How Ferrari, Mercedes’ initial absence helped make Drive to Survive a hit

As Drive to Survive continues filming for its fifth season through 2022, the Formula 1 docuseries remains one of Netflix’s biggest hits.

How Ferrari, Mercedes’ initial absence helped make Drive to Survive a hit

Drive to Survive has bucked the trend of most series by enjoying a steady rise in its viewership instead of tailing off season-on-season. Season three, filmed during the COVID-hit 2020 season, enjoyed a bigger viewership than season one and season two, while that benchmark has since been surpassed by season four that came out earlier this year.

It is little surprise that Netflix has renewed Drive to Survive not only for season five, but also for season six, ensuring the show will remain on our screens until at least 2024.

The debate over the use of creative licence in the series has intensified in the last couple of seasons, particularly after world champion Max Verstappen cited it as the reason he refuses to partake in direct filming. His absence from the most recent season was notable, given how much focus was placed on his fight with Lewis Hamilton for the world championship. 

More: Drive to Survive S4 review - Essential viewing, but absences are felt

And yet the absence of big names is part of the reason why Drive to Survive has been such a huge success.

Back in season one, filmed through 2018, Ferrari and Mercedes refused to take part in the show due to uncertainty about the distraction it could pose and the risk of letting cameras in on the inner-workings of a team.

Without the two biggest hitters at their disposal, the producers were forced to look elsewhere to tap into storylines, leading to the focus on figures such as Daniel Ricciardo and Gunther Steiner, arguably the two breakout stars of the entire Drive to Survive arc to date. Ferrari and Mercedes would reverse their decision for season two onwards, but thankfully, this has not reduced any of the focus on those further down the grid.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, is interviewed

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, is interviewed

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

The showrunner of Drive to Survive, Cassie Bennitt, discussed the importance of tapping into these great characters during the Business of F1 Forum hosted by the Financial Times and Motorsport Network in Monaco.

“What I think is so great about the Formula 1 paddock is it’s a place of intrigue, it’s where deals are done, dreams are made, dreams are killed off,” Bennitt said.

“It lends itself to story-telling, and along with that come these amazing characters. Going back to season one, we didn’t have access to Ferrari and we didn’t have access to Mercedes. They didn’t want to take part, that’s very well known.

“So that meant the original team had to look elsewhere. And I think that fundamentally helped shape the show. We had to look at other teams. Haas is a classic example of that. Gunther Steiner, his fanbase is absolutely unbelievable. I think even my boyfriend is obsessed with Gunther!”

Steiner has always been baffled by his own popularity resulting from Drive to Survive, and is still yet to watch even a single second of the show. At the fan forum in Australia earlier this year, it was noted the cheers for him were even bigger than for some world champion drivers who appeared on the stage, speaking to just how powerful Drive to Survive has been in creating these new stars.

“We had to shine a light on everything that was going on in the paddock,” said Bennitt. “There’s 20 drivers, there’s 10 teams. There’s so much going on at every single one, and every single one is different, and it changes year on year.

“What we try and do is find out what the story is going to be, what’s the season arc. We never know very early on this season. And then we try and get to know the characters and tell their stories.

“It comes back to the universal themes of what you relate to as a human being. That’s kind of the methodology really. It’s people at the heart, and also there’s racing. That’s what we’ll try and do.”

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

The focus on personalities is something Drive to Survive does not want to lose from its formula moving forward, knowing how powerful it has been to capture such a broad audience beyond F1’s traditional fanbase.

But so much of the show’s content will naturally depend on the on-track spectacle, which Bennitt felt was already shaping up well through the early part of 2022 thanks to the Red Bull versus Ferrari title fight.

“It’s a new dawn, it’s the new cars,” Bennitt said. “Who would have thought that Mercedes and Lewis would be in this position? Who knows what the stories are going to be for us this season?

“Already I think everyone is really excited about what is going to happen. Look at last year, we didn’t think we were necessarily going to go quite big on Monaco, and it ended up being quite interesting.

“There’s so much scope in the paddock and in the teams. I’d like to think as long as we keep doing our jobs properly and keep being true to the stories that come out of Formula 1, then we’ll be good.

“We’re working hard. We do not want to sit on our laurels, that’s for sure. I’d still like to be working on seasons seven and eight!”

shares
comments
How star-studded Miami Grand Prix reveals F1's direction of travel
Previous article

How star-studded Miami Grand Prix reveals F1's direction of travel

Next article

The contrasting temperaments that could prove key in F1 2022's title fight

The contrasting temperaments that could prove key in F1 2022's title fight
How studying Schumacher helped make Coulthard a McLaren F1 mainstay Plus

How studying Schumacher helped make Coulthard a McLaren F1 mainstay

Winner of 13 grands prix including Monaco and survivor of a life-changing plane crash, David Coulthard could be forgiven for having eased into a quiet retirement – but, as MARK GALLAGHER explains, in fact he’s busier than ever, running an award-winning media company and championing diversity in motor racing. Not bad for someone who, by his own admission, wasn’t quite the fastest driver of his generation…

Could F1 move to a future beyond carbonfibre? Plus

Could F1 move to a future beyond carbonfibre?

Formula 1 has ambitious goals for improving its carbon footprint, but could this include banishing its favoured composite material? PAT SYMONDS considers the alternatives to carbonfibre and what use, if any, those materials have in a Formula 1 setting

Formula 1
Aug 6, 2022
How Russell has proven he deserves to be Hamilton's Mercedes heir Plus

How Russell has proven he deserves to be Hamilton's Mercedes heir

He’s fast, he’s smart, and he’s already shown he’s not going to let Max Verstappen intimidate him. George Russell won’t say it, but LUKE SMITH says he’s ready to take the lead at Mercedes when Lewis Hamilton moves on to a quieter life. And – whisper it – Mercedes and Lewis are starting to think so too

Formula 1
Aug 5, 2022
The traits that fuelled Alonso's unexpected Aston Martin move Plus

The traits that fuelled Alonso's unexpected Aston Martin move

Fernando Alonso’s bombshell switch to Aston Martin sent shockwaves through Formula 1, not least at Alpine that finds itself tangled in a contract standoff with Oscar Piastri. Not shy of a bold career move and with a CV punctuated by them, there were numerous hints that trouble was brewing

Formula 1
Aug 4, 2022
The elements Ferrari must resolve to first save face, then win championships Plus

The elements Ferrari must resolve to first save face, then win championships

OPINION: Ferrari's Formula 1 title hopes look all but over after another strategic blunder in last week's Hungarian Grand Prix denied Charles Leclerc the chance to fight for victory, while handing it to chief rival Max Verstappen. The Scuderia now faces intense scrutiny over what it must now do to finally become a genuine factor in championship battles

Formula 1
Aug 3, 2022
The clues about Hamilton’s F1 retirement plans revealed after Vettel’s decision Plus

The clues about Hamilton’s F1 retirement plans revealed after Vettel’s decision

OPINION: Sebastian Vettel is set to leave Formula 1 at the end of 2022 and will, rather shockingly, be replaced by Fernando Alonso at Aston Martin. But what about the final chapter of the other driver that defined the post-Michael Schumacher era? In Hungary, Lewis Hamilton spoke about his future in the context of Vettel’s upcoming departure, which offered clues on how long it will last

Formula 1
Aug 2, 2022
Why all signs point to F1’s Monaco special relationship continuing Plus

Why all signs point to F1’s Monaco special relationship continuing

OPINION: With more potential venues than there are slots in future calendars, rumours have been circulating that the Monaco Grand Prix could be a casualty of F1’s expansion into new markets. But MARK GALLAGHER thinks this is highly unlikely

Formula 1
Aug 2, 2022
Hungarian Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022 Plus

Hungarian Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022

The Hungarian Grand Prix race result, after a dry race held without safety car conditions, bore little resemblance to what was anticipated after qualifying. While certain drivers were nullified by some iffy strategy calls, others shone to grasp opportunities afforded to them in the last F1 race before the summer break

Formula 1
Aug 1, 2022