Drive To Survive season 3 review: more than racing

Published: 19 March 2021

► Season 3 of Drive to Survive
► A ten episode look at the weirdest season in ages
► Is it worth watching? 

For many people – including myself – Murray Walker will always be the voice of Formula One, so like many people I found myself watching hours of old season reviews after news of his death. Aside from the electrifying commentary, one of the most notable things about each edition – whether it was ‘97, ‘98 or ‘83, was the level of depth and narration it gave to every championship. There was a story, mixed with drama and personality – as well as about 12 retirements every race, and gaps of 3 seconds in qualifying.  

Unlike Sky Sports F1 season reviews which tend to be race highlights played over EDM, the reviews of the 80s and 90s really put you inside the sport – ready to experience the emotion, aggression and danger – as well as the obvious speed and skill. And why do I mention this? Because Drive To Survive and season 3 in particular, is the spiritual 4K UHD successor to those VHS classics. 

Get past the sharp graphics and the Netflix money, and Drive To Survive is a mainline into the heart of F1; from the commercial deals and the cars, to the multi-dimensional people and the harsh decisions. And of course, this year it also floats on a backdrop of issues that are so much bigger than racing: a global pandemic and a push to end racism. 

This isn’t a documentary about Coronavirus, though; Covid-19 seeps in early – first as whispers on the phone or radio reports in the background – but after Australia we’re quickly into the rebuild, and the rest of the eventful 2020 season. 

It’s not a documentary about racism either; the message the Mercedes team brought to the sport this year is shoved to a five minute segment at the end – partly showing why Hamilton and the team have to do so much campaigning in the first place. A very odd decision, when so much has been made both by its most successful driver, and the sport itself, to change things.

Aside from that, season three hits all the notes you’d expect, albeit in a slightly shuffled order: Red Bull’s struggles with Albon, Pierre Gasly’s comeback at Alpha Tauri and Vettel’s toxic time at Ferrari are examined and prodded in the daylight, away from the PR machines of each team. 

Once again, Drive to Survive sidesteps the rehearsed interviews and the ‘no comments’ and reveals F1 is full of just as much sweary personality as it was in the Mansell, Senna and Prost days. 

Gasly’s experience with the Red Bull management is far worse than you think, and you can’t help but feel even worse for Albon, too. Daniel Ricciardio’s relationship with Renault is far less toxic than you’d assume, and there’s a bittersweet sense of achievement as both parties begin to gel later in the year. Team boss, driver and viewer are all left to wonder if leaving Renault really is the right decision for the smiley Australian.

Drive to Survive has new perspectives for hardcore fans, but pairs it with humanity that non-F1 fans will latch to anyway. Haas plays a big role; partly because Gunther Steiner on camera is always gold, and partly because of Grosjean’s miracle escape. The Frenchman’s accident comes towards the end, anchoring all the glamour, intrigue and emotion of the previous episodes and adding some perspective. The Racing Point’s pink Mercedes is another highlight and sets up an incredible introduction to Lawrence Stroll, complete with 80’s villain music.

Some bits feel skipped though: Rather than focusing on Mercedes’ mission towards diversity, the sport’s top team gets an episode which strongly suggests Valtteri Bottas gave Max Verstappen second place in the Sochi qualifying session. DAS is mentioned too, but other than a few bits and pieces about a barely-there rivalry with Red Bull in 2020, the Mercedes team isn’t really a big part in season 3 – which is a shame. In the same way the CPU on hard mode doesn’t get a narrative in GT Sport, it seems Mercedes doesn’t get one here. 

In a season full of classic races, it must’ve been hard to cover them all – but there’s nothing about Hamilton’s three-wheels at Silverstone, nor George Russell’s heartbreak in Sakhir. Hulkenberg isn’t mentioned at all. What’s more, the race Hamilton clinched his seventh title in isn’t included either: an odd decision, considering it was a wet thriller with a masterful drive and historic win – as well as a Racing Point on pole. 

Still, Drive To Survive remains the best way to experience the F1 circus short of blagging a grid pass yourself. Sure, there are Fast and Furious moments of cheese (does a team really say give it everything you’ve got and push thirty-two times during a qualifying lap?) and there’s a good chunk of stuff missing – but it’s partly forgiven when you look at the bigger picture. This is a show F1 fans look forward to – despite knowing the outcome – and casual viewers are drawn to. Could you ask for anymore?

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast

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