The new season of ‘Drive to Survive’ arrives later this month and once again it is packed with fascinating behind-the-scenes stories from the F1 paddock. Here are a few of the best.
Be warned: This article is full of spoilers and swearing. Go here for our spoiler-free review of ‘Drive to Survive’ season two:
Verstappen’s vital third place
In the opening episode Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admits the team had to hit a specific target in order to retain Max Verstappen.
“We’ve got to deliver to retain him,” says Horner. “He’s got an agreement with the team that if we don’t fit the criteria by the summer break, which is the top three in the drivers’ championship, then he’s a free agent. And there’s a lot of teams in the paddock that would like to sign up Max Verstappen.”
Four races before the summer break, Verstappen was fourth in the championship. But victories in Austria and Germany, plus a second place in Hungary, brought him up to the vital third place.
Grosjean picked on
Later in the same episode Haas team principal Guenther Steiner jokes about “picking on” has incident-prone driver Romain Grosjean.
“Romain the last time a black and gold car was on the grid it finished on the podium with you so can you repeat this?” he asks, referring to Grosjean’s third place for Lotus in the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.
“We went bankrupt as well,” Grosjean reminds him. “We’re not bankrupt,” Steiner replies. “Anyway, not yet. It depends how many cars you destroy this year.”
Tension at Haas rises…
Episode two covers Haas’s annus horribilis in unflinching detail. When the team struggles to unlock the potential of its Spanish Grand Prix upgrade, Steiner turns the pressure up on chief race engineer Ayao Komatsu.
“I don’t get it,” said Steiner after another debrief filled with complaints from their two drivers. “The car was not a piece of shit. So why did we develop a car that fucking goes slower?
“Find out the problem and make progress out of it instead of [saying] ‘this is better’. It isn’t ‘this is better’, it fucking isn’t. I want to see the progress. I mean otherwise I make changes, you know?”
Steiner is on the receiving end of similar pressure from team owner Gene Haas. “We’ve got a lot of data but we still run like dog shit,” says Haas. “Can’t get any slower than what we’re going.”
“We just need to figure out a few little things, not to make mistakes, and feel good,” answers Steiner.
“Every weekend’s a new test,” continues Haas, adding, less reassuringly, “let’s see if you can pass this one.”
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The problems with the VF-19 come to a head during the Austrian Grand Prix, where the team line up 10th and 11th but sink to 16th and 19th by the chequered flag. “It’s fucking weird,” fumes Steiner on the pit wall.
“Fucking hell Ayao,” he continues afterwards. “Continuing like this is fucking banging our head against the wall, there’s no point. It hurts too much. We are not going anywhere. And the car was a fucking rocket before. There’s something fucking gone badly wrong.”
Meanwhile Grosjean has lost all faith in the team’s aerodynamic upgrade. “It’s very difficult to be very consistent,” he tells Steiner. “If you’re on you’re own it’s OK. As soon as you’ve behind another car… I don’t want that one any more.”
“I was just thinking what to do up there,” says Steiner, “I wasn’t even watching any more, I couldn’t give a fuck. We need to do something.”
Steiner later agrees to switch one car back to the team’s original specification. “I don’t fucking care who does it,” he tells Komatsu.
“I think we need to do it with Romain because he’s been talking about this since day one,” the engineer replies. “OK we do it with him,” Steiner agrees. “I speak with Kevin [Magnussen] if needed. But if somebody opposes to that I sack them. I take the responsibility.”
The plan to compare the two version of the VF-19 goes disastrously wrong when the two cars collide on lap one at Silverstone. “They hit each other!” exclaims one mechanic. “Fucking idiots,” another despairs.
“OK both cars got a puncture. OK that’s not good at all,” Komatsu understates on the pit wall.
“I’m so pissed off,” fumes Grosjean after removing his helmet in the garage. “Fucking hell. There’s a lot I can accept but not this.”
Magnussen: sees it differently. “I got pushed out by my team mate,” he says. “Was it on purpose or not? I don’t know. But as long as he’s in front of me he’s happy. He doesn’t give a shit about anything else. I need to calm down because I’m going to do something stupid.”
Steiner, however, is in no mood to arbitrate. “I’ve had enough of both of you,” he tells the pair, off-camera but on-mic. “You let the fucking team down, me down, [when] I protected you all the time.
“I’m not fucking going into who is right and who is wrong. I don’t want to get ‘he moved, he should have moved’ and all that fucking wank. Gene spends 100 fucking million of his own fucking money which fucking wants to pull the plug and let everybody down because you are two fucking idiots? I’ve not more to fucking say to you guys and if you don’t like it I don’t need you here. Don’t come back, please.”
Magnussen damages his door on the way out of the room. Steiner heads off in pursuit.
“He smashed my fucking office door,” he continues. “I don’t know where he is but he can fuck off, I told him. Both of them. Fucking hell. We have got two fucking idiots driving for us.
“This is not acceptable and we will make changes. If it would be my decision now I would sack them both.”
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Heaping misery upon misery, Haas’s title sponsor Rich Energy ended its deal with the team in a public and humiliating fashion. “I’m getting fucking sick of answering these these fucking stupid questions on a race weekend,” says Steiner after meeting the media. “I’ve never seen any fucking thing like this.”
“The Rich Energy deal was supposed to be worth $60 million,” Haas reveals later. “Other than the initial payment that was the only money we ever received so we’re done with Rich Energy now.”
Under the circumstances, it’s hardly surprising Haas admits he is considering his future in F1.
“What are we doing this for?” he asks. “We’re here to race competitors, drivers and race strategies and we don’t do any of that. So where do we go in the future? It’s a very, very expensive sport. If we’re doomed to run in the back I don’t think I’m going to be part of that.”
Hamilton takes it hard
The Netflix crew had rare access to the Mercedes team at the German Grand Prix, where they chose to celebrate 125 years in motorsport. Unfortunately for the team the race went badly wrong.
Valtteri Bottas throws his car into the scenery, leaving Toto Wolff to do a passable imitation of Steiner, pounding the table and exclaiming “Fuck! How is this possible?” in German.
Hamilton also goes off twice. After the race he watches a replay back and shakes his head, then heads to Wolff’s office. “I’m really sorry about today,” says the champion, whose initial crash and subsequent minute-long pit stop ruined his race. “I’m so fucking sorry man. Distraught about that fucking corner.”
“I think coming in around the bollard was the right reaction,” says Wolff. “You would have lost tons of time to do the lap with a half-broken front wing. We would have made a better tyre decision, that’s for sure, but the reset reaction is coming in, you’ve just lost your front wing. I wouldn’t beat myself up on that one.”
“I still just grappled with how it went from bad to worse today,” says Hamilton. “All I can say is just on my behalf sorry for not pulling through.”
Red Bull lose faith in Gasly
Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko is never one to mince his words, and so it is with Pierre Gasly, whose performance he describes as “sad” during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend.
“Gasly is poor,” he tells Horner. “He’s lost four tenths in the last two corners,” says the team principal and fellow ex-racer, “which I think you or I could do.”
“Pierre spends an awful lot of his time looking at data,” Horner opines later. “Too much so. He’s not driving on instinct. At this level you can’t do that. He needs to stop screwing his own head, measuring himself against Max, and let it flow.”
“I’m fucking fast but at the moment I’m fucking slow,” is Gasly’s pithy explanation later in the fifth episode, which concludes with the confirmation that he will lose his seat.
Gasly gets the boot
“Is this about my seat?” Gasly asks the Netflix team as episode six begins. “I want to know that you guys say the truth or not,” he explains.
Shortly after Alexander Albon is shown being photographed ready to slot into a picture which previously featured Gasly.
“We’re going to pit you in situ,” explains the photographer. “So we just have to shoot you in a similar pose because we’re going to remove that subject and put you in place…”
Episode six also goes into some detail about Albon’s mother, who was convicted and jailed on a fraud charge in 2012. But it’s not a subject Red Bull is willing to discuss with the media.
“This isn’t going to be a one-to-one about Alex’s mum I can tell you that now,” the team’s press officer tells one journalist as he begins an interview with their new driver.
“There’ll be an element of that,” he replies. “I’m not trying to cause bother here. I’ve got a job to do.” But the press officer shuts down the interview: “Let’s do that another day then.”
Following a successful first race for Red Bull, Christian Horner indicates what Albon needs to do to stay in the seat. “He needs to be within three or four tenths of Max by the end of the year to be the right guy to be alongside him for 2020,” says Horner.
Albon didn’t quite manage that – he was four to five tenths off Verstappen over the final four races of the year. But he consistently brought the car home in the points, and two races before the end of the year Red Bull extended his contract for another year.
The status of the two Ferrari drivers was a talking point throughout last season, beginning when Mattia Binotto told the media that under certain circumstances, Vettel would receive preferential treatment.
Leclerc states the situation more plainly: “When I signed for Ferrari,” he says. “Mattia made it quite clear that Seb was the number one and I was the number two.”
Things have moved on since then. Leclerc now has a long-term contract with Ferrari and last week Binotto indicated the two are “able to be at the same level”.
Hand-holding at Ferrari
By round 19, following several tense encounters, Ferrari were sensitive to the media’s portrayal of the relationship between its two drivers. Ahead of the United States Grand Prix the pair were updated on the latest coverage of their rivalry.
“Seb versus Charles: there was a big feature again in La Gazzetta again saying you are against each other,” explains the team’s head of communications Silvia Hoffer Frangipane. “But I think they just need to fill some space. We know you love each other so just tell people. You can occasionally kiss if you want.”
“We’ll not got that far,” jokes Vettel. “We’ll start by holding hands.”
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“When are we getting the Renault F1 Team jet?” asks Nico Hulkenberg as the team board a chartered flight. “When you get your first podium,” fires back team principal Cyril Abiteboul.
The air is already frosty after Hulkenberg was ordered to stay behind team mate Daniel Ricciardo in the closing stages of the Canadian Grand Prix.
“Something I want to do differently in future is at the end of the race we had to tell the two guys to hold not to race each other, but we are now in a position where we can let them race,” says Abiteboul, in front of Hulkenberg. “Not sure about this weekend. We’ll see how we are in terms of competitiveness.”
“Is that all right for you?” the Netflix team ask Hulkenberg. He raises a middle finger and tells them: “I’m not going to answer that question.” It’s one of several times during the episode that Hulkenberg jibs the crew over their questions.
A clear penalty
However strenuously teams may dispute stewards’ decisions at times, there are other occasions when they know they’ve been caught bang to rights. “We could get five seconds for that,” remarks a senior team member on the pit wall. “That’s going to fuck everything.”
“That’s what I thought,” agrees Abiteboul.
The team’s lack of results over the year are clearly weighing on his mind. “I know that if I don’t deliver my life expectancy is very limited,” he adds later in the episode.
Not a winner
Did Williams have their priorities right during the pre-season last year? One team member is convinced “the mirror idea is a real winner.”
“I haven’t heard that word in a long time,” deputy team principal Claire Williams replies warily. It later turned out the design did not comply with the rules – and that was not the worst of Williams’s problems by a long way.
Work in progress
The reality of the team’s pre-season predicament is laid bare when Williams is warned: “We are a very, very long way behind having a finished car here before we go to the test.
The team faces a “massive challenge with the delivery of the diffuser”, she is told, due to “the complexity of the parts.”
Several other aspects of the car build are running far behind. Including, most embarrassingly, “we haven’t even got any wheel nuts to hold the wheels on.”
Looking like a rookie
Halfway through the season, the team’s increasingly frustrated rookie driver George Russell lays bare the depth of their dilemma in a revealing debrief.
“It’s just getting a joke at the moment,” he says. “I’ve never been to inconsistent in my life. You look at the lap charts and you think I’m a rookie or whatever.
“I felt like I was driving very similar lap after lap and it was like a yo-yo. I felt like an idiot. We need to seriously pull our fingers out.”
“Alright, we’ll see what we can do about that,” an engineer replies.
Future world champion
Russell, a Mercedes junior driver, doesn’t pass up the opportunity to lobby for a promotion when Toto Wolff sings his praises during the same episode.
“It’s very rare that a rookie wins the F2 season,” says Wolff. “He won the F2 season and now we have a problem. And he’s going to be a future world champion.”
“When you put me in your car, Toto,” Russell urges.
“Certainly I feel enormous pressure whether I’m good enough to do this job,” says Williams at the close of the episode which focuses on her team’s plight. ” The pressure is there because it is our family business and I took this job on for a very particular purpose and that is to protect a legacy.”
As the interview ends, Williams reveals the programme makes allow the subjects to see their questions in advance. “You didn’t ask the last question about ‘has Williams got a future'” she points out, before telling them: “Williams isn’t on its way out just because it’s had a few, a couple of, bad years. We’re fighters at the end of the day at Williams.”
Desperate for a podium
When Hamilton’s penalty in Brazil promotes Carlos Sainz Jnr to his first ever top-three finish, there is debate between McLaren and his management team as to whether they should stage a photograph on the podium.
“Are you telling me we’re not going to go on the podium? Why?” asks Sainz’s manager. “Because I don’t want us to look desperate,” he’s told.
“It’s not desperate, it’s a legitimate podium. First podium of his career and he’s going to look desperate? Are you fucking kidding me? Since the day he was born he’s been waiting for this fucking moment.”
The photo opportunity eventually went ahead.
While the series doesn’t feature every driver and team – fans of Antonio Giovinazzi will be especially disappointed – a few of the little-seen drivers appear at the end of the final episode.
One of them is Daniil Kvyat, who unlike his three Red Bull stablemates is almost completely overlooked. “I think they ignored me for the whole year,” he remarks, “so they can fuck off!”
The second season of ‘Drive to Survive’ arrives on Netflix on February 28th, 2020. Read our review and guide to all 10 episodes here.
2020 F1 season
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- F1 revenues fell by $877 million in Covid-struck 2020 season
- Hamilton and Mercedes finally announce new deal for 2021 season
- F1 audience figures “strong” in 2020 despite dip in television viewers
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #1: Lewis Hamilton