Drive To Survive Season 5

I became a fan of Formula One during the 2018 season. It inspired me to write a how-to piece on becoming a new fan of the sport. Little did I know, Netflix was filming the first season of the Drive To Survive (DTS) reality series in 2018. With season number five dropping last week, this innovative approach to sports storytelling is credited with more than doubling the audience for F1 in the United States alone, and other sports like tennis and skiing are now chasing the format.

For new and prospective fans, DTS is an easy way to not only become a fan of the sport but to get a full grasp of all the teams, drivers and drama that takes place over the course of a season. After all, there are only 10 teams and 20 drivers, so it fits quite nicely into a 10-episode, documentary-style series. Indeed, it’s only part documentary. Unless you think The Real Housewives is a documentary.

For seasoned fans, though, DTS offers some key insights about what actually happened in the prior season. So much of what teams and drivers say during the season is guarded. It’s scripted by PR folks. The criticism that DTS is over dramatized and does not reflect reality can be turned right around on those critics. During the season, the teams and drivers certainly don’t tell the press everything. It’s only what they want us to know. However, when they are talking to the DTS crew and know that this won’t air until the season is done and dusted, they tend to be a lot more forthcoming.

After watching DTS season five twice, here are some of the key takeaways:

Episode 1: A New Dawn

The title refers to the 2022 technical regulations that both shook up the grid and delivered on its promise of enabling better following and wheel-t0-wheel racing. Naturally, it focuses on the first race of the year in Bahrain. This makes it quite timely in that the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix takes place this weekend. So what happened in 2022? Ferrari started the season with a one-tw0 finish after both Red Bulls DNF’d due to mechanical issues. Kevin Magnussen finished fifth for Haas. Mercedes struggled to be competitive, despite finishing on the podium. And Alfa Romeo with Valtteri Bottas as lead driver looked quite competitive. Point being, don’t put too much stock in this first race, whether your team or driver has a good or bad race. It’s a long season.

Episode 2: Bounce Back

No one wants to relive the porpoising issue, and we hope it’s in the past, but we did get to see some behind-the-scenes drama between Toto Wolff and the other team principles about how Mercedes wanted to address it. Because, clearly, it impacted their team the most.

Episode 3: Matter of Principle

The Ferrari clown show episode. It starts in Miami, which the DTS producers certainly wanted to feature as a new US race. It just so happens that it also highlighted Ferrari’s season of strategic blunders. In Miami, it was not pitting for new tires under the safety car. Then there was the Monaco disaster in switching from wet to dry tires. In Baku, it was actually an engine failure. They made the same mistake in Canada as in Miami with the safety car. And then made a similar mistake at Silverstone that cost Leclerc the victory and handed it to Sainz. And these are just a few of Ferrari’s 2022 unforced errors. For 2023, Binotto is out and Vasseur is in. But it does appear to be a systemic problem that leadership change alone may not address.

Episode 4: Like Father, Like Son?

Mick Schumacher got his own episode. As the season went on, it was obvious that the German was crashing a lot of cars and costing a lot of money. But DTS packaged it up in a way that was fully cringeworthy: Saudi Arabia, Miami, Monaco. And then getting lapped in Baku. The most prescient sound bite came from Gene Haas on a call with Gunther Steiner: “He’s a dead man walking.” Hindsight is 20/20, but there was no way Schumacher was keeping his seat when you look at his performance packaged up into a DTS episode.

That said, it allowed DTS producers to insert a nice homage to Michael Schumacher and to get some insight into how close the Schumacher and Verstappen families were during Michael’s historic reign.

Episodes 5 and 6: Pardon My French & Nice Guys Finish Last

These are the silly season humiliation episodes. Team principle Otmar Szafnauer loses two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso to Aston Martin and then loses Alpine protégé Oscar Piastri to Mclaren. The latter plays out over Twitter for all the paddock and the world to witness in real time. It’s impressive that Otmar kept his job after these huge blunders. One has to assume that Alpine just didn’t offer an attractive enough package to keep either driver, which will certainly cost the team. Based 0n early season testing, it’s looking like Alonso made a great decision. We also saw Daniel Riccardo announce that he wouldn’t be on the grid in 2023…and later learned that he joined Red Bull as a reserve driver.

Episodes 7 and 8: Hot Seat and Alpha Male

These episodes focus on Sergio “Checo” Perez and Yuki Tsunoda, respectively. Each of these are number-tw0 drivers. Checo won in Monaco after some controversy in qualifying. Of course, Verstappen outed Checo in Brazil when he refused to give Perez his place in competing for second in the Driver’s Championship. Evidently, Checo deliberately crashed in quali to get a better starting position and to also be in a better position to negotiate his 2023 contract. But DTS didn’t actually include any of this. Tsunoda is talented and still has a lot of maturing to do. This was a throw-away episode.

Episode 9: Over the Limit

It would be pretty odd if there wasn’t an episode dedicated to Red Bull and Max Verstappen. It was complete domination in 2022. However, the episode didn’t exactly celebrate this domination. By 2:43 into the episode, it turns to the cost cap scandal (for which the team was later found guilty and received penalties). This editorial choice was partly because it’s controversial and makes for good TV. But it was likely also because Verstappen’s dominance was rather uninteresting. I attribute this to Red Bull’s deliberate strategy of driver hierarchies. This is designed to optimize for the Drivers’ Championship. Works teams, on the other hand, optimize for the Constructors’ Championship, which means that you recruit the two best drivers you can get and let them race to score maximum points for the team. If one of them wins the Drivers’ Championship, that’s a bonus. Alas, Checo is not a worthy teammate for Verstappen. And with a dominant car, Verstappen just ran away with the championship with no challenge from the only other driver with any potential: his teammate. If George Russell or Lando Norris or Charles Leclerc had been in that other seat, it would have been a much more interesting season and championship.

That said, Verstappen’s full send around turn one in Sazuka, after getting a bad start from Leclerc, was one of the best bits of driving we saw all season. And then he went on to just crush the rest of the grid in winning his second title. He was untouchable. The rain is a massive advantage for Verstappen.

Episode 10: End of the Road

Abu Dhabi is the focus on the final episode. As I’ve written, this is absolutely the one of the top-five races worth attending. It’s just an hour outside of Dubai. The weather is warm and sunny on the Persian Gulf in late November, where the race takes place under the lights, and the parties following the race are legendary because all the work is done and all the points have been scored for the season. Last year’s race started with some potential to mix up the Drivers’ and Constructors’ standings, but it was not to be. Alonso and Hamilton had to retire due to technical issues. Ocon finished ahead of Riccardo to secure fourth in the championship for Alpine. And Leclerc secured second in the Drivers’ Championship with a P2 finish.

Production for season six of Drive to Survive is certainly underway as we head into the first race of the 2023 season in Bahrain this weekend. Subscribe above and follow my on socials to keep up with our ongoing F1 coverage.