Review: Gritty yet cinematic Netflix F1 series doesn't disappoint

For the past 12 months, a documentary film crew has been given unprecedented access to eight of the 10 Formula 1 teams. They have interviewed drivers in their homes and hotel rooms for a new 10-part series charting the 2018 season

The documentary, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, is released on Friday (March 8) exclusively on Netflix, the on-demand streaming service.

Netflix releases all of its episodes in one hit, so there is no waiting a week for the next part. Each episode varies in length from 26 to 40 minutes - totalling 5.7 hours. Its release has been timed as a precursor to the new F1 season - and it doesn't disappoint.

This isn't a documentary that tries to explain what Formula 1 is or reflect on its history. It's purely a fresh look at the 2018 season from inside the teams, focusing on the most interesting storylines of the year. Fans will be delighted to know it isn't a succession of talking heads either. The gaps are filled by on-track footage and soundbites from various commentators. The whole show has a cinematic-style that looks beautiful and is worth hooking up to surround-sound speakers. Each on-track shunt is accompanied by a deafening deep bass thud.

Right from the off Formula 1: Drive to Survive sets the standard for its exclusive access by accompanying Daniel Ricciardo to his Australian home for a family barbeque. Another episode takes you to the living room sofa of the Sainz family as they watch football on TV.

As we follow the races of the 2018 season, each episode picks a theme - which is often a rivalry between two teams or drivers. The one pitching Red Bull against Renault is a highlight, as are the prickly conversations between team bosses Christian Horner and Cyril Abiteboul.

Without giving too many 'spoilers' away, F1 fans will love the access and the remarkable revelations. They include the drama of team boss Otmar Szafnauer addressing the Force India workforce at the factory and promising they will be paid in the week of their administration, to the belly-laughs of why Pierre Gasly is sitting in a green wheelie bin in Singapore.

It's definitely a series which shows aspects the PR personnel of the teams would not have wanted you to see - which makes it even more fun to watch.

But be warned - there are a lot of expletives. None of the drivers' in-car radio has been censored, which gives a gritty edge that is often lost on a Sunday afternoon.

One of the surprising stars of the documentary is Haas F1 boss Guenther Steiner and his no-nonsense, sweary tirades. We see him on the phone apologising to team owner Gene Haas about the double pitstop error in Australia: "We would have looked like rock stars but now we look like wankers," he says. And his anger at Romain Grosjean's qualifying error at Paul Ricard is extraordinary. Kudos for Haas for allowing the footage to remain in the final edit.

"I don't know how long I can go on living like this," says Steiner. "I can't keep finding excuses for him." On the pitwall Steiner then says to Grosjean's engineer: "Tell him to focus on driving and not f**king whinging."

The only downside is the obvious lack of access to Ferrari and Mercedes. It would have been great to have had insight into their world championship battle, and the programme is flatter without their input. With filming for a second season set for a green light, it's imperative that Ferrari and Mercedes open their doors.

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