Formula 1 fans are being treated to one of the most hotly-contested seasons in recent memory. Living legend Lewis Hamilton faces a grueling challenge from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who has his eyes set on his first driver’s title.
Thankfully, all this drama is now covered in the behind-the-scenes show Drive To Survive.
These days, whenever there’s a dramatic moment or on-track incident in F1, Twitter is awash with people excited to dig deeper into the action in the upcoming fourth season of the Netflix show.
But this year, Verstappen has elected to sit out the behind-the-scenes series, and instead will focus on coverage in more traditional F1 outlets.
In an interview with AP, he said:
“From my side as a driver, I don’t like being part of it.”
“They faked a few rivalries, which they don’t really exist,” he said. “So I decided to not be a part of it and did not give any more interviews after that because then there is nothing you can show. I am not really a dramatic show kind of person, I just want facts and real things to happen.”
While it’s understandable that he has issues with artificial drama, this could prove to be a huge loss for the series. After all, a show about a sport that doesn’t feature its world champion could appear to have missed out on its biggest story of the year.
But in 2019, when the show first aired, it didn’t include interviews with Ferrari or Mercedes. While Ferrari has fallen from grace in recent years, the 2018 season that DTS initially followed featured a close fight between the two teams as Sebastian Vettel fought on-track against Hamilton.
In spite of this, DTS continued to uncover engaging storylines from further down the grid.
Its focus on Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo has helped make him a star of the paddock, and the behind-the-scenes chats with Haas team principal Gunther Steiner made him a standout of the show as he struggled to make his squad competitive.
The series has since proven popular in its successive seasons. And while die-hard F1 fans will bemoan its over-hyped drama, mixed up team radio messages and inflated rivalries, it has done what it set out to do in attracting new fans to the sport.
Now, whenever I mention that I like F1 to people, the first thing they ask is “Have you watched it?”, closely followed by “Do you like Daniel Ricciardo?” And, in both cases, the answer is yes.
But by sitting out the show in one of his most important seasons in F1, Verstappen will struggle to show his human side to fans. And in the current climate where access and transparency are everything in sport, this could prove a risky move.
As if to emphasize this, Motorsport Network today published its latest survey of F1 viewership. Vertsappen currently ranks as the most popular driver on the grid with 14.4% of fans picking him as their favorite.
However, McLaren driver Lando Norris placed second and was the top choice for 13.7% of fans – despite this being just his third season in F1. The survey also found that his core audience was among 16-to-24-year-olds, who will ultimately become the sport’s future super-fans.
Verstappen could also soon face competition from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Alpha Tauri driver Pierre Gasly, both of whom are proven race winners and have, this year, extracted impressive results from mid-tier machinery.
As Verstappen elects to close off one avenue of access to his story, other young drivers can swoop in and steal his followers. Gasly has an incredible story of redemption after being dropped by Red Bull and is now becoming one of the grid’s most consistent performers.
Norris also uses his profile on streaming site Twitch to share more about his life, and his Quadrant YouTube channel offers even more insights into his personality.
On-track performance is only one aspect of becoming an F1 icon. Hamilton has dominated the record books in recent years, but his off-track persona is what has elevated him beyond F1 and into the wider public eye.
Hamilton’s campaigns for greater equality in the sport, advocacy for reducing his environmental impact, and appearances at events like the Met Gala to showcase young Black designers have all helped cement his A-list position.
Now, as Verstappen looks to take his F1 throne, the young Dutch driver shouldn’t be afraid to show fans his passions and personality. Otherwise, he risks being sidelined by future stars like Leclerc or Norris.