Season 3 of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive To Survive documentary series is likely weeks away at this point, and in anticipation. F1 broadcaster Will Buxton has uploaded a video to his personal YouTube channel that sheds light on how the production team was able to make it happen despite restrictions to proximity and travel brought on by the pandemic.
If you’ve never seen Drive To Survive, perhaps its best quality is the level of access it offers to those notoriously secretive F1 squads, with filming crews embedded into a few of their garages across different race weekends. Obviously, each team’s need to keep a close-knit bubble of personnel to limit outside contact made Netflix’s ability to simply drop in on a given weekend impossible. Rather, as Buxton says, members of the Drive To Survive staff had to live with the teams they were covering:
“Just as for Seasons 1 and 2, before any racing on track even took place, Netflix had already spoken to the teams and agreed in advance which races they’d be spending with whom. But it was even more important this year, because the [production] teams who would be immersed in the middle of those [racing] teams and given access to the garages had to travel together, they would stay together, that they would be a part of the team. And that meant that they had to wear team kit too.”
That last point speaks to a few images Buxton shares in the video, where Netflix documentarians are actually wearing the colors of the F1 team they’re following while on the job. If you watched a number of sessions and content from the paddock last year looking for Netflix’s people, you may not have realized they were right there in plain sight, merely clothed like team personnel.
In terms of general filming, Buxton says that aspect of the process actually wasn’t altered too significantly for Season 3 — mic and camera operators simply had to work from a slightly greater distance than before. In the case of eavesdropped paddock conversations, they’d typically be recording from further away to begin with, so this wasn’t a massive change. If you’re a photography or videography buff, you’ll appreciate Buxton’s tips on how to suss out who is a part of the live F1 broadcast crew versus the feature crew, based on the gear they’re carrying.
Even under the most favorable circumstances, however, the Drive To Survive crew could never record everything with a limited number of people stationed at two teams every weekend. Of course, COVID-19 exacerbates this problem, as Buxton explains:
“Now obviously you’re never going to have a crew with every team, and then two or three roaming crews. As much as that would be perfect because you could cover every eventuality, financially it’s not feasible and the teams would never allow that kind of access on every single weekend. So it’s always risky, but it’s an inherent risk with making this kind of TV program that you’re going to miss certain things, especially so under COVID restrictions. That’s why there are small elements of poetic license that have to be taken here and there; a couple of frames dropped into a storyline about Spa, for example, that shows the paddock in Monza.”
While I’ve enjoyed Drive To Survive in its first two seasons, in both cases I’ve noticed a storyline or two that’s been ignored or underrepresented. I suppose that’s part of the challenge of filming a sports documentary in this way, over the course of a season, with so many moving parts. Even despite the COVID effect, Buxton reassures that “everyone working on this series thinks [Season 3 is] the best one they’ve ever done,” so there’s reason to be excited. Expect it to drop around the same time as in the past, in late February or early March. The 2021 F1 season kicks off March 28 in Bahrain.