Zak Brown, Lando Norris, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2020

Drive to Survive is creating “avid” new Formula 1 fans – Brown

2021 French Grand Prix

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Netflix’s Drive to Survive series is creating new fans with more than just a passing interest in Formula 1, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown believes.

Drive To Survive’s first season was released in 2019, two years after Liberty Media’s takeover of F1. Since then the sport has reported growth in its US audience.

Following the third season, which arrived earlier this year, Brown described its impact as “huge”.

“It’s got to be the single most important impact in North America,” he said. “Almost every comment you get out of someone out of the U.S., they reference Drive to Survive.”

While a new generation of ‘DTS fans’ have been disparagingly regarded by some as having a superficial interest in the sport, Brown believes the series has also created committed followers of F1.

“It’s done such a great job not only just raising awareness, it’s turning people into avid fans,” he said. “You get kind of trend fans and you hope to put them into the ‘avid fan’ category.

“With Drive to Survive people go [from] ‘I’ve never watched a Formula 1 race in my life’ to ‘I’ll never miss a Formula 1 race again’. That’s been Drive to Survive.”

He credited F1’s owners Liberty Media for bringing the sport to a new audience.

“I think that’s a great thing that Liberty did very early on, which is recognising that we have this great sport, that we’ve not looked at people into what goes on in the paddock, effectively. Because Drive to Survive is a little bit less about the on-track action and it’s a little bit more about the off-track action.

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“And it’s such a fascinating sport, the politics and the personalities. I think Drive to Survive has nailed that and exposed that to the world and it seems to have really resonated in the US.”

F1’s audience figures overall grew in 2020, despite a drop in TV viewership and problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Social media and online platforms saw 36% growth, reflecting the changing way people follow the sport.

Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein attributed to the Netflix series‘ popularity during the last United States Grand Prix. As Formula 1 seeks to reorganise the latter stages of the championship due to the loss of the Singapore Grand Prix, Brown said the championship should strongly consider racing twice at the track.

“If it works out to where a second double-header is needed and to where the US could be one of those, I think given the rapid growth of the numbers in America now, for the growth of Formula 1, [it would be] awesome,” he said.

“I think Texas is wide open and my understanding is it’s sold out. So I think you could definitely, probably sell out again.

“I’d definitely be very supportive if we had the ability to choose and the stars align to have two races in America, I think will only continue to accelerate the momentum that US has.”

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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27 comments on “Drive to Survive is creating “avid” new Formula 1 fans – Brown”

  1. I’d be interested to hear from people who got into the sport through DTS to know if what they found in reality matched the impression they got from the show.

    As a long time/deeply knowledgeable fan of the sport I haven’t been enjoying DTS as I can see through so much of the drama & things that they often push in that show. I also really dislike a lot of the fake sound effects & other things they use to try & create extra drama where it doesn’t exist & it also takes me out of it a bit when they play things out of order or use footage from a different track etc…

    Not saying it’s bad or anything, Just that it isn’t something I personally have enjoyed watching. I guess the best way of putting it is maybe that i’d prefer it to be more of a straight documentary rather than something that at times comes across as more of a docudrama.

    1. @stefmeister

      I think that DTS is bringing in very people-oriented fans, rather than the more thing-oriented fans that are content with less personal drama.

      1. @aapje +1
        I actually enjoy the hyped-upness of DTS, even the ‘fake’ sounds, partly as I think F1 coverage of races on TV is actually underwhelming compared to the trackside noise and intensity. The aerial shots and wide-angle long shots are great for seeing relative positions, how drivers take corners (and including advertising hoardings in the TV images) but they are terrible at conveying speed. As my 12-year-old says, why are they so slow? It’s no use saying they’re doing 300kmh+ when the actual imagery suggests 20kmh. Any media needs to transfer an idea of pace, excitement, a hint of danger and DTS tries to do that. Plus the personal angle. Again, I know the video interviews are manipulated in editing to be more combative or edgy, but so what. They generally have an element of truth.

    2. A lot of the newer/younger audience have sprung up on social media and particularly on youtube. Just about all of them seem to appreciate and enjoy DTS but openly mock the nonsense, untruths and manipulation of the narrative. They are equally scathing of the agendas pursued by some of the Sky pundits.
      I don’t see their knowledge of the technical and political side much different to the average fan on the various F1 boards.
      Veloce on youtube is a good reflection of where the younger fans are at with nearly 100,000 subscribers and some of their output attracting nearly a quarter of a millions views. Not my cup of tea, but Iv’e found some of their content quite amusing.

    3. Hi,

      I’m Canadian and watched DTS and had never seen F1 before. Completely hooked me on the sport. I now follow it in my news feeds, watch the race weekends and Grand Prix’s, and play F1 on Xbox. If it wasn’t for DTS, I would have continued to have zero interest in motorsports.

      Reply moderated
    4. I fully agree with you.. def more drama laden and the out of order really throws me off especially having watched the entire season..
      prefer F1 TV ten times better

      Reply moderated
  2. I am one of the DTS converts. I think DTS showed there is more depth behind f1 than just the qualifying on Saturday and racing on Sunday – which in some cases can be completely boring at certain tracks. It allows you to see the driver personalities (and lives off the track) and a more in depth look what is going on behind f1.

    I think your criticisms are valid, but you have to realize that you are probably not the target audience because you are already following F1 now.

  3. I also forgot to add – DTS also is able to show you some of the interesting battles of the mid-field that you would really never know is going on because F1 on race day only focuses on the what going on at the Top of the pack.

    1. I think that’s a very good point – you get to see much more of what the teams at the back of the field are doing, where scrutiny tends to be further forward over a race weekend’s coverage.

    2. Yes, agree, that’s a really good point, DTS picks up on the excitement and frustrations of the midfield and back of the pack really well.

    3. That’s where the commentary of Murray Walker was great, he’d highlight what was happening through the race even if it wasn’t being shown on screen. I do it to this day, there is always something happening if you watch the gaps.

  4. I watched F1 back in the Senna/Prost era and then moved away as life got complicated. I got back into it via DTS and along the way pulled in my wife as well who enjoys the off track drama more than the on track drama. I suspect the gender ratio has shifted with DTS.

  5. Scotty (@rockonscotty)
    19th June 2021, 15:07

    I stared following F1 about 10 years ago. Before DTS, it was almost impossible to get anyone to watch a race. I showed a couple of episodes to some friends and now we meet up Sunday mornings to watch live races.

  6. I myself just can’t get into drive to survive as it comes across as fake drama a lot of the time along with a lot of the extra fake over dramatized elements that @stefmeister raised above.
    It’s a reality show for casuals rather than something for the true dedicated fans & that is a real shame as i would gladly watch and likely enjoy a proper sports based documentary without all the fake drama & lifestyle nonsense drive to survive unfortunately is full of.

    It maybe wouldn’t be as bad if we got a proper end of year review bluray now but sadly at the same time the drive to survive show started they also ruined the end of year reviews I guess to try & funnel you towards watching the netflix show. The end of year bluray used to go fairly in-deoth to the real drama & stories of the season, Now it’s just the same short highlight clips they put on youtube using the sky overlord commentary with no extra depth.

    I bet that once most of those who watch the netflix show realise that that simply isn’t what the sport is they will turn off. Maybe it will hook some casuals in the short term but i doubt most will carry on watching for the longer term.

    1. @roger-ayles As someone pointed out on one of the Sprint Qualifying threads the other day, and as @cashnotclass points out below (it may have been him on SQ actually), everyone (except those brought up by religious F1 fans) will have gone through a ‘new fan’ phase at some point. This is generally the way that a lot of young people ‘consume’ content nowadays. I have quite a few friends who were not F1 fans, but then watched DTS and now are full time fans who watch every Quali and Race. I aslo think it does a relatively good job of treating the season as a full season and arc. While previously, new fans would have potentially watched one race, realised it’s not for them, and never come back, now they realise that just because one race is a bit dull, doesn’t mean it can’t have massive implications in the long term.

      One of the things that DTS does very well is highlight what is happening in the midfield. While it may add some fake drama here and there, it has offered an insight into some of the smaller teams, notably Haas, that wouldn’t have been available otherwise.

      On the topic of good sports documentaries, have you tried the ones on Amazon Prime Video? They did a short series on McLaren’s pre-season in 2017 that was very well done and a little less fake drama. They also have a very good series called All or Nothing with other sports teams (so far NFL, football, Rugby, while Ice Hockey is coming soon), but I do hope one day they join an F1 team for a series.

      1. @randommallard That McLaren one on Amazon was good.

        There’s also a series on Amazon Prime following Fernando Alonso which i’ve not watched yet. I think it includes an episode on his 2019 attempt at the Indy 500 with Mclaren which will probably be interesting given how patheticly unprepared the McLaren operation was for Indy that year.

        I mean it was so bad they turned up for the shakedown of the car & suddenly realised they didn’t have a steering wheel as they had forgot to manufacturer one. They initially pained the car the wrong shade of orange. The spare car was in bits in another teams garage as they didn’t think they would need it so when Fernando crashed the main car they lost 2 days of running having to build the spare. The car was bottoming out badly as they forgot to convert inches to mm & then to end there misery they ran the wrong gear ratios in the car for Fernando’s last qualifying attempt so his top speed was 3-4mph slower than they expected it to be.

        That whole attempt has to go down as one of the most amazing fails in the history of the Indy 500 purely because of the team & driver involved & just how many fairly basic mistakes they made.

        1. @stefmeister Yeah I saw one episode of the Alonso one. It did cover Indy 2019. There was a lot of Spanish though so I needed to have subtitles. But as someone who did Spanish at GCSE I could *just about* follow it. The subtitles were useful though.

          They initially pained the car the wrong shade of orange.

          This always makes me chuckle. Not just the fact that it was the wrong shade, but that they then spent an entire test day repainting it when they could have been out on track. And what could they have done it that one day I wonder? They might have built the spare car, or realised they needed to convert inches to mm, or worked out the right gear ratios!

        2. @stefmeister I can’t say very much because of an NDA but if you think the McLaren doc was any less dramatised than DTS you are wrong.

  7. I suppose DTS is a way of giving new fans an inside perspective of Motor Racing in a hyped up Hollywood way. Also I think Brown is talking about new audiences who haven’t experienced F1 before.
    As young boy I would catch the train to Warwick Farm and I would just cross the track into the pits. Brabham, Clark, Amon they were all there, These days it’s near impossible for the public to get anywhere near the pits let alone a young boy walking around unattended asking questions and touching the cars. Looking back it was pretty amazing.

    1. As young boy I would catch the train to Warwick Farm

      @johnrkh Not meaning to plug one of my Youtube channels, But….

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krMpwbTRbRo

      1. @stefmeister thanks for that I just gave it a thumbs up. Matich didn’t seem interested if F1, pity because I think he would have certainly been up their with Brabham, McLaren and Chapman.
        I think one of the biggest blunders CAMs made was the switch to the US F5000 regs in 70. I know they thought the US format was on the rise but it broke our link with F1 very nearly killed our GP and deprived us of seeing the likes of Stewart, Hunt, Senna and Prost and many other F1 greats.

    2. @johnrkh As a young boy I would catch the train to Warwick Farm….. Glad you/we survived the red rattler journeys. I’ve come over all rose-coloured now. Thanks for rekindling great memories of times now passed. A time (to me anyway) when no “type of fan” was considered inferior, and the “lower” forms of motorsport were still respected for what they were.

  8. Most viewers will have had a “DTS phase” where they’re absorbed in the soap opera side of racing. There’s nothing wrong with that, though it tends to fade away as the drivers come and go and people age. As much as people like the current stars at the front of the grid, these too will disappear from public view and be replaced by new drivers who then have their every word analyzed by dozens of media outlets hungry for clicks and engagement metrics. There’s not much substance there, but it works. Hopefully the DTS-viewers introduced to F1 will, in due time, become motorsport fans.

    As an aside, I’ve seen a few clips where Netflix deliberately misconstrues what people are saying, cutting and pasting radio messages to match their desired narrative. It’s disappointing to see FOM sanctioning that kind of action. After all, it would definitely not be OK for other media outlets to do.

  9. Specially Perez’s story who was almost out of F1 if not for RedBull.

  10. Luis Javier De la Garza
    19th June 2021, 17:21

    Kind of same here…I did not watch the Schumy era and rejoined back when Alonso joined Ferrari. I think DT 2019 will be fine but the 2020 paints to be a great one! A lot of excellent material. Expecting to see a lot of Christian Horner there.

    Reply moderated
  11. Here in the US-I’ve been asked by two different groups of people who watched DTS to accompany them to an actual GP to show them around. They enjoyed the show but are unsure how to approach an actual weekend. I’m signed up for COTA and Montreal-so far.
    Wearing my birthday present McLaren sleeveless vest I’ve been stopped in restaurants and supermarkets by total strangers because they saw Zak and Andreas-that’s what they called them-wearing the same item of clothing.
    Amazing success for the series. Timing of it’s release while everyone at home fortunate, too.

  12. I’ve been watching every season of F1 for twenty years, and I recently tried to watch an IndyCar race. It just couldn’t hold my attention the same way as an F1 race, because I just don’t know who the the people in the cars are (F1 alums aside). What makes anything compelling for most of the human race is a narrative that involves some element of human drama. DTS is creating characters in a compelling narrative that people are responding to. I think approaching it in documentary terms is a mistake, because that is not the intent of the show.

    I’d be curious about some solid data on DTS and new fans, and the demographics of those fans.

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