Drive to Survive returned for a sixth season on Feb. 23, bringing viewers back behind the scenes of the fast-paced and illustrious world of Formula 1 (F1) racing. The documentary series, which has covered every season of the sport since 2018, gives viewers a taste of what life is like for drivers and team owners off the track. From exposing personal conversations riddled with paddock politics, to chronicling driver betrayals of their long-term teams, DTS is known for documenting hidden aspects of the sport that even die-hard fans rarely get a glimpse of. 

Season six (re)introduces F1’s biggest names, especially DTS’s golden boy, driver Daniel Ricciardo, whose prior season left him without a seat on the 2023 grid. The show does a phenomenal job of capitalizing on F1’s most charming personality, highlighting the characteristic unfiltered, obscene humor and unbridled optimism in light of injury and upset that’s made Ricciardo a fan favorite. He isn’t the only DTS darling: the season was littered with intimate shots of teammates Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri joking around before races, appropriately reminding viewers of their youth—they are 20-year-olds who are good friends, and who just so happen to be professional athletes. Despite Norris and Ricciardo getting ample screen time season after season, most drivers still get a cameo to showcase their unique personalities. The spirit of comradery present in the sport was further underscored by paddock-wide chats between drivers, where conversations often delve into off-season plans and sarcastic digs.

Drivers weren’t the only ones given spotlights: DTS took care to capture the awkward, nerdy quirks of new Williams Team Principal James Vowels, deliberately contrasting him with former Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner, whose obscene profanity has made a name for himself. Given most die-hard fans are drawn to DTS not for the sake of catching up on the season’s races, but rather to get acquainted with F1’s drivers and team principals as people, the season’s focus on F1’s most lovable stars made it as memorable of a season as any other.

However, driver interactions, personalities, and interviews can only do so much to frame the central plot for each episode, rather than drive it. Although content sacrifices have to be made to depict the entire 2023 race year in 10 episodes, Netflix chose some uncharacteristically boring stories for a particularly drama-filled season and omitted some of its most important developments. The future of Red Bull’s driver lineup is rocky after track veteran Sergio Perez’s surprisingly rough 2023 season in comparison to his undefeatable teammate, Max Verstappen, whose unbridled success is nothing new. Additionally, rookie Oscar Piastri had a flying season, besting three world champions at the Qatar GP sprint race and placing podium in two back-to-back races. Both of these narratives, despite being the biggest speculative trajectories in F1 last year, strangely received barely any screen time. 

Instead, DTS rebounded to the same coverage of team struggles followed by positive resolutions that they’ve told five seasons over. Episodes lacked ingenuity and managed to leave viewers bored despite being highly dramatized. Episodes one, three, six and seven all follow nearly the same arc, beginning with early season struggles and concluding with satisfactory success after some bumps along the way. It’s an inaccurate depiction of how team results fluctuate throughout every season, and viewers are tired of seeing the same predictable storylines that have been paraded for five seasons—DTS was overdue for a stylistic change, but Netflix failed to make it. 

To deliver its highly constructed stories, DTS took far greater liberties with over-dramatization this season, even compared to earlier ones. The show forwent truth-telling, a cornerstone of documentary-style filming, for the sake of adhering to narratives they consider engaging, by fudging paddock drama for viewership. Episode one’s account of Aston Martin’s sudden rise to success after a few unimpressive F1 years is a solid representation of the team’s early season success, but the episode carefully stitched together scenes and races to make their progression seem linear. The team’s eventual fall in positions in the second half of the race year was completely omitted, painting a narrow, highly edited picture of the season’s highs and lows.

The same cherry-picking of races and conversations is true for nearly every episode. The culmination of Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff and driver Lewis Hamilton’s chat about the team’s failing car at the end of episode six deceptively implies the world champion’s stay at Mercedes. However, the recent announcement about Hamilton’s departure makes the deliberate editing of these negotiations feel ignorant. Similarly, the show’s depiction of Alpha Tauri reserve driver Liam Lawson’s first F1 races misleads the viewer into believing that Lawson’s performance, although impressive, was groundbreaking, and that his failure to secure a seat for the following season was a tragedy. The confusing editing of Lawson’s point-scoring success at the Singapore GP as his inaugural race, rather than his fourth, is a careful reconstruction that dutifully dismisses Alphatauri’s holistic success throughout the season, a record that makes Lawson’s success somewhat pale in comparison. 

Revealing paddock-wide political discussions that take place behind the scenes is another cornerstone of DTS that feels eerily ingenuine this season. DTS gained mainstream viewership largely due to the show’s signature fly-on-the-wall style of filming, broadcasting secretive meetings between team principals and drivers and capturing glimpses of off-season contract negotiation chaos to curate a thrilling viewing experience. Season six, however, inorganically forced crucial conversations and scenes that would’ve never occurred without DTS’s intervention.

One instance is when Wolff sits down with Hamilton to convince the driver to stay with the team. The obviously staged interaction leaves one frustrated, and muddles the exciting nature of an inside look into secretive negotiations. This orchestrated conversation is just one of many, with McLaren, Alpha Tauri, and Aston Martin, being a few of the other teams subjected to artificially produced scenes for quote grabs or narration purposes.

Another returning favorite of DTS is narration by F1 journalist Will Buxton, who is joined this time by former Williams Team Principal Claire Williams and former professional driver and racing commentator Danica Patrick. Buxton returns with his infamous commentary style of stating the painfully obvious, rarely adding additional context or meaning to episodes. However, his being on the nose does create several amusing quotes, with one of the best being “Haas are in a really difficult spot. It’s not bringing a knife to a gunfight. They’re bringing a spoon.” Williams brought a refreshing perspective as a former team principal, often weighing in with personal insights to help viewers understand the complex decisions made by the paddock’s ten current team principals. Her explanations added gravity to the precarious situations teams faced throughout the season, and her analyses were a welcome complement to Buxton’s witty but substanceless comments. Patrick, however, was wasted potential and forgettable compared to her counterparts. Her expertise as a past driver gave fans hope that she would bring a unique perspective on driver decisions and experiences; however, her commentary was just as explicit as Buxton’s, but lacked the humor that makes him so charming.

Overall, DTS season six’s dramatized episodes feel gimmicky at times, and the falsely constructed narratives and artificial “behind-the-scenes” moments stray far from actual paddock politics. The commentators, team principals and drivers are what make the show: they’re undeniably hilarious, and despite being sports professionals, seem as if they were made for the silver screen. As a result, season six is a fun watch regardless of its lackluster plots, but this is by merit of the inherent magnetism of its stars, rather than DTS’s efforts. Since the premiere of DTS season one, drivers and team principals have played a major role in pushing F1 into the mainstream limelight by being the charismatic people they are. As such, despite season six ultimately falling flat in its content and filming style, the show—as flashy and dramatic as the Las Vegas circuit—will likely continue to pull new fans into the world of F1.

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