Formula 1 Drive to Survive season 4 review: One formula but it works
We are pleased to report that Guenther Steiner remains the undisputed king of the F1 paddock.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 4 has arrived, heralded with the loudest fanfare yet drawing in waves of casual F1 fans and die-hards alike.
Drive to Survive's release date feels like a permanent fixture in the F1 calendar these days. In 2022, Netflix will press the big red button bang in the middle of F1 testing in Bahrain, one week before the fresh season begins.
Throughout last season, when filming took place, major race incidents were met with cries of social media delight that the cameras would be rolling behind the scenes.
From the moment carbon fibre meets crash barrier, fans' anticipation for the next season of F1:DTS escalates.
More than a few will start at the finish to soak up the final race, final lap chaos between champion Max Verstappen and scorned veteran Lewis Hamilton. We started at the beginning.
Like a well-oiled, lightning fast pit stop, everyone involved knows the procedure by now. Everybody knows their role, their task, what they're supposed to be doing in Drive to Survive.
Season 4 is no surprise. You already know what's coming in the first episode before the titles roll.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is the deadpan parody supervillain. Red Bull chief Christian Horner is Game of Thrones' scheming Littlefinger of the paddock. This time he's even on horseback.
Geri Horner makes her annual cameo prodding fun at her husband as they trot down a leafy Oxford lane.
You already know there's going to be another explanation of qualifying spoken with greater over-the-top intensity than the racing itself.
There's a thudding soundtrack, a pulsating, heart-quickening beat threading together the big sequences, rapid-fire editing.
F1:DTS is essentially the same as it always has been. It doesn't feel fresh or sparkling new, it is exactly what you expect. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Formula 1 is a cold, clinical sport at its very heart. It's a technical labyrinth that few can fully comprehend, but the beauty of F1:DTS is that it brings warmth, colour and personality of those involved to the fore.
Haas' Guenther Steiner – an icon of the F1:DTS series – is back in terrific form with self-deprecating jibes that you can't help but smile at.
Pleasantly, Steiner is not the only team principal on form. A laugh-out-loud segment sees the chiefs thrust into painfully awkward photoshoots for their teams' promotional material.
Aston Martin's Otmar Szafnauer is asked to pull off a 007 pose. "I'm too fat for that," he responds, a smile across his face. Mattia Binotto is having none of it ("he's not that guy"). Wolff, for all his polished perfect image, is charming and likeable. The humour punctures through in a docuseries that threatens to (but doesn't) take itself too seriously.
In terms of production values, F1:DTS excels. It looks great, it sounds even better, the roar of every car is dialled up to 11 and each episode rises to a noisy crescendo.
It's not perfect, however. The access given to the producers is far-reaching but feels surface-level in some areas. The team principals are on form, but moments of raw emotion from drivers are fleeting.
Daniel Ricciardo cuts a tortured figure in the first couple of episodes, veering from eager anticipation of the new season with McLaren to despondency after failing to impress in the Monaco Grand Prix. He is one of the only drivers so far to let his guard down. He shows real vulnerability and fans will love to follow his rollercoaster journey throughout 2021. Teammate Lando Norris displays a more spiky, competitive aspect of his personality in brief moments of conflict.
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There's a big build-up to Charles Leclerc's exploits in Monaco after qualifying for his hometown race in pole position, but there's very little reaction from him in the aftermath of having to retire from the race before lights out.
Of course, this is where the F1:DTS creators are at the mercy of the teams within Formula 1. Access to drivers in the highest and lowest moments is imperative to the success of the show, and in turn, the success of driving more casual fans to the sport.
I don't expect an unreasonable level of surveillance that would make Orwell wince, but the racing fan in me wants those cameras to keep rolling a little longer and a little closer. Those nuggets of pure, raw emotion are critical for the show and its future. The exclusive interviews, while superb for soundbites, are carefully worded and delicately polished, while I perversely want to see more box office Ricciardo, in the heat of the moment, calling himself words I can't even repeat with asterisks.
There's also a feeling that season 4 is not so much a progression than it is a reboot. Again, there are more explanations of rules and technicalities that have already been aired in previous seasons. Moments of canned commentary still feel contrived and subtle moments of embellishment feel unnecessary, especially given the wild nature of 2021, though this could be said of a number of series out there.
This works for casual fans coming into the series and the sport for the first time following last season's campaign, but it does run the risk alienating die-hards.
Ultimately, it's important to remember first and foremost what this series is. It's a story of the season and F1:DTS does tell it. It's blockbuster TV that will captivate your attention, put a smile on your face and make you "woah". It's Marvel. It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, but it will keep you entertained and amused, it will elevate your heart rate and whet your appetite for what will be an inevitably ferocious 2022 season to come.
Drive to Survive may only have one formula, but it works.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 4 launches globally on Friday 11th March 2022, exclusively on Netflix.
If you’re looking for something else to watch, check out our TV Guide or visit our Sport hub for all the latest news.
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