For race fans, Easter weekend is one of the leanest weekends of the year. All three of NASCAR’s National-level Series were off, along with Formula 1 and IMSA. There was no live racing on television. The only stuff available was tape-delayed action and action on the internet.
There is MotoGP, but their TV deal with NBC Sports has likely cost the series some visibility in the United States. Yes, NBCSN is in far more homes (for now) than beIN Sport. However, races are mostly not shown live and the support events are exclusive to MotoGP’s own service, which costs $165 a year. Sunday’s Grand Prix of Doha, which saw the top 15 finishers separated by 8.923 seconds, aired via tape delay at 10:30 p.m. I missed it because I was watching the Angels-White Sox game on ESPN.
So, what are we going to talk about this week? About 10 days ago, I had a conversation on the phone with my dad where he casually brought up Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Long story short, he doesn’t have the highest opinion of one Lawrence Stroll. I had never watched the show since I didn’t have Netflix. I decided to press my luck and subscribe. With the current circumstances, that basically means that I haven’t left a four-county area for the last 14 months, and (thankfully) not having any employment issues, I have money to burn. So, I signed up.
Today will be my first look at Formula 1: Drive to Survive. The current plan is that this will be a series of articles. The rest of the series will run as editions of The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter.
In this case, we’re going to start with the beginning of the third season. The first episode is entitled, “Cash Is King.” Isn’t it always in Formula 1?
The action starts at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, where the pre-season test took place. Not only was the on-track time key, but FOM spent significant time shooting things that could be used in their broadcasts as well.
Here, the focus is on Racing Point. Lawrence Stroll is described here as a “force of nature” and a “personality.” He’s pretty much every bit of that. In regards to the Racing Point RP20, Lawrence Stroll says, “You always want to be better than your competition. You look up to your competition, not down.”
It appears that Racing Point took that statement rather literally. While the program did show the official unveiling of the RP20, the car that tested at Barcelona was a bit different from it.
Will Buxton, whom many of you might remember from his time with NBC Sports when they still had rights to Formula 1, stated, “With Racing Point, the car that left the garage on day one, in terms of its color scheme, looked very similar to what had been released to the press. However, the car itself had undergone some dramatic changes. It was … quite familiar to everyone in the pit lane.”
Basically, the car was considered to be a copy of the Mercedes W10 that Lewis Hamilton drove to the World Championship in 2019. This is what resulted in the RP20 being referred to as the “Pink Mercedes” or “Tracing Point” for much of last year. It’s as if Racing Point was the Banky Edwards to Mercedes’ Holden McNeil. Under most circumstances, copying another team’s design is highly frowned upon in Formula 1.
Regardless, Lance Stroll was fast in the RP20 immediately, turning in the fastest lap of the first day. Meanwhile, everyone else was wondering if the car was legal. Lando Norris was skeptical, as was Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul.
The World Championship then traveled to Australia for the Grand Prix of Australia in Melbourne. Everyone got there and began their preparations for the race. Then, COVID-19 struck.
A couple of McLaren mechanics came down with symptoms in the days leading up to the event, resulting in everyone freaking out. Basically, the news of everything shutting down came Friday morning prior to the first free practice session. Hamilton expressed surprise during the regular press conference that everyone was still there. “Cash is King” was Hamilton’s response to the question of why the race was still on (at that point).
Once the results came back that McLaren’s crewmembers were positive for COVID-19, the team chose to pull out of the weekend. The FIA cancelled the rest of the weekend shortly afterwards.
As you all know, this was a serious predicament. Survival was the key.
Employees that don’t work on the cars ultimately moved to a 100% Work at Home schedule. For those in departments like Marketing or Public Relations, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. If you had to remote into the system, it clearly stunk to high heaven. I don’t work for a Formula 1 team, but I really do not like remote work.
Once the season resumed at the Red Bull Ring, it was a strange sight. When cars weren’t on track, it might as well have been a day in the Austrian countryside. The “gin palaces” that the teams usually bring to the European races were replaced with individual driver pods that appeared to be reused shipping containers. Everyone, including the drivers, had to go through testing for COVID-19. With no fans allowed, cameras were set up so that drivers could talk to fans via Zoom. Of course, there’s no way that doesn’t come off as weird. On cue, a fan asks Daniel Ricciardo to dance for him.
With all the protocols in play, the team personnel didn’t really know what to do around each other. I suppose they’re no different than everyone else in that regard.
The drivers had some teething issues getting back used to being in the car after having not driven since the Barcelona tests. Max Verstappen claimed that he would be good in two laps. Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashed in practice. Norris took a while to even get used to the braking.
At Mercedes, the talk is about a new feature on the W11. The drivers can move the steering wheel forward and back. Normally, this would mean that the driver didn’t get the wheel on all the way and would be a threat to crash. Sadly, drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and Steve Park have found this out the hard way.
In the case of Mercedes, they engineered a new system into their car. Pushing the wheel in further adjusts the front wheels. This system, known as Dual Axis Steering (DAS), was rather controversial. It’s really quite ingenious. Basically, they can reset their toe on the go to maximum cornering ability.
Naturally, the teams weren’t having those shenanigans. Red Bull protested it, but the FIA ruled it legal for 2020 (it’s now illegal).
More controversy surrounding Mercedes continued. First, Valtteri Bottas went off-track during qualifying. Hamilton chose not to back off and qualified second. This originally stood until Red Bull protested again.
Here, Red Bull’s Christian Horner can be seen looking at footage from Hamilton’s in-car camera that the FIA’s stewards apparently didn’t have. This footage proved that Hamilton failed to slow down in a local yellow zone. Ultimately, Hamilton was given a three-place grid penalty for this.
I have no idea why the stewards wouldn’t have had that footage. Every car in Formula 1 has multiple cameras on it. That’s been the case for over 20 years. That’s how you end up with in-car footage from Esteban Tuero making a Formula 1 broadcast in 1998. Race control looks like the inside of a broadcast truck at a NASCAR race. I don’t know what was going on there. The stewards should be able to get all the shots they want when they want it in order to make calls.
The race footage itself from the Red Bull Ring is right up the alley of those viewers that like the Radioactive segments on NASCAR RaceHub. The story of the race is effectively told via the race footage, in-car cameras and radio chatter. The radio chatter is all uncensored, so expect a prodigious number of F-bombs if you tune in.
A couple of episodes in, I would describe Formula 1: Drive to Survive as quite immersive. You feel like you’re there with Red Bull, fighting against Mercedes. It’s a great way to introduce the sport to a new audience. On Netflix, you’re going to find an audience that isn’t necessarily into motorsports. As far as streaming services go, the non-racing specific place to get motorsport content right now seems to be Amazon Prime.
Has NASCAR done a series like this before? Not really, but there have been shows that have been behind the scenes in the past, like NBS 24/7 on SPEED back in the mid-2000s. It was never anywhere near as expansive as what Formula 1: Drive to Survive is.
NASCAR is said to be looking at creating such a series in the near future. That wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Especially with the NextGen car coming next year, the diehard fans are going to want to know as much as possible about it. I have no doubt that NASCAR and/or whoever else can make the sport look quite compelling to the masses and humanize the drivers as well.
To this point, the only NASCAR series on Netflix has been the series The Crew, starring Kevin James, that premiered on Feb. 15. I have still not seen it, and based on my searching around in the Netflix app, it doesn’t appear to be all that popular. Basically, what I’m saying is that it isn’t coming up on it’s own when you browse through the various shows available. That’s not a good sign if you’re hoping for a second season for the show.
Watching the Grand Prix of Austria last year, the collision between Hamilton and Alexander Albon was a big moment in the race. Everyone was shocked that they had come together again for the second time in three races. On the show, radio chatter was played where Albon referred to Hamilton as “a sore loser.” I almost busted out laughing at that.
The world of Formula 1 is often viewed as a stoic chamber where if you don’t win, you’re miserable. It makes the sheer joy in the McLaren garage that much better when Norris was able to claim the podium.
That’s all for this week. Unlike Easter weekend, this upcoming weekend is very busy. The NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series teams will be in action at Martinsville Speedway, with the Whelen Modified Tour starting their season as tertiary support Thursday night. Formula E returns to action with a doubleheader in Rome. Monster Energy AMA Supercross is back with the first of three races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. TV listings are in the Television tab above.
We’ll be back with a look at the Truck and Cup races from Martinsville for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s Critic’s Annex, I’m currently undecided as to what I will cover. I could make that Part No. 2 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive, covering the third and fourth episodes. I could hold it to Friday and cover the Whelen Modified Tour opener from Martinsville. Or, I could go off the board. You’ll have to wait and see.
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About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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