping the end-of-season controversy though, and the final two episodes concentrate fully on the title duel as the season comes to a close. If there was ever a time for behind-the-scenes cameras in F1 then it was here.
At the Qatar GP, we see the pressure on Wolff and Horner: the former calling for “minimal press”, so that the Red Bull boss takes the limelight. “He loves that,” snipes Wolff.
“Do you think I should go for a roasting or go gentle?” a loudmouthed Horner asks his team before a press conference where he would be sat next to Wolff. “I could have him in a fight”. The conflict between the pair were laid open at that event, when Horner said that they had “no relationship” as a barely-disguised feud played out in front of the cameras.
When it’s all over, Wolff is shown to have fallen victim to the mind games. “The whole press conference is stupid — the things he [Horner] says,” rants the Mercedes man.
It’s Horner’s turn to be rattled at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, where a Hamilton win puts him level on points with Verstappen with one race — and one DtS episode to go.
The tension mounts in the build-up to the final race, even though you know the ending. Perhaps because you know the ending. But what you see play out on screen is less dramatic than than December’s live coverage.
It’s partly down to the editing: several of the messages from teams lobbying now-removed race director Michael Masi are missing and there’s not a mention of the fraught post-race appeals that saw Mercedes try to overturn Verstappen’s championship, minutes after he crossed the finish line.
But the behind-the-scenes cameras don’t deliver anything significantly new on this bombshell of a season final. We get to see Wolff’s empassioned pleas to Masi from a new angle inside the Mercedes pit and a tearful Horner after the race. We even get to see Masi during the late safety car period as he responds to Horner. But only as the mask-clad race director is simply looking at a screen and talking into his mic.
We don’t see Masi discussing his decision to shortcut safety car regulations and hand the advantage to Verstappen; we don’t see Mercedes furiously assembling its challenge to the result; and we don’t see its QC storming into race control, having been flown in on standby for such a situation. If the film crew was thrown out, that footage would have been telling enough.
Just as fascinating would have been to explore why many blamed the ‘Netflix effect’ on title fight’s eventual outcome, and have DtS examine itself and its influence on F1.
But this is the realm of a documentary made by outsiders, who would never get a sniff of the inner paddock at a grand prix.
Even though the series feels like it is beginning to drag, the masterful Box to Box still succeeds in pulling off another season of glossy footage and enough new material to interest the avid fan, as well as new viewers. Drive to Survive is popular for a reason.
Drive to Survive, Season 4 is available to watch now on Netflix
F1 Drive to Survive: previous seasons
Netflix’s docudrama phenomenon has been credited for a surge in young Formula 1 fans, particularly in America and — for better or worse — officials taking a more entertainment-minded view of races. It has also spawned a range of imitators, with MotoGP, Grand Slam tennis tournaments and golf’s PGA tour all looking to bask in the ‘Netflix effect’.
It all began when cameras appeared in the paddock during the 2018 Formula 1 season, with whispers of a new access-all-areas documentary: a revelation in the secretive world of grand prix racing. Not all were convinced, with Mercedes and Ferrari refusing to take part.
That soon changed when the first series was broadcast: its glossy, slow-motion images, candid interviews, plus behind-the-scenes footage of disputes, drivers and team workings were a hit — with race viewers and non-F1 fans alike.
Series 2 brought full co-operation from teams and the the hype continues to grow annually, as fans anticipate new insights into key races and personalities, even if the novelty has worn off and the dramatic licence, such as splicing radio messages with footage from a completely different race, has begun to grate.