How Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’ docuseries turned Formula 1 into an American cultural phenomenon

By | February 23, 2024

To many observers, American Formula 1 fandom seemed to come out of nowhere. Just a few years ago, most Americans didn’t know the difference between an F1 car and a NASCAR stock car — and might not even realize they were separate entities.

Now it feels like everyone has suddenly become obsessed with the European-based motorsport series.

Formula 1’s enormous appeal in America is no coincidence – and much of that appeal is thanks to a single TV show: Formula 1: drive to survivepopularly known as DTSwhich premiered on Netflix in 2019.

Since then, Netflix has produced five seasons DTSs sixth premiere on February 23. How could a single docuseries reignite interest in a seventy-year-old sport and create a major cultural moment in the US?

What’s Formula 1: drive to survive?

From the beginning, Drive to survive had fundamental appeal, offering an intimate behind-the-scenes look at Formula 1 racing, long considered the most exclusive motorsport in the world.

While sports docuseries used to be popular DTS, the show’s humanizing look at the twenty drivers on the grid and their ten respective teams – plus the competition, drama and expletive-filled antics of the paddock – immediately grabbed attention. The early pandemic lockdowns further fueled interest. Before long, the series turned many racers and even their team leaders into bona fide celebrities.

In Netflix’s first-ever transparency report cataloging ratings for all its movies and TV shows through the first half of 2023, the show’s fifth season was the most-watched sports series on the streaming platform, with more than 90 million hours watched. It fell just outside the top 100 shows on Netflix overall, out of more than 18,000 titles. At the start of 2022, 30% of F1 fans were on the list DTS According to Morning Consult, this is the “main reason” they started following the sport over the past 18 months.

Why did it become so popular in the US?

While DTS As it has acquired a global audience, much has been made of significant interest from the US, a sports-obsessed country that has evaded Formula 1’s marketing efforts for decades. Over the course of just a few years after that DTS When the series premiered, F1 viewership in America exploded, with the series helping to expand the number of American races from a single one in Austin, Texas, to three, with races in Miami and Las Vegas.

The show wouldn’t have been possible without Liberty Media, the American company that bought the Formula 1 brand in 2017 and sought new ways to connect with fans. That included a number of different initiatives, including assembling a film crew to create a docuseries for the 2018 season.

“One of the reasons for that DTS holds out [itself] Over time, the sport naturally generates new stories every year,” said Tom Rogers, executive producer Drive to survive and the director of post-production at Box to Box Films, Yahoo Entertainment tells us. “You never really know what’s going to happen.”

For example, the first episode of season 1 showed the wheels coming off both cars – literally and figuratively – at Haas, one of the newer teams on the grid, as team boss Guenther Steiner burst into a series of incoherent rants. It was reality TV gold with instant appeal to American audiences.

Another development that also benefited the series: DTS producers, especially in their early seasons, weren’t as concerned about what was happening at the top of the leaderboard. Mercedes and Ferrari, the two teams that led the championship in 2018, refused to participate in the show’s first season, forcing the film crew to look for other stories.

“We met great characters like Guenther Steiner, who had been in the sport for years, but no one seemed to realize this guy was interesting,” Rogers explains.

How else has it affected American culture?

While the significant increase in the number of American Formula 1 fans has been well documented in recent years, less attention has been paid to the other ways in which Drive to Survive’s A dramatic take on Formula 1 – and motorsport culture in general – has entered American life.

In November 2022, as America’s interest in Drive to survive went into overdrive, writer India Roby coined the term ‘motorcore’ to describe how motorsport had infiltrated the fashion zeitgeist. Suddenly, people all over the US, from celebrities to people who had never watched Formula 1, were on the hunt for vintage Ferrari jackets. Fashion houses like Chanel also integrated motorcore into their catwalk shows.

“The F1 hype feels ‘new’ to many people,” Roby tells Yahoo Entertainment. “They want to repeat their new hobby. Motorcore fashion does just that and exudes an ‘if you know, you know’ vibe.”

There is also an accessibility to motorcore fashion, i.e. people who don’t even follow or watch the sport DTS can also participate.

The sartorial shift has been a boon for those in the sport.

“F1 drivers become fashion stars and celebrities in their own right,” she says. “We haven’t seen that in F1 or motorsport in the past.”

Longtime style icon, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton has attracted increasing attention in recent years for his elaborate weekend outfits; driver Zhou Guanyu has partnerships with brands such as Dior; and Daniel Ricciardo, whom many consider the breakout star and “storyteller” of the early season DTSattended his very first Met Gala in 2023 with designer Thom Browne.

Daniel Ricciardo Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo attends the 2023 Met Gala. (Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Hollywood races to Formula 1

Interested in DTS Not only did it lead production company Box to Box to create new docuseries for more than half a dozen sports, it also fueled a resurgence in motorsports-inspired TV shows and films. Most notably, Brad Pitt has been working on a new F1-inspired film.

This also includes the drivers themselves. Ricciardo is developing a scripted series for Hulu based on his experiences in the sport, while former Haas team boss Steiner is developing a workplace comedy for CBS.

“There’s plenty of drama and excitement to be had,” talent agent Daniela Trejo tells Yahoo Entertainment. While many projects may fall by the wayside due to the nature of the industry, she is especially intrigued to see what Ricciardo’s show looks like. “His approach to life and racing is just so much fun, and as cliché as it is to say, his authenticity is magnetic,” she says.

Formula 1’s celebrity culture

Drive to survive and the way Formula 1 is designed is also part of the huge resurgence of ‘wives and girlfriends’ (WAGs) culture seen in various sports. Formula 1’s WAGs have been in the spotlight long before Taylor Swift took to the football field to support boyfriend Travis Kelce.

“I’m sure there is a section of F1 fans who will be hungry for more behind-the-scenes content after watching Drive to survive and use the WAGs’ social media accounts to do just that,” pop culture and F1 reporter Emily Selleck explains to Yahoo Entertainment.

Because of that interest Drive to survive the significant others of drivers and team leaders can still be seen more often. “There is an element of ambition when it comes to Formula 1 WAGs,” says Selleck. “For the most part, they’re not big celebrities, so it’s fun to follow these genetically blessed women with relatively normal lives and careers where they live out the fantasy that so many people dream of.”

Many of them have even become part of their partners’ public personas. Ring rider Valtteri Bottas works with girlfriend Tiffany Cromwell, an Australian Olympic cyclist, on various companies and has even started cycling herself. Mercedes racer George Russell and longtime girlfriend Carmen Montero Mundt are now official Tommy Hilfiger ambassadors.

DTS executive producer Tom Rogers is aware that some fans believe the series exists has negatively affected Formula 1, but he chooses to see the positives of its success and its influence on the sport, such as people developing a new interest and finding a sense of community that they might not otherwise have.

He thinks about his 8-year-old son and his peers. “His friends talk about Formula 1. When you stand at the school gates you see people wearing Formula 1 merchandise and people talk about the sport in a much more general zeitgeist,” he says. “That is exactly how Formula 1 is now penetrating the culture. That’s a testament to the Drive to survive strategy.”

Moreover, sports must find new audiences in order to continue to grow and prosper.

While Rogers hopes people will watch the actual races and even attend a Grand Prix weekend in person if they are able. “It doesn’t really matter how you start a sport,” he says. “If you go along with it Drive to survivethen great.”

Formula 1: drive to survive Season 6 will stream on Netflix from February 23.

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