Historically, F1 has been widely perceived as an anorak’s sport. There was a time where the sport was intangible to many fans, its technical jargon and exclusive air making it seem impenetrable. When broadcasting went paywall, the sport became evermore private, drastically limiting its accessibility. Since Liberty Media bought F1 back in 2016, they have been instrumental in reclaiming the sport’s popularity, returning it to terrestrial networks, and boosting audience ratings.
In the years subsequent to this takeover, F1’s youth audience has expanded by 17%. Not only this, but F1 has also become the second-fastest growing sport on social media, recording an increase of 36% in total cumulative followers across several platforms.
In the present day, young people are intrinsically drawn in by reality shows, and by keeping up with the lives of celebrities through their phones. Liberty Media has catered to this interest by melding it together with the world of F1. By introducing Drive to Survive on Netflix, Liberty Media has brought to F1 the ‘soap opera’ quality that appeals to so many. By making F1 available on a platform that is so popular with a younger demographic, it is inevitable that this audience will become more widely exposed to the sport.
Despite stirring up controversy with the sport’s purists, the introduction of F1 to Netflix has likely helped to safeguard its future. Drive to Survive has offered viewers a behind-the-scenes lens that has previously been unavailable in F1. An industry that used to be so secretive has all of a sudden offered a great degree of transparency, subsequently engaging a much wider audience.
For the first time, followers of the sport have been able to hear the drivers’ voices, entirely unfiltered. Sure, post-race interviews have long been televised, although it is important to remember that for these, drivers have been briefed in advance by their teams to say the right things. Instead, on Drive to Survive, viewers get a glimpse into the friendships and rivalries that take place offscreen. The drivers reveal their true thoughts and feelings, without having their views sanitised and polished by post-race debriefings.
As viewers watch the show, they become enthralled by the conflict that gets stirred up each episode. Much like with reality TV, fans feel inclined to pick sides in the drama, to have favourites, to become endlessly invested in the storylines that unravel. Not only this but Drive to Survive proffers context for what is going on during the F1 season, thus rendering it further accessible. Fans no longer need to watch every race to be up to date and feel encouraged to keep following the sport. The show promotes accessibility and provides a portrayal of offscreen politics that is often more interesting than the racing itself.
Traditionalists might argue that the Netflix show excessively dramatises the sport. Drive to Survive has garnered criticism due to the fact that the sounds used on the show are sometimes artificial, making engines seem louder and collisions more violent. Nonetheless, regardless of the way that the series sensationalises the sport, it is important to recognise the truths that it does let us see. The episodes help to fill in the gaps that are left ambiguous between races, seamlessly threading them together into a comprehensive whole.
In ‘Man on Fire’, the ninth episode of the show’s third season, Drive to Survive focuses on the terrifying crash suffered by Romain Grosjean. From the race alone, viewers were only able to discern an explosion of flames and a sickening sense of fear. Instead, the show turned these 28 seconds of fire into 51 minutes of reflection, memories and emotions unlocked. Interviews with Grosjean, his wife, and members of the paddock allow fans to relate to the sport on a much deeper level. The show helps to humanise the heroic drivers involved, reminding audiences that these are real people, with real families and real lives. While the purists might not be fans of F1’s exposure on Netflix, at the end of the day sport is a business, and the bigger the fan base, the more successful its future will be.
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