Has Netflix gone too far with creative licence in Formula 1?

As excitement builds for the new Formula 1 season, fans have spent recent days looking back on last year after the release of Netflix's latest Drive to Survive series.

Has Netflix gone too far with creative licence in Formula 1?

Season 4 of the Netflix docu-series became available to the public last Friday, amidst the second F1 2022 test in Bahrain, recapping one of the most dramatic and controversial seasons in recent grand prix history.

But more than ever, it felt like fans were cottoning on to the subtle edits or changes in timeline which, while required to aid dramatic effect, left many frustrated or disappointed with what they were watching.

It was for that same reason Max Verstappen revealed last October that he had refused to take part in the most recent season, saying rivalries had been “faked”. As we noted in our review, the absence of the world champion does set the fourth season back a bit.

At the time, Verstappen’s comments sparked debate over the use of creative licence in Drive to Survive. This author wrote that very same week there was nothing wrong with using it a bit, given the positive impact it has had on F1 as a whole by reaching millions of new fans. 

But the feeling does appear to have shifted a bit with the release of the latest series. Verstappen made clear in Bahrain that he would not reconsider his decision to be part of the series, adding he would “probably watch it and see how over the top it is”.

Even going into the fourth season, there was already a degree of scepticism - not aided by the events of Abu Dhabi, which one driver commented had been “made for TV” - about just how much Drive to Survive would stick to real events and timelines. Memes and YouTube skits had already been made mocking how Drive to Survive would handle various incidents, spicing them up to be more dramatic than they actually were.

PLUS: The crucial missing ingredient from F1's Abu Dhabi response

Drivers are filmed on the grid

Drivers are filmed on the grid

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

One of the stand-out examples of that in the third season was the relationship at McLaren between Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. The strong relationship between the pair was widely lauded by fans and known throughout the paddock, yet the episode focusing on them seemed to create tension where there wasn’t any.

“I think in the case of Lando and I, it was pushed a bit too far,” said Sainz. “All the fans that know Formula 1 -that are a lot, especially now, we are followed so much around the world - realise that Netflix probably went a step too far with Lando and me.

“But I do believe Netflix know it, and they are capable of correcting and judging mistakes, and they will adapt and maybe try and make it a bit more realistic in that sense.”

It is to be expected that certain scenes are set up to help move the storyline along, given Netflix cameras can’t be privy to many of the actual meetings that took place. A couple of recent examples include Christian Horner calling up Sergio Perez at the end of Season 3 to say “welcome to Red Bull”, as though it was when the Mexican first found out, or Toto Wolff’s meeting with George Russell at Zandvoort to inform him he had a 2022 Mercedes seat - at least two weeks after he had really been told ahead at Spa.

The absence of Verstappen in the current series means a lot of the Red Bull title fight has to be told by Horner, whose jibes towards Wolff and Mercedes seem constant. Many scenes are cut showing him making a comment after seeing Hamilton or Wolff on a TV screen, but naturally, there is no real way to know how things have been cut.

“Last year was hugely intense, and a documentary series like Drive to Survive, at the end of the day, is a television show,” said Horner. “They’re taking snippets from a season-long battle and turning that into a television programme. Of course the effect of that has been a dramatic uptake in the following of Formula 1.

“But one has to remember, it is designed ultimately to entertain. So of course, elements are taken from it, and sometimes aren’t even from the race in question.”

Norris adds: “There are obviously some comments and things here and there which are maybe out of place for sure. When you’re the person that it’s about, you maybe don’t agree with it so much because it can make you look like you said something in a time and place which is definitely not correct.”

George Russell, Mercedes, is filmed

George Russell, Mercedes, is filmed

Photo by: Motorsport Images

One example Norris cited was at the Red Bull Ring in 2020, profiled in Season 3, during a battle with Sainz.

“There’s a bit of me and [Sainz] going side-by-side in Turn 1 when we’re not even close, and I claim he pushes me off - which is from a completely different race,” said Norris. “There are things maybe are a bit too much like that and I maybe don’t agree too much with it.”

Although the added dramatisation may go unnoticed by many casual fans who only consume F1 through Drive to Survive, the issue would be if it caused more drivers or teams to take the same approach as Verstappen, and opt against taking part. After all, the series needs these personalities to be a success.

That fear seems unfounded for now, though, as most agree the benefits still Netflix has for F1 still outweigh these drawbacks.

PLUS: Formula 1 Drive to Survive: Season 4 episode-by-episode review

“It’s still just exciting and good for everyone,” said Norris. “As long as they don’t overdo it and literally make someone look like they’ve done something which they definitely haven’t done, I think that’s too far, so as long as they don’t do that it’s good.”

“I still believe Netflix is a good thing for myself and for the brand of Formula 1,” added Sainz. “I will still be featured if they want me to be in it.”

It has always been a hard thing for Netflix to balance, ensuring storylines are dramatic enough to be exciting and entertaining for the casual fan while not straying too far from reality. A lot of it does come down to who is the series targeted at - and truthfully, it isn’t the diehard F1 fan.

But as it remains such an important part of F1’s global image and output, and as more of those casual fans become more and more dedicated, ensuring that balance does not veer too far one way must be a priority moving forward.

shares
comments

Related video

Why Bahrain has exposed the weaknesses of F1 2022 cars
Previous article

Why Bahrain has exposed the weaknesses of F1 2022 cars

Next article

Aston Martin windtunnel model already “nothing like” current car

Aston Martin windtunnel model already “nothing like” current car
Assessing Hamilton's remarkable decade as a Mercedes F1 driver Plus

Assessing Hamilton's remarkable decade as a Mercedes F1 driver

Many doubted Lewis Hamilton’s move from McLaren to Mercedes for the 2013 Formula 1 season. But the journey he’s been on since has taken the Briton to new heights - and to a further six world championship titles

Why new look Haas is a litmus test for Formula 1’s new era Plus

Why new look Haas is a litmus test for Formula 1’s new era

OPINION: With teams outside the top three having struggled in Formula 1 in recent seasons, the rules changes introduced in 2022 should have more of an impact this season. How well Haas does, as the poster child for the kind of team that F1 wanted to be able to challenge at the front, is crucial

The Mercedes F1 pressure changes under 10 years of Toto Wolff Plus

The Mercedes F1 pressure changes under 10 years of Toto Wolff

OPINION: Although the central building blocks for Mercedes’ recent, long-lasting Formula 1 success were installed before he joined the team, Toto Wolff has been instrumental in ensuring it maximised its finally-realised potential after years of underachievement. The 10-year anniversary of Wolff joining Mercedes marks the perfect time to assess his work

Formula 1
Feb 1, 2023
The all-French F1 partnership that Ocon and Gasly hope to emulate Plus

The all-French F1 partnership that Ocon and Gasly hope to emulate

Alpine’s signing of Pierre Gasly alongside Esteban Ocon revives memories of a famous all-French line-up, albeit in the red of Ferrari, for BEN EDWARDS. Can the former AlphaTauri man's arrival help the French team on its path back to winning ways in a tribute act to the Prancing Horse's title-winning 1983?

Formula 1
Jan 31, 2023
How do the best races of F1 2022 stack up to 2021? Plus

How do the best races of F1 2022 stack up to 2021?

OPINION: A system to score all the grands prix from the past two seasons produces some interesting results and sets a standard that 2023 should surely exceed

Formula 1
Jan 31, 2023
Who were the fastest drivers in F1 2022? Plus

Who were the fastest drivers in F1 2022?

Who was the fastest driver in 2022? Everyone has an opinion, but what does the stopwatch say? Obviously, differing car performance has an effect on ultimate laptime – but it’s the relative speed of each car/driver package that’s fascinating and enlightening says ALEX KALINAUCKAS

Formula 1
Jan 30, 2023
Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return Plus

Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return

He has more starts without a podium than anyone else in Formula 1 world championship history, but Nico Hulkenberg is back for one more shot with Haas. After spending three years on the sidelines, the revitalised German is aiming to prove to his new team what the F1 grid has been missing

Formula 1
Jan 29, 2023
The potential-laden F1 car that Ferrari neglected Plus

The potential-laden F1 car that Ferrari neglected

The late Mauro Forghieri played a key role in Ferrari’s mid-1960s turnaround, says STUART CODLING, and his pretty, intricate 1512 was among the most evocative cars of the 1.5-litre era. But a victim of priorities as Formula 1 was deemed less lucrative than success in sportscars, its true potential was never seen in period

Formula 1
Jan 28, 2023