Review: we watched Drive to Survive season five so you don't have to | Top Gear
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Review: we watched Drive to Survive season five so you don't have to

Latest version of the F1 drama relies heavily on old tropes, brings nothing new from the 2022 F1 season

Published: 03 Mar 2023

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally opened the wrong programme on your Netflix. The fifth season of Drive to Survive opens like a BBC4 travel show, with odd couple Guenther Steiner and suave Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto on a roadtrip to the Italian countryside. These are important people (or were in the case of Binotto), so why are they sipping wine at a table in a field? It’s impossibly contrived, and requires a heavy suspension of disbelief to imagine these two fellows hopped into a classic Fiat 500 one morning because these are the sorts of japes they always get up to. 

All the usual Drive to Survive highlights are there – here comes journalist and commentator Will Buxton, with something vitally important in the way of obvious and unnecessary exposition to share with us. “First place is crucial if you want to come in first place”, or “engines are useful”, something like that. He’s like a fortune cookie filtered twice through an online translation tool. 

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Oh, there’s human frag grenade Guenther Steiner, whose Haas team is bumping the top of the FIA’s new cost cap limits solely based on the income from his swear jar. Is that Toto Wolff staring daggers at the wall and swearing in German? Here’s that smiley Danny Ricciardo saying something cheeky and endearing. He also swears, but not because he’s angry.

There’s a Groundhog Day feel to early episodes as you bounce back to the start of the season to find out the root of what has been going wrong for people. It’s an awkward quirk of this episodic format, which works when there’s a strong story that the cameras have picked up, but flounders during the obvious moments of filler. 

Hardcore fans will immediately spot the moments where the commentators have been roped in to record extra lines of dialogue, convenient shots from some random point in the season shoehorned in, or meetings staged for maximum awkwardness. Was Silverstone 2022 the great race in the history of F1? Judging by the number of times we see it explored from exhaustive angles in the first half of the latest season of Drive to Survive you’d have to say it was.

There are far fewer meme-worthy moments from this season (although the ‘no context Tom Cruise giving advice in the Mercedes garage’ scene is a delight – "you just have to pass people"), you get the feeling that the subjects have all become too camera weary. That is, apart from the likes of Oscar Piastri and Nyck de Vries, whippersnappers who give off the air of having grown up watching the show. In fact they're so young it might even be why they wanted to become F1 drivers. Or camera savvy if it’s Christian Horner, who appears to have adopted his film crew, taking them home for Christmas and getting the kids to wave to them on the phone.

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Horner seems to play the game better than any of the other team bosses, but why does he sound like he’s practised everything he says in front of the mirror already? The occasional moments of joy from season five come from watching him goad Toto Wolff into another furious outburst. 

The ultimate issue with Drive to Survive is that even in its fifth season it still plays like a no-context intro to F1, explaining absolutely everything to try and broaden its appeal. It’s a whistlestop tour of identikit concrete paddocks across the globe, but where the allure of early seasons for hardcore fans was in the way that the Netflix crew managed to peer behind the media façade and get us a glimpse behind the scenes, now it feels like the media façade has been beefed up and extended. 

There’s nothing particularly revelatory in this fifth season of the show, aside from how awful the Haas team were to Mick Schumacher (assuming you can trust anything you see on here anymore), slating him on camera. If you’re an Aston Martin, Williams or Alfa Romeo fan then there’s no point squinting at your screen waiting for a background glimpse of one of your guys. 

Of course, for those hardcore followers of F1 the genuine action is on track, and Drive to Survive merely offers a year-old psycho-drama for casual watchers. Consider our bouche amused, though, we’re certainly looking forward to the return of the real thing to our screens this weekend. “F1 is F1 and Drive to Survive is Drive to Survive,” as Will Buxton might helpfully clarify.

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