In what has become a staple of pre-season Formula One, a new series of Netflix’s much-anticipated ‘Formula One: Drive To Survive’ arrived on the streaming platform last Friday with ten brand-new episodes.
Here we will look at the opening episode, ‘Cash Is King’.
Series Three kicks things off on a playful note, with some of the series’ main protagonists joking around with a clapperboard, before jumping straight into a rapid-fire montage of last year’s big moments and stories. A rather ominous line from Sebastian Vettel – “competing against the best, that’s one thing; trying to do it with Ferrari is another one” – at the end teases nicely the drama and conflict still to come.
After this brief refresher, it’s off to Barcelona for pre-season testing, where all talk is about Racing Point and their “new” car.
Under New Management
From there, the series jumps back six months as we descend into the bowels of Racing Point itself. The shows offers up a portrait of new team owner Lawrence Stroll, plus a brief glimpse at his working relationship with Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer.
The picture the series paints of the Canadian Billionaire is almost cartoon-like: a ruthless businessman whose time is precious – someone who’s always on the move and who demands and expects nothing but the absolute best. He’s certainly an imposing figure, coming across as more mafia boss than team boss.
The brief snapshot we get of his relationship with Racing Point Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer also suggests all the frostiness that’s on display between himself and Williams Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams in Series 1, when son Lance was racing for the team. Szafnauer certainly doesn’t appear 100% comfortable around his new boss if their short exchange at the team’s car launch is anything to go by.
Whether this is a true representation of their working relationship or not, though, is difficult to tell, given that Box To Box Films have routinely taken liberties with the truth to elevate the drama. Using over-the-top sound effects and sped-up footage to heighten the spectacle is fine.
Where it becomes a problem, however, is when subtle forms of manipulation, such as clever editing, are used to twist and reframe events to suit a desired narrative, leaving everything of interest with an annoying question mark over its accuracy.
Returning to pre-season testing, we spend a brief spell with McLaren, much of which is spent with British driver Lando Norris as he prepares for his sophomore year. It’s not long, though, before we’re back with Racing Point, as rival teams begin to set their sights on the team’s controversial 2020 challenger.
One interesting aspect of this episode is the way the looming threat of Coronavirus is handled, with small references to the coming pandemic littered throughout.
First, a conversation between Daniel Ricciardo and his mum, Grace Riccardo, regarding his use – or lack of use – of a face mask. Later on, Szafnaeur makes his way to the Racing Point car launch, a moment that feels more like a deleted scene from the start of Contagion than a few seconds from Drive To Survive. These two moments in particular create a sense of dramatic irony that builds all the way through to the eve of the first race.
Roll On Melbourne
And it is the opening race, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne – or rather, everything leading up to it – that serves as the episode’s natural climax, as the coronavirus pandemic enters from stage left. We finally get a glimpse of how everything played out from the inside: the rumours, the whispers of potential cases, the confusion, followed by the news many had feared: a McLaren team member testing positive.
The sense of confusion and disappointment following the cancellation of the race is palpable, as the fans outside make their frustrations known, with teams big and small left with concerns over their immediate and long-term futures.
As opening episodes go, Episode 1: Cash Is King is a serviceable start to what I imagine was a particularly difficult series for Box To Box Films given the limited access and footage available to them. The episode jumps around a lot, both from team to team and in time, asking a lot of the viewer, but does successfully set up the main players and storylines to come. Jennie Gow also serves as a welcome addition alongside series regular Will Buxton.