Netflix Has Its Next ‘Drive to Survive’ Drama but No One To Tell the Inside Story

Two drivers not cooperating with the Formula 1: Drive to Survive series posting DNFs in the opening race shouldn’t worry Formula 1 and Netflix executives, right? Well, the drivers’ names happen to be Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, so the problem is as real as the issues that turned the Bahrain Grand Prix on its ear on Sunday.

Verstappen’s defense of the World Drivers’ Championship should be a season-long theme when the fifth season of Formula 1: Drive to Survive drops on Netflix in March 2023. However, drivers’ displeasure over the two most recent seasons of the groundbreaking show will make that all but impossible.

It will be a blow to the marketing of the sport in the United States, a priority market for F1 executives.

The fourth season of ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ is available on Netflix

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Sergio Perez of Mexico pose for a photo during Formula 1 testing at Bahrain International Circuit on March 10, 2022. | Mark Thompson - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Sergio Perez of Mexico pose for a photo during Formula 1 testing at Bahrain International Circuit on March 10, 2022. | Mark Thompson – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

When Liberty Media took controlling interest in Formula 1 late in 2016, expanding the audience by attracting a younger demographic became a priority. The sport’s executives took a number of measures, including embracing social media.

Arguably the best move was to hand producers of a Netflix series access that other media did not have. The first three seasons of Formula 1: Drive to Survive found an enthusiastic audience by going behind the scenes to deliver insight into the drivers, technicians, and team principals of organizations spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year pursuing victories in 20 or so races around the world.

The third season, released last year and chronicling the 2020 season, really caught on with viewers entranced by the Sunday showdowns between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, the superstar drivers of Red Bull Racing and Mercedes, respectively.

Their perceived clashes and real crashes generated a down-to-the-wire finish, and Verstappen dethroned the four-time defending series champion with a last-lap pass at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December.

Race fans’ anticipation for Season 4 of the Netflix series built over the offseason, and the streaming service dropped the new episodes just days before the start of the 2022 competition in Bahrain.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez aren’t happy

Sergio Perez got a look at new episodes of Formula 1: Drive To Survive and decided he will not cooperate with the producers this year as they work on content for the fifth season on Netflix.

Perez objected on two fronts, beginning with the demands on his time as one of the two drivers for Red Bull Racing, which became the hot brand in the sport in 2021. According to ESPN, Perez filmed extensively with Netflix in his native Mexico last season ahead of a pivotal race, but little of the material made it on the air.

More significantly, Perez said he watched two episodes and was turned off by contrived storylines.

“I really thought that they had the best season in Formula 1 (to chronicle), and I feel like they probably missed out a bit in the story and the way they presented it,” Perez said. “They tried to create too much drama, which the season already had. The season had enough drama, you know?

“They’ve probably gone too far in this last season. I thought it was going to be the best season, but to be totally honest I haven’t finished (watching) it.”

Perez was not alone in pointing to the treatment of the relationship between McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. Drive to Survive created a narrative implying tension between the two, something that racing insiders said simply does not exist.

Max Verstappen previously bowed out of the show

Sergio Perez’s decision to stop cooperating with the Netflix series follows the decision last year by Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen to step aside from participation in Drive to Survive. Verstappen expressed displeasure over the editing of interviews and other material he felt misled viewers.

Producing a fifth season of shows without the two Red Bull stars was going to be difficult enough, but developments Sunday in the first Formula 1 race of the year made it worse. The cars driven by the pair both developed technical problems in the latter stages, and neither driver finished the race. It was a shocking start to the season.

Had it happened to Lewis Hamilton rather than Verstappen, Netflix would likely have reaped a bonanza of behind-the-scenes footage, including what were probably some tense moments between Verstappen, team principal Christian Horner, and perhaps others. Instead, the film crews almost certainly missed out on insights that made the first three seasons of the show so fascinating.

It’s likely too late for them to mend the relationship with Verstappen and Perez, which will leave significant holes in Season 5 of the series.

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