Did Netflix ruin Formula 1 with ‘Drive To Survive’?

If you followed along with the 2021-22 Formula 1 season, you know that Netflix’s latest installment of Formula 1: Drive To Survive is certain to be a doozy.

Luckily, the wait is nearly over. Drive To Survive Season 4 launches on March 11, and Netflix released the official trailer for the show today.

Here’s the thing:

There are few, if any shows, that have had quite the same impact on a sport as Drive To Survive has for Formula 1.

According to The Guardian, overall ratings for actual Formula 1 in 2021 were up more than 40%, making it the most-watched F1 season in the U.S. ever. The outlet says that the sport added an estimated 73 million fans last year, globally.

Americans, who have usually opted for Nascar if not non-automotive sports altogether, are clamoring enough for the sport to add a second U.S.-based race in Miami this year. And yes, there is supposedly a beach club in the center of the track, in true Miami fashion.

You can’t draw a straight line from the Netflix docuseries to the growth of Formula 1, but it seems clear that there is at least a correlation if not direct causation.

But there is another side to this coin. As a new-ish Formula 1 fan myself, drawn in by the docuseries, I have noticed an incredibly common sentiment among the OG F1 fans: They say that the Netflix show has ruined the sport.

Let me catch you up briefly on this latest Formula 1 season for context.

Mercedes AMG Petronas has been dominant in Formula 1 for nearly a decade. The team has come in first place in the World Constructors Championship (how good is your car?) and first place in the World Drivers Championship (how good is your driver?) for seven consecutive years… until last year.

With sweeping changes to the sporting regulations forthcoming, Mercedes decided to focus most of its resources and energy on the 2022 season and car, leaving an opening for its rival, Red Bull Racing, to make a play for first place. And it did.

Max Verstappen (Formula 1’s resident bad boy and lead Red Bull driver) and Mercedes’ Sir Lewis Hamilton (seven-time Drivers champion and multiple record holder) were neck and neck all season long, trading P1 and P2 — or, first and second place — nearly every single race.

Hamilton was behind going into the final four races, and won the first three. The ’21-’22 champion would be determined in the final race, in Abu Dhabi. A nail-biter of a season is rare in the sport, and even moreso since Mercedes absolutely took over.

Hamilton led most of the final race, despite a Herculean effort by Checo Perez (Verstappen’s teammate on Red Bull) to hold him up and give Verstappen a chance to overtake. A couple safety cars, one virtual and one real, led Verstappen to change to fresh tires, whereas Hamilton and Mercedes chose to keep track position and leave on the old tires.

(A “safety car” comes out during a caution period due to an obstruction on track or some other incident. The safety car rules require the racers to slow down and they are not allowed to overtake.)

This is where things get incredibly hairy.

The final safety car was caused by a crash. The rules state that during a safety car, all the lapped vehicles should overtake the safety car and take their place in the actual order of cars. (Cars can often get mixed up due to being lapped or going into the pits for tire changes.) The rules also state that after all the lapped cars have assumed their rightful position in line, the safety car should take an additional lap before exiting, at which point racing resumes at the starting line.

FIA director Michael Masi ignored those rules, only allowing the cars between Hamilton (the leader) and Verstappen (P2) to unlap themselves. He also brought the safety car in a lap early.

In other words, the race should have finished under a safety car, which would have been anticlimactic but would also have been true to the rules of the sport. However, that’s not what happened.

With fresh tires, Verstappen easily overtook Hamilton in the last lap and ultimately won the race, and the Drivers Championship.

Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of Formula 1 fans who feel that the officials juiced the story line to keep new Netflix fans entranced. To be clear, this wasn’t the first “iffy” call of the season that seemed to level out Hamilton and Verstappen.

Anything that suggests tampering with the fairness of the sport would be justifiably upsetting to long-time fans.

Others, like Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner (who is randomly married to Ginger Spice), seem pleased to be enjoying the Netflix effect, even if his feelings are misguided at best and misogynist at worst.

Like I said, I’m a new fan to Formula 1 precisely because of Drive To Survive, so I’m clearly biased. But I think anything that attracts an audience to what I’ve come to find is a fascinating, complex, adrenaline-pumping sport is probably a good thing.

Do I think that adjusting or bending the rules in order to produce a better storyline is right? Absolutely not. Am I saying that’s exactly what happened? I haven’t the slightest clue.

All I know is that I’m 100% ready to mainline this next season of Drive To Survive on Friday and segue that energy directly into the ’22-’23 season of Formula 1. Who’s with me?