Perhaps Drive to Survive should have considered a rebrand for this is as much the Toto Wolff and Christian Horner show as it is about the epic 2021 season.
The narrative arc across 10 pulsating episodes is underpinned by the scowls of the Mercedes and Red Bull principals, cutting to and from the garages.
‘I wish he’d shut the f**k up,’ Horner is heard saying, as TVs show Lewis Hamilton discussing his seventh world championship win in 2020. ‘How many times do we have to sit and watch this s**t?’ And so the tone is set.
‘He’s not really had to build anything,’ Horner says as a shot at Wolff. ‘He’s much more motivated by the financials than the competition.’
Netflix will have relished the animosity between Horner and Wolff given Max Verstappen, who would go on to win the championship in the most controversial of circumstances in the final race, snubbed the series entirely.
His absence is felt, no matter how much they try to mask it with media pen interviews and his radio messages. Not a single sit-down from the man who went on to dethrone Lewis Hamilton is a void they cannot hide.
The absence of Max Verstappen from Netflix’s Drive to Survive is a void they cannot hide
The Red Bull driver (right) won the Formula One title last season in contentious circumstances
For F1 fans that know how the season transpired, it is a fascinating early foreshadow that in episode one Wolff, speaking a week before the opening race in Bahrain, admits to engineers that Mercedes ‘made a mistake’ with their 2021 car.
They go on to win that opening race in Bahrain but the overwhelming sense in the paddock, and from the episode, is that they can smell blood at Mercedes.
‘F**k it, we’ve just got to keep the smile off his face,’ Horner says, as he waits to follow Wolff for a TV interview. ‘If we pull this one off it will be the biggest thing that we have done in Formula One.’
The bitter rivalry between Red Bull team principal Christian Horner (left) and Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff (right) is fascinating and is explored in detail but Verstappen is a miss
Swearing was largely restricted to Haas F1 boss Guenther Steiner in the first three seasons but with the tension so great in 2021, they needed to invest in a barrel, rather than a jar, for all the expletives. The air is bluer than ever.
‘1-0 down already, f**k, s**t, f**k,’ groans McLaren’s Lando Norris in Bahrain, after he was out-qualified by new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. ‘F***ing hell,’ fumes Steiner as rookie Nikita Mazepin lasts just three corners in race one.
And while Haas get their own episode, there’s an episode dedicated to Ricciardo’s struggles alongside Norris, and one also on George Russell and Williams’ fight for points, the key focus remains on Red Bull and Mercedes, with Horner landing the starring role.
‘Hold up that f***ing Mercedes,’ Horner says to Steiner, in one of the many paddock walks captured by the Netflix crew.
Cue the montage of Red Bull celebrations: wins at Monaco, in France, at the Styrian Grand Prix, and in Austria. A classic agony and ecstasy sequence, which really heightens the rivalry to those who perhaps didn’t track the season in its entirety. For a casual observer, this was being painted as an all-out war between the teams.
The lack of access to Verstappen represents a real shame, particularly when it gets to episode three and the infamous Copse corner collision with Hamilton at Silverstone.
Verstappen is sent crashing into the tyre wall at 190mph, before being sent for checks at a hospital. Only none of that behind the scenes footage is achievable. Instead, it’s back to Horner to set the tone.
‘That nearly f***ing killed our driver,’ he fumed. ‘I want him f***ing out of this race.’
Only Hamilton raced on, roaring back to overtake Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to win the race. The episode is labelled ‘Tipping Point’, an apt title for a season-defining collision.
Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton looked set to win until the final lap of the final race at Abu Dhabi
The Brit sportingly congratulated Verstappen despite the disputed circumstances of the win
Episodes four to eight take a break from the title fight to look at the rest of the grid.
In truth, Horner and Wolff could have filled their own 10-part series but the strength of Drive to Survive is its storytelling from the race leaders to the backmarkers.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating storylines is that of Mazepin and his oligarch father Dmitry, the primary sponsor of Haas in 2021.
‘He’s not an oligarch, he’s a fertiliser guy,’ Steiner insisted. EU sanctions this week, which stated Dmitry Mazepin is a member of Vladimir Putin’s ‘closest circle’, suggest otherwise.
But back to the episode and there is a fascinating and frank exchange where Dmitry threatens to pull Uralkali’s sponsorship and walk away from the team mid-season due to the perceived unfair treatment of his son.
Dutchman Verstappen features less than Yuki Tsunoda eating mushy peas in Milton Keynes
‘If it doesn’t change I will send an official letter that we will stop financing and stop racing,’ the Russian told a team official.
‘It will be a huge problem with the money. We will not keep this. If we remove the Uralkali we will stop racing.’
That came minutes after Netflix captured a conversation between Mazepin Jnr and Steiner in which the confident rookie vowed he would not ‘be a p***y’ when it came to airing his views, amid claims he was getting an ‘undriveable’ car compared to team-mate Mick Schumacher.
It makes for a thrilling spectacle in the knowledge that Mazepin has since been sacked by Haas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Uralkali’s sponsorship has been axed.
Season four is incredibly tense – and has been edited in such a way.
But there remain moments of light humour. McLaren boss Zak Brown wincing as he gets a tattoo for Ricciardo’s first win with the team in Monza stands out. As does Russell, who will appear for Mercedes this season, purchasing a pair of underwear with his face on for his girlfriend Carmen Montero Mundt.
And then, before attention returns to the title fight, viewers get to go behind the scenes with another rookie in Yuki Tsunoda, as he adapts to living in ‘the most boring place in the world’, known to many as Milton Keynes.
Tsunoda is the most unfiltered character in the entire series, talking about his bathroom habits, his dirty room showing he rarely goes near a washing machine, and the moment he tries mushy peas for the first time is a meme in the making.
But the finale is the episode that delivers immense thrills and perfectly captures the drama of what is arguably the most dramatic collusion to an F1 season in history.
Wolff and Horner have endured a frosty relationship and that will likely continue next season
The Austrian admitted ‘everyone has a target on their backs’ ahead of the upcoming campaign
The pace is relentless. Cameras on Horner, cameras on Wolff, back to Horner, back to Wolff, with now-disposed race director Michael Masi getting very limited air-time.
The race action is frantic, at times erratic, but maintains the drama even months on from the moment being played out live. And then comes the word of warning, the perfect pay off for 2022.
‘Lewis had done everything that was necessary to win the championship and it was taken away from him,’ Wolff said, deadpan. ‘There is nothing better that they could have done to motivate us.’
F1 has become the envy of other sports for it’s transcendence into the mainstream and season four doesn’t miss a beat – even if Verstappen had work cut out for the producers.