Let me preface all of this with: I couldn’t care less about cars. My only criteria for what makes a fine automobile is that I turn the key and the car starts 99.9% of the time. That, my friend, is a fine car.1
I don’t get hung up on aesthetics. I don’t need bells and/or whistles beyond what is required by law. I enjoy having an automatic transmission but can drive stick2 if needs must. Beyond that, a car is a car is a car.3
I am an apple that fell far from my paternal tree. My Dad is a Car Person. He’s always had cars with the potential to go very fast. He had a series4 of Saab Turbo somethingorothers during my teen and young adult years. He currently has an Audi, whose model name escapes me. It’s black, if that helps.
Every time I drive one of my Dad’s cars, I feel like I have to apologize to it first, like, look, neither one of us is really getting any pleasure from this experience so let’s just make the best of it. My only goal when driving his vehicle is to avoid causing it any injury. Which is why it’s so out-of-character that I spent the last couple of days binge-watching the first two seasons of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive.5
I know. I was surprised, too.
1) It’s the same production team behind Senna and Amy, which are two feature-length docs that you really should see, even if you don’t care about either person. All of the money the producers spent (and I suspect it was a lot of money, because F1 does nothing halfway) is on the screen. The people behind the scenes know what they are doing and how to do it — and it shows. Every shot is gorgeous, so much so that I watch it without looking at my phone so that I can take in the pictures.
2) So. Much. Drama. My outside impression was that F1 is all about the bloodless engineering required to shave milliseconds off of these cars. And, yes, in some very small ways, that nerdery turns up. But the episodes are mostly about the drivers and the managers and the owners who are each under extraordinary pressure. The F1 world is a big dysfunctional family with several decades worth of feuds and slights and victories. It’s more a drama about royal dynasties than how-to build a car.6
3) When you combine points one and two, you get 30-40 minute episodes packed full of narrative gold. The producers take the entirety of a season7 and distill it into the good stuff. You only see the parts of the design/political intrigued/race that matter for the story. I quickly went from not understanding why I should care about a driver to gasping out loud when his car lost his left wing and he had to pit. Plus, I knew what all of the terms meant without ever having had someone explain them to me.
3.5) During the races themselves, the drivers have a coach8 who calmly explains strategy, track conditions, and engine conditions and I totally want that guy in my ear all the time as I go through my daily life. If you watch just one episode, you will want that guy, too.
4) I mentioned that it’s gorgeous, yes? The eye candy goes beyond how the shots are framed. F1 folk pay extra attention to the details, which makes their personal spaces and fashion choices things of beauty. The drivers, each more fit than the last, seem to also compete on rakish good looks. The races are in far-flung cities like Singapore, Monte Carlo, Baku9, Austin, and a bunch of European cities. It might be my wanderlust, which is more powerful now than ever, but seeing those cities even briefly makes my heart go pitty-pat.
5) The cars10 are shot and edited so that you can feel how fast 200 miles per hour really is — and what it feels like when something goes wrong. Because of this show, I grok F1 racing in a way I never have before, even though I still have no desire to watch any of the races live. I get the appeal, tho.11
Which brings me to 6) It’s taken me nearly 50 years to realize that, even though I am not a sports person, I deeply enjoy watching how highly competitive people do what they do. For another data point — I love HBO’s Hard Knocks but couldn’t care less about how any of the games turn out.12
The next season of Formula 1: Drive to Survive will drop on March 19. It’ll be all about 2020 and how they pulled off a racing season during COVID. I cannot wait to see who makes the podium and who is out of a job.
Are there any shows about subjects you were 100% indifferent to that wound up sucking you in?
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Given where I live, I am also partial to all-wheel drive but … eh. Whatever.
(that’s what she said)
I do like driving, fwiw, and will always volunteer for a road trip. But the vehicle I take is irrelevant.
might have only been two but I have some vague memory of a third
There’s no good way to link directly to Netflix shows. In case you want it (and I think you do), here’s a preview to the third season.
What’s even better is that I know absolutely nothing about what happens so every plot twist is a genuine surprise.
between 20-22 races across the globe over about nine months
I’m sure that’s not his actual job title but you know what I mean
Shout out to Janelle, who is the only person I know in Baku and I think of her whenever the race is there.
which, again, I am not at all interested in
My Dad religiously follows F1. The races are the wallpaper of my childhood and I paid about that much attention to them. But we have had a few bonding moments this week when I texted him about the history of some of the drama in the series.
That being said, I will default Steelers during football season, just because I miss my hometown.