Formula 1: Drive to Survive




This Netflix series is strangely satisfying…no, it’s incredibly engrossing, if you turn it on you won’t turn it off, it will instantly make you a fan of Formula 1.

I follow Formula 1 the way I follow the Tour de France. I see who wins, the standings, but I no longer watch the action.

Grow old enough and your time is precious, I really don’t want to spend four hours watching a baseball game. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still want your tickets, it’s just that when I was a kid I watched and played a ton of baseball, the Yankees were everything, I knew all the players, read all the books and then…

Football got a huge boost when Namath called and won the Super Bowl. It pushed football ahead of baseball as the nation’s favorite.

And I played football too. Sports were different back then, they were casual. As in pickup games. You walked down to the field with your glove or whatever equipment was required and waited for enough people to show up to start a game. It was never set up by our parents. We just walked out the front door and said SEE YA LATER! Not that our parents were worried. Turns out they had no need to be, no need to today either, turns out most snatching of kids is a result of parental disputes, not independent bad actors, but after learning in therapy that their parents were the root of all their faults the boomers decided to do it differently, fathers would be regularly involved with the children, and everything would be mapped out and supervised.

And then sports became truly serious. If you didn’t focus on one sport in your single digits, there was no hope you’d become world class. And you focused on this one and only sport, playing the game for fun…that went out the window, burnout became an issue.

And then there was the conditioning. All sports are now completely different from what they used to be. Physical strength is key. Not that I could ever relate to a gym rat. I follow skiing on Apple News and I’m inundated with stories of Lindsey Vonn pumping iron. I feel sorry for her, she can no longer compete in the World Cup and is not quite sure what to do with herself so she has returned to the gym. I can think of nothing more boring than lifting weights. Then again, we used to be much more active, obesity wasn’t as big an issue, then again the food was cleaner and we were not addicted to our screens.

But World Cup skiing is a good example. It blew up in the sixties with Jean Claude Killy and Billy Kidd. Then came the dominant Stenmark years. Then Girardelli. Then Hermann Maier and Bode Miller and somewhere along the way it all blended together and to a great degree I stopped watching. Just new twentysomethings, not radically different from the generation before them. Marcel Hirscher won eight World Cups and I don’t remember watching any of his races. Well, a few, but the truth is it’s all a blur today. And with every race now available, I watch almost none. The tyranny of choice. A ski race on TV used to be a special occasion, now you can follow online, the winning runs are posted to YouTube shortly thereafter.

But in the days of scarcity, I saw all these events on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” All of them. Which means I became familiar with Formula 1. They always showed the Monaco Grand Prix, and the breakthrough was cameras in the pavement, which always got run over and broken before the race was over.

Now if you’ve ever been to a car race you know it’s pretty boring. Either you’ve got to be a hard-core devotee or going for the event, the atmosphere, the party, because you just can’t see much. I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix once and I was stunned how close I could get to the track, but it was only in one turn, who knows who was winning.

As for the Indianapolis 500, that was a thing when Andy Granatelli came out with his turbine engine cars, that piqued my interest. But then IndyCar racing split into two factions and it’s never been the same since, only its premier event gets any traction.

And the truth is NASCAR is slipping in the U.S. And means almost nothing overseas.

And Formula 1 is for the rest of the world. And once they conspired to make the cars slower, to limit their speed, I lost some interest. But it was fun to see who won, especially when Lewis Hamilton came from nowhere and then became dominant.

But still, I could not understand how one guy controlled, owned the whole damn thing, and that his daughter ended up buying Aaron Spelling’s mansion, the largest house in L.A. County, with 123 rooms, 27 bathrooms and 14 bedrooms. It’s a house for a cult, not one family, then again the wants and desires of the uber-rich are oftentimes unfathomable.

And speaking of unfathomable, now Liberty, John Malone’s company, owns the whole damn thing. How does this happen, where does this leave Formula 1?


The drivers are athletes, with almost no body fat, also working out in the gym ad infinitum, yes, you’ve got to be in top shape to drive a Formula 1 car. As for Nascar…Tony Stewart appears on screen and he’s beefy, you’ve got to be lean to even fit in an F1 car, never mind endure the races.

So, there are ten teams. With two drivers each. And only three can win. As a matter of fact, the first season, 2018, the only one I’ve watched so far, focuses almost entirely on the mid-pack, Lewis Hamilton gets almost no screen time. Losers do, like Williams, the perennial last place finisher.

But the drivers are just the tip of the iceberg. Each F 1 team has hundreds of members, and often spends hundreds of millions. That’s another reason why Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari dominate, the money!

So it’s interesting who wins. But it’s the human stories, the “up close and personals,” that are most intriguing.

Turns out the people who run these teams are lifers, people who’ve dedicated their entire lives to car racing, like in America people dedicate theirs to baseball or football. But the season is even longer than baseball, nine months, with twenty-one races. And each race lasts a weekend.

Friday is practice.

Saturday is qualifying.

Sunday is the race.

And when you watch them race…it appears that the only time these cars adhere to the road completely, tires gripping, is on the straightaways, otherwise, they’re constantly skidding at 200 miles an hour.

But that’s not the most interesting part.

McLaren has the best driver but hasn’t fielded a winning team in years. They’re perennial also-rans.

And Haas is an American outfit, only in it for a handful of years, fighting to move up the middle of the pack.

Renault? Meaningless in America, and in trouble in Europe. The truth is Carlos Ghosn hooked the operation up to Nissan, and then Mitsubishi, but now he’s in exile in Lebanon and the enterprise is falling apart. It’s been in the news. But Cyril, the leader of Renault’s operation, says money is no issue.

But they can’t win.

Red Bull? They’ve got nothing but money. But they’re paying their number two driver more than their number one, and number one doesn’t like this.

And the drivers…they’re all skilled, but the best way to stay in the game is to bring sponsors, i.e. money, that’s what teams want most. Otherwise, unless you’re winning, chances are you won’t find a seat next year, and that happens, you were in the show and now you’re not, your career is over. Like I said, there are only twenty seats!

So you’d think it’s a pretty insulated operation, so small.

But it travels around the world, even to places like Azerbaijan. And the truth is people follow it all over the globe in droves, it’s a really big thing, just not in America.

So you’ve got the drama of the heads of the operations, will they lose their gig? There are only ten gigs available, this is not the NFL or MLB. You’ve got to produce or…

That’s what bugs me, reminds me of sports growing up. Everybody is friendly, you’re teammates, and then you have an off-season and you’re cut. You’ve got to sleep with one eye open, you can only depend on yourself. Even your teammate driver is oftentimes the enemy.

And who knows what will happen in the future. Andy Granatelli’s turbine engine car pooped out before the finish line, then it was corralled by the rules. And there is an electric racing circuit now, but it’s absent one of racing’s main draws…there’s no noise! And when autos become self-driving, when people don’t even own them, when they call them up on demand, will people clamor to watch Formula 1? I don’t know, but it’s got to take a hit.

And the truth is F1 is dangerous, people do get killed, but it is so much safer than before, most drivers survive heinous crashes unscathed.

And then there are the independent owners. The South Asian man under investigation in India for going bankrupt and not paying people, but still pouring money into his F 1 team.

And the Canadian billionaire, whose cash delivers a seat for his son.

And the desire to move up to Ferrari…

As for the cars themselves, just take a peek at the steering wheel, it’s akin to a video game, as a matter of fact, the drivers train by playing video games!

And these are not rock-solid machines. They’re constantly breaking. If it’s exterior, the body, you should see them replace a broken front wing in a matter of seconds, the driver is back out on the tarmac like nothing’s happened.

But the tires wear out, the suspension is wonky, there are a million different elements and the odds of one going wrong during a race are high.

As are the odds of another driver forcing you off the road, etiquette is for golf, not Formula 1 racing.


So the truth is Formula 1 is much better on television. Where you can see the entire race. Even better, in this series in ten episodes, you can see the entire season, the story arcs, beginning to end. And the episodes are about half an hour-long, so it’s not a huge commitment.

Now the truth is I’ve been locked up in my house for over a year. To tell you that my mental state has always been positive would be lying. And streaming television does help me cope, but I’ve already seen most of the A-level shows, but then Jay & Lisa told me we had to check out “Formula1: Drive to Survive.” And we finished this show we watched on Acorn that was interesting, but not worth writing about, I don’t want to burden you with anything that’s not deserving of your time. As a matter of fact, I just finished this book “Good Neighbors,” by Sarah Langan, and about halfway through it becomes absolutely riveting, hard to put down. And the set-up is so interesting, set in the not too distant future, looking back, there are news stories and interviews and…I just can’t recommend it fully, you can check it out, but it’s no F 1 show.

So, I pulled up “Formula1: Drive to Survive” and was hooked from the very beginning. Felice too. Although we did watch that Ayrton Senna movie a few years back and she dug that…it turns out the same people made this Formula 1 series.

And we’re watching and we both have questions. Where the money goes. Rules. Yes, this series draws you further into the sport.

I will continue to read the rankings, but now I will go deeper, I will care more because something is happening in the Formula 1 world and most people in America are unaware. Remember when George Harrison got into F 1? He was on to something. Yes, it’s a sport, it’s ultimately meaningless, but it is a reflection of the human condition, it is worth dedicating some time to it on planet earth. Every day I can’t wait for the sun to set to fire up this series, I think you’ll feel the same way too.


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