Season four of Netflix’s Drive to Survive hit the streaming platform last week to yet another set of mixed reviews. The Formula One docuseries that follows drivers and teams throughout the season has completely transformed the fan landscape — but it’s also come with a hefty dose of criticism for its dramatized portrayal of the sport. But I’ve got some advice for you: Stop taking it so damn seriously and just enjoy it.
I haven’t been immune to the pleas to make DTS more realistic. In my past reviews, I’ve called for a more chronological format, and I’ve criticized the series’ use of post-recorded commentary and team radio outside of its original context. Fellow writer Owen Bellwood even made his own predictions for the exaggerated storylines the docuseries would feature this time around.
But as I watched this season of the show, I think DTS has figured out exactly who its audience is, and it’s not us die-hard race fans that want a faithful retelling of the past season. And, for the sake of F1, that’s a damn good thing.
Multiple outlets have referred to DTS as a soap opera this year, and as soon as I heard that phrase, I knew they’d struck gold. It’s a reality show. Do you think Keeping up with the Kardashians accurately reflected the life of pop culture’s favorite family? Did the Real Housewives series skyrocket into popularity because of its faithful retelling of the lives of the painfully rich? Absolutely not. These shows might be based on a thread of truth, but that thread is woven into a tapestry that’s far more interesting to look at.
F1 fans kinda hate that. A TechRadar review titled “Why F1: Drive to Survive season 4 can only ever disappoint” argues that sport can only be enjoyed live, when it’s at its most unpredictable. TechCrunch asked if DTS has “ruined” F1. EssentiallySports fell into the trap of stating that “older fans weren’t necessarily pleased with how the producers portrayed several incidents and rivalries.” Even though RaceFans calls the show “unmissable,” it’s “flawed” because of its embellishment.
DTS, though, isn’t made for the hardcore F1 fans that avidly consume up-to-the-second data during pre-season testing, that fight to find the truth in the midst of team principals’ political battles. This isn’t for people who want a race-by-race recap of the previous season. This isn’t for viewers who want the exact narratives of the previous season played out on screen. After four seasons, this should be clear: DTS is not an F1 season review — but the criticism still pours in nonetheless.
Sure, DTS embellishes F1 — but I’m going to say something controversial: So do you. So does every single fan that watches the sport. So do the commentators. We love commentators that wax poetic about on-track action, that give us unforgettable phrases that become part of our motorsport lexicon. We love asking Christian Horner for his comments on Toto Wolff and vice versa, and we especially love crafting our own narratives around why those men said those things. We love speculating on a bad day during pre-season testing. We love donning our rose-tinted glasses to remember the good ol’ days. And we definitely love shitting on people who don’t share our exact opinion of the world’s greatest driver, or the sport’s greatest season, or F1's most fascinating decade. We are — all of us — rewriting the “facts” into the story we decide to remember.
All DTS has done is present the action of a single season in a new way that prizes the messy, bitchy, glamorized storylines — the interpersonal relationships, the off-track rivalries, the driver history, the team struggles — in ways traditional F1 coverage has ignored. It gets gossipy. It gets dramatic. It’s when you text your friend “you are not going to believe what happened today” and turn a brief coffee shop encounter into a hilarious, over-the-top story that gets passed around as an inside joke for the rest of your relationship. It’s your weird habit that gets turned into a viral TikTok meme. DTS is reality — it’s just a different take on reality.
Does that mean I loved every second of season four? No, I did not. There was far too much Christian Horner. There was not enough Aston Martin. The Verstappen vs. Hamilton rivalry lacked the oomph it could have had if Verstappen had participated in the show. I wish we could have seen more of the fallout from the contentious 2021 season finale, especially since it’s still going on.
But you know what? I still enjoyed the season. I cracked open a can of wine and enjoyed a little weekend entertainment courtesy of the sport I love in one hell of an aesthetically pleasing, engaging way. Watching DTS is less like watching a recap of 2021 and more like reading someone’s dramatic Twitter thread about it — which is arguably more fun. Why rehash the same shit we already saw the exact same way we already saw it?
You’re allowed to hate on DTS. That’s your prerogative. But the fact that the show has contributed to a massive growth in demographics F1 has struggled to reach for years — younger fans, female fans, and American fans, many of whom have gone on to record popular gossipy podcasts or write popular gossipy newsletters — should be indication enough that Netflix has found the secret sauce traditional media has been missing.
So suck it up, fellas. Drive to Survive is fun, and it’s here to stay.