Stuart S

Drive to Survive season 5: The CSM view

Stuart Searle, Account Director

In the wonderful world of F1, the start to this year has been rather entertaining. There have been partnership announcements (Qatar Airways, Tottenham Hotspur, Unicef), broadcast deals, OTT platforms and the launch of the F1 Academy to name just a few highlights.

And that’s not even to mention the on-track events, where Fernando Alonso has made an electric start to life at Aston Martin, with the team emerging as a potential contender to the relentless might of Red Bull. Against that season kick off backdrop though, a seismic drop in its own right was the long awaited release of Season 5 of Drive to Survive on Netflix, courtesy of Box to Box Films.

Ten episodes of gripping coverage of the 2022 season, showcasing the drivers and the Team Principals and their respective relationships; from the jovial and warm end of the spectrum to the political ‘knives out’ front and everything in between. The series’ USP is arguably the behind-the-scenes footage that wouldn’t otherwise be available to casual fans – which in retrospect has proven to be a phenomenally astute move from the powers-that-be at Formula One.

The huge demand and viewership of the show has had an unquestionable impact on the fandom and following of Formula 1 itself. Our research on “the Netflix effect” over the last couple of years points to a significant growth in younger F1 fans (56% of new fans of the sport are aged between 16-34), but also to a growth in female fandom too (43% of new fans are female, vs 31% of longer term fans).

Phenomenal growth in the North American market is also a key feature. There’s a debate to be had about whether that growth is down to the expansion of the region’s presence on the race calendar, or whether that expansion is down to the growth. Miami, Montreal, Austin and most fiscally significant, Las Vegas, all feature in 2023.

Moreover, the whole landscape of sports docuseries broadcast has been influenced by Drive to Survive. Both Break Point and Full Swing have been released in the last couple of months, focussing Netflix audiences’ attention on the comings and goings of the tennis and golf worlds respectively. It’s not exactly a leap to infer that these shows have Drive to Survive’s accomplishments to thank for their very existence.

Season 5 – A 10 Lap Whirlwind

So, which 2022 season moments are viewers treated to in this season and more importantly, WHY does Drive to Survive thrive?

Max Verstappen shows face. Kevin Magnussen is back. Ferrari have a rollercoaster season. The Constructors’ pecking order is challenged.

Guenther Steiner and Mattia Binotto’s bromance flourishes. Daniel Ricciardo spoils us with a rendition of Twist and Shout. Lewis Hamilton postures that porpoising “sucks”. Toto Wolff loses his temper.

Tom Cruise, David Beckham, Serena Williams and Caitlin Jenner all pop up. The racing dads are represented, with Carlos Sainz Snr, Jos Verstappen and stories of legend Michael Schumacher all featuring at various points.

Team sponsors get a cap tip via a Shell content shoot and a BWT Sponsor Dinner. Sebastian Vettel announces his retirement and the ‘silly season’ of driver transfers between teams gets some airtime.

And so much more.

One perspective on why it is engrossing? Jeopardy. Formula 1 is positively chock-full of it, in many senses, and Drive to Survive acts as the literal and metaphorical vehicle via which fans can taste it.

Firstly, there’s the purest jeopardy of all – drivers who line up on the grid and race at speeds of upwards of 200mph for 50 odd laps are naturally risking their lives week-in week-out.  Whether we like to admit it or not, humans are drawn to watch it. It’s the same reason Romans queued up at the Colosseum to see Gladiators – for the thrill of elite sportsmen showcasing their talents. We have ultimate admiration for Zhou Guanyu and for Pierre Gasly’s skill behind the wheel, but the respect comes in even greater quantities when we see the realities of when it goes wrong. Guanyu upended against the Silverstone safety barrier and Gasly’s car went up in flames – incidents that are equally as concerning as they are a reminder of the riveting drama that can be seen on 23 circuits this coming year.

Then, there’s the professional threat for the drivers, the Team Principals and ultimately anyone who dons the overalls and stash of their respective teams. Win or you’re out. Get results or you’re fired. The message is clear – but if it wasn’t clear enough, Drive to Survive repeatedly and eloquently shoved it in our faces throughout Season 5. Whether you’re at the front of the grid or the back of it, the pressure to meet expectations is overwhelming. Ricciardo losing his seat at McLaren to Oscar Piastri is the perfect example shown in this series. Undoubtedly one of the best drivers in the world (and arguably the most compelling and content-rich of the cast members) loses a bit of form on the track and is ousted by an up-and-comer – no-one is safe from the pitfalls of Formula One’s ruthlessness.

Finally, there’s the economic and commercial perils of the sport. If a team performs as it should, or better, it is handsomely rewarded. Prize money, sponsorship revenue and oodles of other commercial benefits await those teams and drivers who win or perform consistently well. SportsPro Media** quotes the newly launched Alfa Romeo x Stake partnership as being worth c.£78m over three years. And there’s even in money in the simple act of not crashing a car; Steiner reminded us this year that a crash of significance on the track can be as costly as $1 million each time.

These elements of constant danger are positively engrossing, not just for fans that love the racing, the history, the engineering, the strategy and the craft of traditional motorsport, but more importantly new followers – those who are ensuring the commercial future of Formula One is in safe hands for many years to come.

The Future

As with any long term broadcast project, there are inevitably questions over the show’s future. Will people keep coming back for more next year? Do Box to Box need to diversify the offering slightly to ensure success is sustained – and if so how? Does its popularity hinge on there being on-track drama like there was for example at the 2021 Abu Dhabi finale? And if it is dependent on the season’s race results, how can they make it appealing content for viewers if the 2023 season turns out to be a one-horse race? These are all conundrums to consider for series producers for Season 6 and beyond.

For now though, let’s sit back and enjoy the racing.