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Formula 1: Drive To Survive review: Season 5 gets a tune-up

Two Formula 1 cars speed around a corner in a scene from season 5 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
“Formula 1: Drive to Survive gets a tune-up for season 5, and the result is a more rewarding, authentic season of racing drama.”
Pros
  • Less manufactured drama, more real emotion
  • Max Verstappen's participation elevates series
  • Packages 2022's big F1 headlines well
Cons
  • Some racers get lost in the mix

Sports documentaries can often be a tough sell to audiences outside of a particular fandom, but every now and then, a series transcends the boundaries of a particular athlete, team, or sport’s longtime, dedicated fan base. Netflix seemingly caught streaming lightning in a bottle with Formula 1: Drive to Survive, its docuseries on the Formula One World Championship that debuted in 2019 and has earned critical acclaim (and mainstream buzz) across its first four, award-winning seasons.

Season 5 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive gives the series a much-needed overhaul in its chronicle of the 2022 season, tweaking some widely criticized elements of the show while still delivering a deep, thoughtful dive into the action both on the track and off it. That includes the drivers, teams, and business side of Formula 1. Like in the seasons before the current one, the latest set of Drive to Survive episodes offer a look inside the sport that’s as entertaining and fascinating for newcomers as it is for longtime fans.

This review of Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 5 is based on the first eight episodes of the 10-episode season.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner stares at a screen in a scene from season 5 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Return of the king

One of the biggest changes in the series’ fifth season is something that was conspicuously absent from Drive to Survive in recent years: the presence of reigning world champion Max Verstappen.

Red Bull’s lead driver and one of the sport’s biggest stars right now, Verstappen boycotted several seasons of Drive to Survive due to complaints about the way Netflix portrayed various elements of the sport — from drivers’ relationships to events that occurred during races. Verstappen declined interviews and was largely a background figure in the show up to this point, leaving audiences without the story of his ascension to the top tier of the sport these last few years.

That changes in season 5, which puts Verstappen front and center throughout much of the season’s 10 episodes — and the perspective of the sport’s reigning champion is a welcome addition to the show. The interviews he conducts with Netflix are insightful and consistently add a fresh, fascinating dimension to what we see on the screen. His presence fills a void that casual viewers might not have been very aware of, but elevates the series as a whole.

Several drivers, including Max Verstappen of team Red Bull, walk along the track, holding their helmets, in a scene from season 5 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Less friction, more friendly

Perhaps as a result of the agreement that brought Verstappen into the show, season 5 of Drive to Survive also spends significantly less time on feuds (real or otherwise) between drivers, and instead mines drama from the sport’s bigger-picture elements and team rivalries.

Prior seasons of Drive to Survive didn’t shy away from shaping drivers into heroes and villains in the season-long stories the series chronicled — much to the annoyance of many drivers. That storytelling strategy has largely vanished in the fifth season, which spends noticeably more time spotlighting the delicate balance between camaraderie and competition that exists among the men behind the wheels of Formula 1 cars.

Drivers Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Riccardo, and Sergio Perez stand together before a race in a scene from season 5 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That narrative isn’t missed, though, as Netflix still finds plenty of drama to dig into as teams dealt with a host of new rules and new car regulations for the 2022 season, and many racers found themselves once again competing for their careers.

Drive to Survive is at its best when it’s covering the sagas of veteran drivers struggling to stay competitive late in their careers, or young drivers learning to succeed — or fail — amid the intense pressure of Formula 1. The drivers and team principals (essentially, the leaders of the racing team) are the faces of the sport, and Drive to Survive has done a great job of making their stories thrilling regardless of your level of familiarity with the sport. By easing back on the manufactured drama and leaning into the people themselves, season 5 feels like a more rewarding arc of the show overall, and makes everyone’s stories resonate in a more genuine, personal way.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and team principal Mattia Binotto shake hands in a scene from season 5 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Victory lap

It’s a testament to the efforts and foresight of the series’ producers and creative team that Drive to Survive is as accessible as it manages to be from season to season.

Viewers need not know anything about cars, racing, engineering, or business to quickly find themselves enamored with the series’ narrative, and Drive to Survive has managed to maintain that mainstream appeal — while also serving up plenty of fresh content for longtime fans — across all five seasons so far. The latest season of the series is arguably the best so far, thanks to the more comprehensive perspective we get from Verstappen’s participation, and the sources of drama and compelling storylines it chooses to delve into this time around.

Not just one of the best sports documentary series in recent years, but also one of the best documentary series currently in production, Formula 1: Drive to Survive continues to earn a place on the podium for Netflix. Season 5 represents an overhaul of sorts for the show, but Drive to Survive leaves the garage a more finely tuned, higher-performing storytelling vehicle, and it feels like there’s still plenty of track ahead of it.

Season 5 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive premieres February 24, 2023, on Netflix.

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Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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