Perhaps the greatest cinematic epic of Formula One was John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix. The 1966 sports drama introduced the world to the sensations of speed from inside the race car -– something we take for granted today on everything from network coverage to weekend warriors on YouTube.
Grand Prix began production in the mid 1960s, using connections to Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby to begin gathering footage. However, Frankenheimer had a great deal of pushback from the F1 establishment as the filming was interrupting the ebb and flow of the race weekend. One of the greatest naysayers was Enzo Ferrari. He was most concerned that Frankenheimer’s film would over-sensationalize the sport.
After the 1965 Monaco Grand Prix, Frankenheimer put together a 30-minute cut of footage and sent the reel to Ferrari. The response was so well received by il commendantore that not only was the production crew allowed unfettered access at races, but was even invited to shoot scenes on the Ferrari factory floor.
Fast forward more than 50 years and, as Formula One heads into its 70th season, Netflix offers its second year of its epic reality series Formula One: Drive to Survive. Just as Frankenheimer’s experience, the initial season was spurned by the top teams, Mercedes and Ferrari. Thus season 1 followed the follies of McLaren, Red Bull, Williams, Renault, Force India, Haas, but spent no time at the front of the grid.
Needless to say, after the debut of season one in March of 2019 –- and the critical acclaim it received — suddenly there was access to Mercedes and Ferrari. With the entire gamut of the F1 grid represented, Formula One: Drive to Survive has gotten even better!
Ferrari letting the Netflix crew on the inside was a rare treat that features a feel for the real interactions of Sebastien Vettel and Charles LeClerc. The on-track dramas played out on a global stage were undoubtedly chock full of fireworks. Now the show puts you in the race-hauler debriefs and off-the-track interactions.
Like season 1, season 2 casts the teams, players, families and drama, with a fly on the wall view of what happens behind the scenes on any given race weekend. Styled like a reality show, with all the genuine emotions mixed with the on-track action -– add superior photography and editing –- should make a fan out of anyone who watches it. That is unless you’re weird.
For fans who followed last year’s racing season, a genuine insider’s experience will put all the 2019 network coverage into perspective: The disastrous Hockenhiem weekend for Mercedes, while celebrating the 125th anniversary of the marque; the politics and motivations inside Red Bull as they swapped seats between Pierre Gasley and Alex Albon; the embarrassment of Williams’ tardiness to pre-season testing.
All this, and all the up and down the grid Machiavellian drama that you can handle.
The 2019 Spa Francorchamps race was marred in tragedy as Anthonie Hubert was killed during the supporting Formula Two race. Netflix captured the moment, the subsequent emotions and affect on the drivers and teams realistically and tastefully. While tragedy at that level is more of an anomaly in the modern age, moments like that remind us that this is still highly risky and dangerous business.
As I explained to McLaren boss, Zack Brown at a Petersen museum event last year, Formula One: Drive to Survive re-ignited my fascination with the top-level motorsport after a hiatus due to radical changes.
Watching this show brings back all the facets of F1 that I love: the pressure cooker, the personalities, the technology, the speed, the color, the global stops and the non-stop drama.
5/5 for once again creating an epic!