Drive to Survive review: Why season six misses the mark with Lewis Hamilton

Drive to Survive review: Why season six misses the mark with Lewis Hamilton

It is Toto Wolff’s beaming smile of delight, in an episode of ironies, which is the biggest irony of them all. Most of the episodes in season six of Netflix’s hit Formula One docuseries Drive to Survive follow the same basic narrative: the team is in trouble, their driver could depart, the team finds success. Repeat. For Mercedes, it is all about their F1 boss Wolff’s relationship with the sport’s biggest star Lewis Hamilton, amid contract speculation last year.

The episode title signals the first contradiction: “Leap of Faith”. We now know that Hamilton, despite signing a two-year extension at the Silver Arrows last August, will join the prancing horse of Ferrari in 2025. While the “leap of faith” in Drive to Survive is a reference to Mercedes changing their torrid car philosophy mid-season, the seven-time world champion has now made the ultimate jump into the unknown. And if there was any doubt that the announcement didn’t catch Wolff totally off guard, the team at Netflix has completely dispelled that theory.

“The thought of Lewis at Ferrari in a red overall?” states Wolff, after Hamilton’s Mercedes renewal. “It wouldn’t suit him.” Cue smile. Cue embarrassment. We’ll see how it suits him next year.

For a show which has revolutionised fly-on-the-wall sports documentaries – with tennis, golf and rugby all following suit – Drive to Survive conspicuously misses the mark with its latest season, premiering just a week out from the 2024 F1 campaign. No doubt that if production company Box to Box Films could have salvaged its submission in the last few weeks, it would have. Because this year’s tumultuous and dramatic F1 off-season has, perhaps for the first time, made Drive to Survive look out of touch with the narrative of the sport.

Despite this year’s crop of cars currently steaming around on track for the first time at testing this week in Bahrain, the current investigation into Red Bull boss Christian Horner is the main topic of discussion as we await the outcome. Horner is one of Drive to Survive’s biggest protagonists, a role he thrives in, particularly amid a season where they won every race bar one.

Or did they? Despite 10 episodes and seven and a half hours of content, Max Verstappen’s near-faultless season – in which he won 19 out of 22 races – barely features. Instead, plenty of the spotlight is shone on another of the series’ darlings, Daniel Ricciardo, as he reclaims a spot on the grid at the expense of Nyck de Vries at Red Bull’s sister team, AlphaTauri.

Lewis Hamilton’s contract renewal at Mercedes is a big focus – months before he signed up with Ferrari for 2025 (Netflix)
Lewis Hamilton’s contract renewal at Mercedes is a big focus – months before he signed up with Ferrari for 2025 (Netflix)
Toto Wolff was delighted as Hamilton penned a contract extension he will now not see out (Netflix)
Toto Wolff was delighted as Hamilton penned a contract extension he will now not see out (Netflix)

An episode which opens with a bizarre sequence between Santa Claus and the Horner family at their home in Oxfordshire – “I go three times the speed of light, how fast does Max go… probably four!” – ends with the Red Bull boss having complete and total say on De Vries’s axing and Ricciardo’s recall after a mid-season test at Silverstone. Only Drive to Survive could dramatise a Pirelli tyre test; fair play to it for that.

But through no fault of Box to Box given the timing, Horner’s regular inclusion throughout, usually commenting on the cut-throat nature of Formula One, feels ill-fitting given the current climate. There are some fresh faces. Alongside Mr Drive to Survive Will Buxton, Sky pundit and former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick is a new voice, while ex-Williams team principal Clare Williams – daughter of team boss titan Sir Frank – gives her take on proceedings too.

The opening two episodes are the most enlightening of the season, focused on Aston Martin’s meteoric early-season rise (a genuine narrative of interest) and De Vries’s dismissal. Episode six, focused on Mercedes, seems oddly sandwiched in. And the final episode – centred on Las Vegas and the ferociously intense battle of interest between Mercedes and Ferrari for second place in the constructors’ championship (see sarcasm) – goes by with near nothing to glean.

The only off-season aspect it, just, picks up is Guenther Steiner being booted out of Haas, and that’s just with a worded statement at the end. In many ways, you feel as though Netflix will suffer more than F1 itself in losing the X-rated Italian team principal.

In their defence, Netflix and Box to Box were not given the most intriguing of seasons to play with. Truth be told, little of major interest happened and thus creating another series to match its impressive predecessors – particularly seasons three and four – would have been near impossible.

It also represents a key chapter in the show’s development and is perhaps the first indicator that it cannot simply continue indefinitely unless the sport has authentically absorbing storylines to grasp the attention of the viewer. A viewer who is increasingly more engaged with the sport and therefore less susceptible to the sort of story-doctoring which made Verstappen remove himself from the show for two years.

Fortunately, matters currently at hand in F1 means next year – assuming Drive to Survive is renewed as expected, though a new deal for a seventh season has not yet been announced – should have more spice. Hamilton to Ferrari will present the backdrop to the whole of 2024. In season six, though, the Mercedes star does not come out of it squeaky clean either.

“There never feels a time where I’m not going to be a Mercedes driver,” remarks Hamilton. A matter of months later, that all changed.

‘Drive to Survive’ season six airs on Netflix on 23 February