First airing in 2019, the Netflix documentary ‘F1: Drive To Survive‘ highlights the lives of Formula 1 drivers and team members away from the track. It is one of the reasons why the sport’s outreach, especially in the United States, is soaring.
Season 1 covered the 2018 season and each season since documents the previous season’s championship. Drivers like Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo and team principals like Guenther Steiner have skyrocketed in popularity thanks to their lives away from Formula 1 being documented.
Formula 1 in the Magic City of Miami
Miami, Sunday, May 2, 2022 at the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins.
Max Verstappen survived a late challenge from Charles Leclerc to become the first Miami GP winner. The race only tells part of this story. The race week was bouncing with stadium parties while a beach area at the track was filled with music and yachts. Tom Brady, Michelle Obama, David Beckham and Hailee Steinfeld were four of many celebrities in attendance. One would assume the Miami factor attracted the famous names.
Increased F1 fan connection is now very evident with social media influencers and creators like F1elly being invited and attending races themselves. With F1’s reach ever-increasing, drawbacks are becoming noticeable and cracks are showing. Flares were thrown onto the track at Zandvoort (home of the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix) causing a red flag. Fans in Spielberg, Austrian, were unapologetically cheering when both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell crashed out in qualifying.
Potent questions about the safety of fans
On that Spielberg weekend, some female fans were subjected to verbal abuse and inappropriate touching. F1 had to do something and soon, a statement was released stating that any form of abuse would not be tolerated and such fans did not belong in the sport. In a rare move at the Dutch GP, flares were banned for the weekend and the flare-throwing culprit was thrown out of the track. Both incidents occurred during qualifying. This did not stop flares being set off at the race’s end, showing that fans somehow evaded increased security checks.
Flares create a visual and colourful spectacle, but they impact a driver’s visibility. They were also apparent during the most recent race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. While not set off until the race’s end, it still raises questions on F1’s ruthlessness when enforcing bans. A flare-ban announcement on that weekend would have been a suicide wish considering it is Ferrari’s home race and their fanbase in the Tifosi were out in force.
Sexism is also beginning to appear. Naomi Schiff became targeted by Twitter users, with the hatred towards her punditry becoming so severe that Sky F1 highlighted it during the Canadian Grand Prix. Big F1 names such as Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel openly spoke of Schiff’s incredible work, showing support for her as the ambassador of the W Series, an open-wheel, all-female racing championship.
Fernando Alonso, the longest-serving driver on the current grid and two-time world champion, recently stated how modern F1 fans now resemble football fans and don’t know much about the sport. I have been personally watching F1 from the age of ten in 2010, before the social media era. Twelve years later, I have noticed the change in the perception of F1. A generational divide between fans is present. The Netflix documentary gives older fans a way to pin unsavoury incidents on younger fans who only watch F1 for good looks and drama.
Privacy is a luxury drivers today do not have. Lando Norris recently announced the end of his relationship with Luisa Oliveira on Instagram. He asked his fans not to send hate towards Oliveira and respect their privacy since they ended on good terms. That he had to state this shows the openness of F1 drivers’ personal lives. WAGs’ (Wives and Girlfriends) social media accounts for F1 drivers’ significant others are now very popular as thousands of followers see the personal lives of drivers’ romantic partners and their every activity, big or small, like going to a Gala or simply seeing their friends.
The race towards unity
Formula 1 is on a wave of momentum. It even has a thriving gaming scene. Codemasters‘ F1 games have been a racing game staple for many years and the arrival of Frontier‘s F1 Manager 22 provides players with fun and intensity through the strategic side of F1 without driving the cars yourself. Drivers like Charles Leclerc and Esteban Ocon are increasing their social media reach thanks to TikTok and other platforms.
A way forward can be seen through Dutch fans who attend most European races. At times they cross the line, as the flare chaos in Zandvoort and abusive incidents in Austria suggest, but the responsible majority of fans are putting F1 on the map due to the fun atmosphere they create. A sea of pure orange can now be seen via helicopter shots in most European grandstands. Such a visual emblem of the passion for F1 has never been witnessed before.
The rise in American fans is amazing but, for them, F1 has to be presented as, purely, F1. Drive to Survive. Ithas brought a new demographic of fans, but surely they need to enjoy F1 for the sport first and drama second. For a while, Max Verstappen stopped giving interviews for the documentary since he thought it was fake and misleading. He has since returned after being promised authenticity.
In 2023, F1 heads to Las Vegas and the iconic Vegas strip. A potential South Africa return has also been rumoured for a few months. Now is the time for unity in Formula 1, rather than alienation and divide.