We started watching Drive to Survive on Netflix it just over a year ago, ahead of the release of season three during yet another lockdown, after the series popped up on Jacek’s algorithm and I read Kevin Clark’s amazing piece, “The Formula Won”, about the show at The Ringer. Up to that point I couldn’t give a sh-t about F1 and motor sports. And now, if we’re talking about Netflix premieres this month, I care more about Drive to Survive than I do about Bridgerton. This is not a unique experience.
F1 viewership has nearly doubled because of Drive to Survive – and the new audience straddles multiple demos, with more women watching the series and then engaging with the sport than ever before. And it’s not like those involved with F1 – from the team principles to the drivers and other players – are unaware. After three seasons, they’re familiar with how their dramas and feuds have been portrayed, sometimes sensationalised, how their personalities and pettiness has been presented… but they’re still showing up for the cameras. With one exception: Max Verstappen, the reigning world champion (by controversial decision), who announced last October that he was sucking out and would no longer participate after accusing show producers of exaggerating or fabricating conflict. Um, Max does a pretty good job of creating his own conflict though and it’s given the producers more than enough to work with for season four.
But while he’s not capitalising on the show’s popularity, other younger drivers are. Five F1 drivers are featured in the new issue of Vanity Fair – Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasley, George Russell, and Lando Norris (great name, right?) are photographed in high fashion for a piece about “the new cult of F1 fandom” ahead of the 2022 season kickoff in Bahrain this coming weekend.
All of them want to be the next Lewis Hamilton both on and off the track. By career wins and points, Lewis is the GOAT. But he’s also a cultural icon beyond the sport, a household name even to those who don’t follow the sport…and a name that’s about to change.
“I am really proud of my family’s name. My mum’s name is Larbalestier and I am just about to put that in my name. I don’t really fully understand the whole idea that when people get married the woman loses her name and I really want my mum’s name to continue on with the Hamilton name.”
Lewis’s parents separated when he was two years old. He’s close to both of them. Here’s Lewis with his mother, Carmen, in December when he was knighted by Prince Charles at Windsor Castle:
He hasn’t said exactly when the name change will happen except that it would be “hopefully soon”. It’s added incentive for him to win back his crown after last year’s debacle – and put his new name on the title…although the way he’s been talking, about his car’s performance so far (apparently it’s not as fast as many of the others), it’s going to be a fight to the finish. That’s exactly what Drive to Survive wants. And what the sport wants – what every sport wants, including golf and tennis.
It was confirmed a couple of months ago that the PGA, ATP, and WTA tours are now working with the same production company behind Drive to Survive this season in an attempt to emulate the success that Formula 1 has had. Several of the top ranked PGA Tour players have already committed and all four majors plus the Players Championship (which just concluded yesterday) will be included in the coverage.
So…will it work? I’m not concerned that there are some notable golfers who’ve not committed to participating, like Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, and Phil Mickelson (especially given his recent scandal, haven’t I been telling you for years that he is an prick?). Drive to Survive started without the participation of Mercedes (Lewis’s team) and Ferrari and those teams eventually came around when they saw the reaction.
The biggest question marks for me are access and candor. Drive to Survive works because of the combination of the two. F1 gave the filmmakers access to the most exclusive spaces but the characters still had to perform, they still had to talk, and talk candidly. But in many ways, they’d already been doing that within the racing ecosystem. The culture of F1, from the media to the stars, was already less uptight and guarded than we see in golf. It is not uncommon for an F1 reporter to ask an F1 racer, “why did you drive like sh-t?”, basically. Golf etiquette doesn’t work like that, or at least it didn’t. For example, insiders have known for years that Phil Mickelson is a dick, but he fakes so much all-American sh-t in front of the cameras, people went along with it to keep up appearances and uphold the culture. There are a few golfers now, like Brooks Koepka (he’ll be part of the series), who are less restrained with their true asshole selves but by and large, this is a polite sport. Polite doesn’t often make for good drama. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch – because of course I will, I already do watch golf because I play it, but for the PGA Tour, the whole point of this exercise is to attract a new audience and the way golf culture is right now, I’m just not convinced it’ll bring the same entertainment value.
Here's Lewis in Dubai yesterday.
Yours in gossip,