With 400,000 spectators in attendance over the course of the 2021 US Grand Prix weekend, the Netflix effect is clear to see. During Thursday’s media day in Austin, Max Verstappen referred to an interview he had conducted with the Associated Press. In that interview the current leader of the F1 Drivers’ Standings explained how he will no longer play a part in the upcoming season of Netflix’ Drive to Survive. “I understand that it needs to be done to boost the popularity in America,” Verstappen told AP. “But from my side as a driver, I don’t like being part of it.”
The 2021 F1 season has brought so many memorable Max Verstappen moments. From the Orange Army at Zandvoort; the easiest victory of Verstappen’s career in Spa and Sunday’s superb victory in Austin – to name just a few. As well as this, Max Verstappen has been voted the most popular driver in F1 according to the biggest-ever Global Survey commissioned by Motorsport Network in partnership with F1 and Nielsen Sport.
Therefore, any reflection of the 2021 season must surely feature the Dutchman at its core. Well, not if Verstappen can help it.
So, why does Red Bull Racing’s talismanic driver want to distance himself from the production? His interview to apnews.com provided the answer:
“They faked a few rivalries which they don’t really exist,” Verstappen explained. “So I decided to not be a part of it and did not give any more interviews after that because then there is nothing you can show. I am not really a dramatic show kind of person, I just want facts and real things to happen.”
There is a growing joke on social media which mentions the line ‘Netflix, are you watching?’ whenever any controversial moment develops on track or in the paddock. This is not lost on Verstappen as when he was asked whether he and seven-time F1 Drivers’ Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton are even rivals at all, he responded “Probably in the Netflix show we will be…We one-time bumped into each other walking, so probably that will be in there.”
During the weekend, in the fallout of this interview, other teams and drivers were asked to comment on the impact of Netflix’ ground-breaking portrayal of the pinnacle of motorsport. Whereas Max Verstappen may not be a fan any longer - the same can’t be said further down the grid.
On this matter, Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, stated “The way they sell the sport is bit of a drama because I can imagine that it’s a show. But at the end of the day it’s good for the sport and it’s good for the fans. So I’m happy with it.” Whilst Esteban Ocon shared with the media that “From the outside, before, we could look quite robotic and it was a repetitive sport and we couldn’t see the characters that are inside this paddock. I just think it’s fantastic that we can see all of that now.”
For many people, when it comes to Drive to Survive, the real star of the show is Guenther Steiner due to his open honest approach and his superb one-liners. But as the Team Principal of Haas reminded us during the Team Principals’ Press Conference ahead of the US GP – he doesn’t even watch the show:
“I’ve said a few times I haven’t watched it…so I don’t know how I portray in it so I don’t have an opinion on that, but I would have an opinion if Max doesn’t want to take part in it, it is his decision…to participate or not and he decided not to so we shouldn’t get an opinion or be opinionated about it. And if he feels he wasn’t portrayed right, it’s his full right not to take part in it.” Steiner stated to the media.
Meanwhile, McLaren had been using the spotlight given to them by Netflix to engage more fans this past weekend with their ‘Heist a friend’ social media campaign. So, it is little surprise to see that the team boss Zak Brown is pleased with Netflix’ impact. Nor is it a shock, to see the Woking-based team voted the most popular team in F1’s recent global survey:
“I think Netflix has been outstanding for Formula 1. It’s driven a younger fan base, it’s driven a much larger fan base. It’s really had an impact in America…I think it’s factual with a little bit of theatre added, and that’s what television is.” Brown explained through soundbites that will delight the production team.
There is always a chance that Max Verstappen may change his mind the year after. We have already seen teams change their way of thinking towards the show. Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff reminded the media of this at the same press conference:
“We were not keen at the beginning of Netflix because we wanted to concentrate on on-track performance and I was wrong. It’s clearly a big success…sport is entertainment and I think these guys have brought us a new angle, a new dimension and the feedback that we get from fans is tremendous – especially here in the US.”
Max Verstappen appears to be a very relaxed character but he is not only a Formula One driver as he is always keen to remind people in interviews. This is one aspect of his personality. When Verstappen wins, he is not elated at home. Also, if he encounters a defeat this does not lower his morale for the remainder of the week. All of this shows the way that the twenty-four year old is able to compartmentalise the sport.
No one can say that Netflix made Max Verstappen a star. It was the Dutchman’s hard work, talent, opportunities and desire to succeed which has done that.
Max Verstappen lets his driving do the talking and as such does not need Drive to Survive to be a success. Nevertheless, the production company certainly needs the drivers on board.
For now, the majority appear to be, with Lando Norris saying “I’m fine with it…hope I don’t come across it in a bad way or an idiot or anything. But no, I think they do a good job.” Whilst his teammate Daniel Ricciardo remarked “For sure there’s times where you want a little bit of space or privacy. But I think if you let them know ‘no cameras in this room’ then they’re pretty good with that. It’s been okay.”
The upcoming season of Drive to Survive will be the last season to feature much-loved fan favourite Kimi Räikkönen as he bows out of F1 at the end of the 2021 season. The Iceman gave a typically frank response on the matter of what the show brings to F1: “I don’t watch it, so I have no idea what they’ve done. But I said it even to them when they were filming, as minimum as I can be a part, I’m happy about it.”
The upcoming season may be a decisive period for one of Netflix’ flagship shows – especially if they wish to prove Max Verstappen wrong.
Should an exaggerated and dramatic interpretation of the 2021 F1 season be portrayed, there is every chance it could alter the mindset of other drivers. Should this come to pass, the time will have come for Drive to Survive to get back to the facts and lay off the fabrication. Otherwise, what may be in need of survival - might be the very show itself.