“Drive to survive” the Netflix series on Formula 1, offered an intimate look at a notoriously secretive sport and, to the delight of its executives, has drawn the American fans they have been eager to attract for years.
“I think this has to be the biggest impact for Formula 1 in North America,” said Zak Brown, McLaren Racing general manager. “Almost every comment you get from someone outside of the US refers to ‘Drive to Survive’.
“People go from ‘I’ve never watched a Formula 1 race in my life’ to ‘I’ll never miss a Formula 1 race again’.
The show debuted in 2019 on Netflix with a 10-episode season, filmed during the Championship the previous year. Season three was released in March and filming for season four is underway.
Getting the series off the ground was not easy. At first, gaining the trust of teams, sensitive to the design, data and operations of their cars, was a challenge for Box to Box Films, the show’s creators.
In fact, two of the dominant teams, Mercedes and Ferrari, refused to be part of the first season.
“I think the teams got the feeling of ‘I don’t think you realize what this world is!'” Said Paul Martin, executive producer of ‘Drive to Survive’. “I don’t think we did, and I think they were skeptical as to whether we could really stick to what we said.
“We wanted to offer an authentic representation of what it’s like to operate, live and work in this paddock. “
Formula 1 worked with the teams on the access they would allow, ensuring their secrets were protected.
“We gave the teams the security they needed,” said Ian Holmes, Formula 1 director of media rights. “They would like a lot more. But it gave Netflix the confidence to capture something that would resonate with it. fans and wasn’t a puff piece, but real behind-the-scenes content that they had never seen before.
Eight of the 10 Formula 1 teams have agreed to be part of the first season, minus Ferrari and Mercedes. “They had more to lose,” said Holmes. “I think if one did or didn’t, the other would do the same. They were very focused on winning the championship.
The absence of the two most famous and best performing teams didn’t stop the first season from being a success. Fans learned about the inner workings of the sport, the personalities, politics and pettiness.
By the time season two started filming, Ferrari and Mercedes had changed their minds.
“It showed me a new angle to attract a new audience, different from how I perceive F1,” said Toto Wolff, Mercedes team manager, in 2019, explaining why the team turned out. involved from season two. “That’s why I decided to join and be a part of Netflix in 2019.”
Teams quickly learned to be comfortable with cameras, allowing them to be authentic. Even when Formula 1 imposed strict Covid-19 protocols last season, teams incorporated film crews into their bubbles so they could continue filming, a sign of trust between them.
“They understand the environment and are well integrated,” Wolff said. “Obviously you know they’re there. But nobody tries to act like a Hollywood actor.
The three seasons have captured many of Formula 1’s greatest moments, including the mid-season sacking of drivers and moving first victories. One of the most dramatic episodes in season three was Romain Grosjean’s escape from a fiery accident that left him trapped in the burning wreckage of his car for about 27 seconds.
But much of the success of “Drive to Survive” has come from showcasing the personality and life of off-road riders.
“Everyone sees Sunday, we’ve got a helmet, we’re running and that’s it,” said Daniel Ricciardo of Australia, one of the show’s most visible figures. “But it shows the ins and outs of the sport, what we do on weekends. By delving into our daily life, everyone can relate to this.
“For so long it was a very private sport. Let a few more people in and show them how awesome the sport is, I think that’s where the show really worked out for us. “
Netflix is protecting its audience figures, but according to FlixPatrol, which collects data on movies and TV shows, “Drive to Survive” ranked No. 1 TV series in the world shortly after the release of season three in March. It also drew more viewers than the first season, which Holmes said was “unheard of.”
“I’m told by Netflix that 99 times out of 100, the second series never has quite the same audience as the first series, and so on,” Holmes said. “Series three did more than series one. The completion rate and the speed at which the completion rate takes place have also increased, ”suggesting that people are gorging on the series.
The first season had a huge impact on the Formula 1 audience in the United States. Race day ticket sales for the inaugural US Grand Prix held after the launch of “Drive to Survive” in 2019 were up 15% from 2018. Race promoter Bobby Epstein said said it was because of the show and was preparing to welcome an additional 20,000 fans for the October race. in Austin, Texas.
“We haven’t had a run for two years, and I think the show’s popularity has grown because of it,” Epstein said. “We only really see it now. We can certainly attribute this growth to the Netflix series giving people access to behind-the-scenes personalities. It definitely opened my eyes to the fact that there are people who pay attention here.
The Formula 1 television audience in the United States has surged since the release of “Drive to Survive”. ESPN said the average viewership per race rose to around 928,000 so far in 2021, from around 547,000 in 2018.
“There is no way to quantify whether the Netflix series helped increase audiences, but it certainly didn’t hurt,” said John Suchenski, director of programming and acquisitions at ESPN.
“Having additional content on Formula 1 that reaches a wide and different audience helps increase awareness and interest, and hopefully gets them tune in to racing,” he said. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
The growth in popularity in the United States comes at an important time for Formula 1. A second Grand Prix in the United States, in Miami, will be added in 2022, as the sport attempts to expand further into the country.
Americans are not very present in sport, with only one team, Haas from Kannapolis, NC, and no driver.
“It’s such a fascinating sport, with politics and personalities,” said Brown of McLaren Racing. “I think ‘Drive to Survive’ brought that out and exposed it to the world, and it seems to have really resonated with the United States.”
Drivers have also noticed the growth in the US fan base. “I started getting a lot more posts and mentions, especially from America,” said Pierre Gasly from France. “In the United States, it had a pretty big impact when the series came out every year. I now have more Americans following me.
“From the point of view of the American fans, there are a lot more,” said Lando Norris of England, who drives for McLaren. “The people I meet got into motorsport and became fans not only of me, but of Formula 1 just by watching ‘Drive to Survive’.”
Martin, the producer, was overwhelmed by his impact. But he attributes the show’s success to the qualities of Formula 1 as a sport.
“It’s pretty amazing the reactions from people,” he said. “Our show only works because, in fact, the sport is an incredible spectacle. It’s incredibly dramatic and tense. There are mistakes, and there are huge characters. Our show just shines a light on what’s there.