Daniel Ricciardo, Drive to Survive season six

Max who? Drive to Survive season six prefers its favourite faces

Review

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For the sixth season of Drive to Survive, producers Box To Box films had to fashion 10 compelling episodes from 22 less-than-gripping grands prix.

Max Verstappen pole-axed the competition in 2023. Within half-a-dozen races there seemed little realistic prospect of anyone beating him to the title, and he duly claimed a record-smashing 19 grand prix victories over the course of the championship.

The Netflix series didn’t become a hit by dwelling on this kind of dominance, so the team behind it decided to almost entirely ignore Verstappen’s masterclass performance and focus their cameras elsewhere.

Long-time DTS watchers won’t fail to spot the irony. For years Verstappen refused to have anything to do with the show, unimpressed by what he called its “fake” plotlines. He was eventually persuaded to return to the chair for the previous season, his first as reigning champion, and the programme makers took delight in parading the fact he was back on board.

Guenther Steiner, Drive to Survive season six
Drive to Survive star Steiner takes a final bow
But this time around, Verstappen isn’t the subject of any of its 10 episodes, and only surfaces as a character in the stories of others. In the final episode Christian Horner reels off details of Verstappen’s remarkable win rate, little of which we’ve seen over the preceding episodes. Still, that probably suited the man himself just fine.

Instead, Drive to Survive falls back on a few old favourites. You can imagine how the production team sighed in relief learning of Daniel Ricciardo’s mid-season return at AlphaTauri. That drama, plus Ricciardo’s subsequent injury and Liam Lawson’s super-sub cameo, takes care of two episodes.

Another DTS favourite, Guenther Steiner, is back too, though not for long as we all know. As the team struggles through another season to Steiner’s escalating frustrations, punctuated with the usual profanities, it’s hard not to feel we’ve seen this all before. Gene Haas seemingly felt the same way and Steiner was shown the door in January.

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That posed the first of a few off-season headaches for the Drive to Survive team. An evident shortage of time and footage means Steiner’s fate isn’t covered in the episode where he features most heavily. Instead but the series concludes with him departing the interview chair, followed by an end card stating his contract was not renewed for 2024.

Drive to Survive season six filming
Paddock-dwellers are wary of the DTS crew
A similar but stickier problem occurs in the Lewis Hamilton episode. The passage of events have dated this in a way the producers can’t possibly have envisaged. The episode builds to a dramatic climax involving the Mercedes driver deciding to extend his contract with the team, though as we all know by now, he’s off to Ferrari for 2025.

More problematically, there is the ongoing doubt over Horner’s future. Under the circumstances, the decision to include a shot of ‘Father Christmas’ addressing his family with the words “has daddy behaved himself this year?”, clearly offered up for the social media meme brigade, is in poor taste.

But while the programme-makers will always be at the mercy of events beyond their control, the problem DTS increasingly suffers from is that its subjects are no longer unaware of the Netflix cameras. With each passing season the revealing asides which made the first DTS such a treat are fewer and farther between. Instead the paddock-dwellers chide each other for discussing sensitive topics within earshot of the ever-snooping boom mics.

No longer the outsiders, Netflix now pounce on every opportunity to show drivers name-checking them. Lando Norris gets one in within seconds of the start; Hamilton fails in his efforts to avoid the crew listening in on a conversation with his rivals by dropping the oedipal expletive; the Williams drivers speculate how DTS will frame Ricciardo’s return.

This may be entertaining but it’s not the kind of insight which once made this series vital viewing. There is still some of this, notably when the crew pick up a mumbled conversation at Alpine which presages the mid-season dismissal of team principal Otmar Szafnauer.

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More often we are shown ‘meetings’ which, while though not necessarily scripted, feel very much contrived for the cameras. It is hard to take some of these conveniently expository scenes at face value.

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2023
Ricciardo’s Red Bull test is a highlight of the new season
But the access afforded to Drive to Survive does give them the opportunity to show stories which others in the media don’t get to witness first-hand. This is most obvious in the case of ‘Fall from Grace’, the season’s stand-out episode, which takes us behind the scenes of the private test which rescued Ricciardo’s F1 career and ended that of Nyck de Vries.

Other episodes of note include one contrasting Steiner’s struggles with the smooth modern management style of new Williams team principal James Vowles. And, as was the case in the previous season, DTS captured the ongoing turmoil at Alpine first hand, which yielded enough intrigue for two episodes.

The additions of Danica Patrick and Claire Williams to the voiceover line-up bring welcome variety. The latter could surely have been put to better use, however: She debuts in the episode centred on Aston Martin, but while the former Williams deputy team principal has a long history with the Strolls, she never mentions them.

But the drivers and team bosses are who we most want to hear from, and there’s plenty of unvarnished takes, good-natured ribbing and moments of real needle between them which make DTS a fun watch.

This sixth season is the last of Netflix’s most recent deal. It’s hard to imagine F1 will want to stop there, though CEO Stefano Domenicali admitted two years ago the DTS formula won’t work indefinitely.

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Drive to Survive is regularly and rightly credited with boosting F1’s appeal, especially in the United States. But the championship is now looking to other, more spectacular cinematic products to lure in its next generation of viewers – namely its Hamilton-backed, Apple-financed film starring Brad Pitt which started filming at races last year.

Will that make DTS redundant? Will Netflix join other streamers in embracing live sport, having dipped a toe in the water last year through its tie-up with F1 and the Professional Golfers’ Association, and swap its docudrama for the real thing? The time may have come to change the DTS formula.

Past Drive to Survive reviews

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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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6 comments on “Max who? Drive to Survive season six prefers its favourite faces”

  1. 2 episodes on Ricciardo?

    Jesus!
    I knew last year when he came back, Netflix would be on it right away..
    Shouldn’t have read this before watching..

  2. The Oedipal expletive?

    Well done.

  3. Huge fan of F1. Can’t stand DTS. Watched bits and bobs of season 1 and 2, haven’t returned since.

  4. Not that I really like the show, but I like spoilers even less. I’ll probably watch it, but I’m still not sure. In the beginning it was just stupid (but hey, it’s F1, and those were the COVID days, it was entertaining enough), but soon it became boring as well. Last season had almost lulled me to sleep (literally).

  5. Small mercies, I guess.

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