I had long given up on watching or following Formula 1 races. The reasons are essentially two: firstly having the same driver winning the spoils year in, year out loses much of the thrill and excitement and secondly I could never get to terms with the fact that a fast driver today can become a slow driver tomorrow simply due to a change of team or squad.
When I came to watch Drive to Survive on Netflix following strong advice by some friends, I was not expecting much. Actually I had to make an effort to find some time to give it a try. The end result? I ended up watching all three seasons, enjoying each episode to the full. I have to admit that as the famous moustache man would almost say, once I started popping, there was no stopping!
I had never watched anything which delves into the personal and human relations aspect of the 20 drivers and the ten squad bosses as much as this fantastic series. The actual car racing and the waving of the chequered flag are purely secondary in Drive to Survive – the producer is more interested in the real life stories of each and every driver and the persons leading the squads.
By the end of it all, you feel that you have got to know quite effectively most of the drivers and that, after all, their story is relatable to everyday life.
For instance let us take the story of the French diver Romain Grosjean. In terms of racing and points, he drives one of the slowest cars (Haas), does not have a fantastic track record in terms of points and podiums (or podia?) throughout his longish career and, in so not rare occasions, drives quite erratically and loses points for his team for apparently stupid reasons.
By the end of the series Grosjean emerges as the undisputed super champion. By the third season Grosjean and his team mate Kevin Magnussen are set to lose their seats in F1 on the basis of purely unfair commercial decisions. Haas decides that it needs to beef up its income from advertising and sponsorship and lands new deals which trigger a forced change of drivers.
The reasons are quite simple and are explained straightaway: one of the sponsors wanted a German driver and so Haas went for the son of the great Michael Schumacher and the owner of the other sponsor had his own son driving and that landed Nikita Mazepin a seat. Grosjean and Magnussen were out, not only from Haas but also from F1 because by that stage it was simply too late to find a place somewhere else.
The penultimate race for 2020 came in the amazingly beautiful Bahrain circuit and it was to be also Grosjean’s last. During that race Grosjean is involved in a horrendous accident with the car being split in two and the driver’s end penetrating a metal guardrail, ending up in flames. The accident was dramatic and you feel strongly for Romain with whom you cannot possibly not draw a liking by this stage.
Fortunately and miraculously, Grosjean walks out of the flames with relatively minor injuries. At one point, a short interview is aired with Romain and his wife Marion and the emotions that you feel hearing Marion talk about how she thought that she had lost the father of her three kids on what is essentially his workplace are enormous. By comparison Lewis Hamilton’s ginormous feat of a joint record of number of championship wins is brought to almost irrelevance.
The emotions run high also on the Sergio Perez story. A devoted Catholic hailing from Mexico, Perez left his country at an early age to seek his dream to drive in Formula 1. He succeeds and changes various teams until he lands a seat as one of the two Racing Point drivers. Halfway through the 2020 season Perez is told that his contract would not be renewed despite a successful campaign as the team had acquired the services of former champion Sebastian Vettel who, in turn, was no longer in the plans of his Ferrari team.
With Perez destined to lose his place in F1 for 2021, he gives his all in the last race of the season which will undoubtedly go down as the best in his career in Sakhir. From the very last place he ended up winning the race in a mid-table car. What happens next is mighty Red Bull firing Alex Albon and taking the services of Perez for the following year.
Albon in turn, had an interesting story himself. The son of a Thai national and a British father who was largely absent from his life, he had to take care of his siblings when his mother was sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence for fraud. Despite this he made it to be a Formula 1 driver for one of the very best teams, dispatching another driver, Pierre Gasly, in the process.
Pierre Gasly is also an interesting character. We witness his relegation from Red Bull to the “second team” Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri but he fights back and even manages to win the Italian Grand Prix with Alpha Tauri outclassing and outperforming Albon himself.