McLaren Car Assembly, 2017

“Grand Prix Driver”: McLaren documentary reviewed

F1 review

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It’s been 25 years since McLaren last allowed a film crew behind-the-scenes access to its F1 team. The resulting programme documented Ayrton Senna’s final year with the team.

It also showed the team in its first year after splitting with Honda. It’s doubtful that when McLaren embarked on this new project that they expected it would reveal how their second Honda partnership fell apart.

But of course it did, and F1 fans taking in this four-part series will discover how it all went wrong. They’ll have to be patient at first, however, as the car doesn’t hit the track until the final episode.

McLaren Mission Control, 2017
“Grand Prix Driver” takes you inside McLaren’s nightmare final year with Honda
Senna writer Manish Pandey and his team had hoped to follow McLaren’s progress throughout an entire season but Formula One Management didn’t want to give them access to the races. The story, therefore, runs from Stoffel Vandoorne’s first day at the factory as an official racing driver in December 2016 up to the pre-season tests the following March.

Between those two points we follow Vandoorne beginning his life as a racing driver and, in contrast, the vastly experienced Fernando Alonso embarking on another season in more routine fashion. But the storyline is driven by the development of the car as the team overruns deadlines and are beset by niggling problems installing the new engine – all discouraging signs for what is to follow.

While the growing tension of the overrunning car build supplies the drama, the section on Vandoorne feel more like standard documentary fare of the type you might see in a pre-race build-up. Superbly constructed but lacking in punch.

This can’t be said of the final episode where the plot lines converge, the drivers take the completed car on-track and the awkward-ometer takes a battering. Alonso’s withering assessment of his engine spells the end of the McLaren-Honda project, even if a sheepish Yusuke Hasegawa, in one of his few appearances in the film, does his best to smooth things over.

Obviously the story couldn’t be left hanging there: The inevitable separation from Honda is covered in a series of scenes around the time of the Singapore Grand Prix. Here there are a few dramatic contrivances: Scenes put together to tell the story which were arranged for the convenience of the film which, although not scripted, lack the natural feel of the rest of the piece.

What we get, therefore, is effectively a story which bridges two divorces: from the end of Ron Dennis’s 35-year tenure at the team to the split from Honda. And while the film doesn’t completely lay the blame at Honda’s feet, the words of McLaren group chief operating officer Jonathan Neale tells you exactly how they saw it: “What happened was definitely not what we expected or were led to believe.”

Few teams have allowed the cameras to get this close to their inner workings since McLaren last did so in 1993. There are encouraging signs we will get to enjoy more films like this in the future, though whether they hit the same heights as this remains to be seen.

Grand Prix Driver trailed

Grand Prix Driver pictures

Grand Prix Driver is available on Amazon Prime from February 9th.

F1 Fanatic rating

Rating four out of five

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 21 comments on ““Grand Prix Driver”: McLaren documentary reviewed”

    1. In my Prime sub, it says the first episode is available on 9th Feb. Did you get an early review copy, Keith?

      Manish Pandey and his team had hoped to follow McLaren’s progress throughout an entire season but Formula One Management didn’t want to give them access to the races.

      Lest anyone forget that Liberty/FOM are also a corporate chasing the almighty dollar. I’d be curious to know what FOM saw as a risk or threat to their business and operating model by allowing access to a team-specific documentary crew.

      1. It’s probably a contractual thing with the companies who have paid to show the races.

        Hopefully in future when Liberty get to re-negotiate the contracts, this sort of thing will be fixed.

        1. This is exactly how it is. And looking forward, how we hope it will be.

        2. I can imagine (or rather, I did imagine as I let my imagination run wild for a second) them having had talks about this before the filming even began, and having convinced the involved parties that such a documentary would be good for F1s popularity; but then, as it was underway, someone from McLaren whispering to Liberty it might be better to stop this thing.

      2. @phylyp I did but under an embargo, which has now passed.

        1. Just a passing embargo? That’s a relief. Was worried you might be trapped in a full naval blockade of Amazonian proportions.

        2. Cheers Keith.

    2. Blimey, that makes me feel old – I remember the 1993 documentary well. Recorded it onto VHS and used to watch it lots as a kid. Would love to see that again.

      1. Is it this one on youtube?

        1. The link didn’t show up. Search “mclaren documentary 1993” on youtube.

          1. Just looked it up thanks, shall enjoy a bit of retro F1 there.

            1. This ain’t no retro, it’s a essence:)

    3. >”Formula One Management didn’t want to give them access to the races”

      That’s something that I would have expected when Bernie was running the show. I would hope that Liberty would be more open minded about things like this. I’d be curious to hear what their reasons were for not allowing it.

      1. The contracts with the various broadcasters haven’t changed. FOM can’t agree for a globally available documentary to contain footage a local network has paid top dollar to have exclusively.

    4. I wonder if all the episodes will be available 9th of this month or just the first episode. Either way this looks very interesting.

      1. All available

    5. I remember The Team: A Season With McLaren with very fond memories. There’s been the odd documentary since but nothing had the access they had then. I had high hopes for this one and I’ll watch it but it’s a shame they couldn’t get access to film the whole season.

    6. Just watched this and it is truly fantastic. Like all good television, it goes beyond the subject and shows what happens when a big project goes wrong, relevant to anyone who manages or is involved in one. I just hope there is a part 2 to show if the decision to go to Renault was the right one.

    7. Damn, I was quite interested to see this, but it’s geo-blocked in Hungary. Boo.

      1. Same in The Netherlands… Boooooo.

        Anybody know which country it is available in, or better, how to watch it here?

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