Sunday, 12 September 2021

TV review: Drive to Survive, season 1, Netflix (2019)

A nice, distracting show about a complex and controversial sport, ‘Drive to Survive’ is an excellent artistic production mixing vicarious pleasure with an intense melange of visuals and sound. Beginning with some plotting around the career of Australian Daniel Ricciardo, the show delivers plenty of watchable drama. 

I never watch Formula 1 racing though when I was younger and interested in all sport I paid attention to some highlights and I vividly remember a friend of mine at secondary school (now a lawyer) who’d rattle off the names of F1 drivers with apparent gusto, forming their syllables as though repeating an incantation that could open a view to understanding the secrets of the world. I never really in my heart saw its value (though we’d stand waiting for the bus to come announcing the marques as cars passed us on the main road), but ‘Drive to Survive’ allows you to understand that the sport is full of characters and that the names of teams that have once been linked with greatness can still lure spectators. 

The backward glance, the taking in of old newsreels, the fast cars, the superyachts, the beautiful women all generate this sense of unreality, as though the problems of the world – many of which German author W.G. Sebold in his masterful ‘The Rings of Saturn’ slates down to the matter of combustion – were too boring to be of interest. 

Motorsport is an undertaking where extreme expressions tend to be used, making it particularly suited to the medium of video. This show proves that sport certainly can be made into a temptation for spare time even for someone like me. Like sailing, it is rooted in hardware and high-tech so it attracts a certain type of person for whom such concerns as literature, fine art, and the inexpressible delight of the ephemeral can only seem to lack a certain requisite form. 

The show also allows you to see how talent and money can come into conflict. The tension that the two things create can be rich with meaning, for example when the Force India driver Esteban Ocon was forced out of the team after a rich businessman whose son drives cars bought it. “In Formula 1 you do feel lonely sometimes,” said Romain Grosjean after crashing in qualifying during in the 2018 French Grand Prix. But while the competition that can arise between two drivers on the same team is compelling this cannot account for all of the show’s appeal. 

I think that the key lies in something Ocon said about driving in the rain when he was a child; his hands were freezing but “while I’m driving I wasn’t feeling anything”. Participating in this sport – even as a spectator – has this anaesthetic function, in that the stakes are so high – a driver can die at any point in any race and the rewards of success, like the penalty for failure, are extreme – that every moment seems precious. Danger focuses the mind. “It’s all these emotions and then you jump into the car and all that just goes away,” said Marcus Ericsson about the Singapore GP. “You are a bit like in a tunnel,” said Charles Leclerc about the same race. “It’s extremely intense.” 

Motorsport, though destructive, also reminds us of the sanctity of life. It’s also an international enterprise, with races held in different spots around the globe at different times of the year. A third benefit of course comes from technological advancements made as a result of finding ways to make cars go faster on the track. Though BMW, Honda and Toyota withdrew from team racing in 2008, production car makers make engines for some teams so innovations settled as a result of competition logically find their way down the chain of production to consumer products. 

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