Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘The Real Housewives of Formula One’: Drive To Survive Is The Bitchiest Show On Television And That’s Why We Love It

Yes, the Formula One show has found a legion of new fans – and Emma Clifton is definitely one of them.

If I know the Capsule reader as well as I think I do, you come to this website for one thing and one thing only: sports content. And for this, the second-ever sports-related piece I’ve ever written – the first being about Ted Lasso – I’m here to report that I am one of the many, many non-sporty, non-car-y people who is completely obsessed with the Netflix show Drive To Survive.

Yes, the show about Formula 1. I’m as surprised as you. When I messaged a friend about this, she assumed my account had been hacked.

I first watched this show in March 2020, early on in the pandemic, after I had forced my otherwise-all-male bubble to watch female centric dramas (the best genre in the world) and felt like I should be fair with the communal television. Little did I know that Drive To Survive would be the bitchiest show in existence – and that that would be 95% of its charm.*

To explain the show with as few researched sports references as possible: a bunch of teams compete their very fast cars and very talented drivers against each other to see who can drive the fastest around a track. The track is nearly always somewhere very glitzy and the location is announced with giant letters, ala Killing Eve. Dramatic! You don’t have to understand much about racing; particularly in the later seasons, as the producers have clearly cottoned onto the fact that the viewers are here for the drama, not the sportz, and so give basic explanations along the way.

And that is for the best, because the drama is king. This is a soap opera; The Real Housewives of Formula One, only the lead drivers are also the WAGs, emotionally. Everybody does pieces to camera openly complaining about everyone else, and then they’re also all caught on mic swearing about their colleagues and competitors when they think no-one is looking. In fact, the racing is such an afterthought that it takes up about ¼ of each episode; the rest of the time is spent making sure that you know who the villain is (Max) and who the hero is (Daniel).

AND there’s a Spice Girl! Geri is married to Red Bull CEO Christian Horner, a man who has the shuddering charisma of Gordon Ramsay, and – see again, the rise in female viewers – Geri gets more and more screen time with every series. Christian’s main nemesis is Toto Wolff, the handsome Bond villain who runs Mercedes. There’s Haas, the team who is constantly running on the edge of having no funding and whose owner is resorting to more and more desperate moves to make ends meet. There’s Ferrari, whose Italian owner Mattia Binotto absolutely refuses to speak English in his Netflix interviews, despite appearing in the behind-the-scenes footage to be fluent; an utter power move.

Everybody is a little bit ridiculous and also a little bit wonderful, despite how seriously die-hard fans might want to take this sport. (My favourite bit of Drive To Survive content is the regular newsletter, Engine Failure, and in particular the week the author compared each driver’s career to a Taylor Swift song. The crossover I never knew I needed!)

I wanted to say that, in comparison with the real world, Drive To Survive is pretty low stakes – rich people driving cars fast – but it would be incorrect to say that it doesn’t get serious at times; when things go wrong in these races, they go wrong very badly and very quickly and there are some heart-in-mouth crashes along the way.

But in terms of making a show about drama, as opposed to a show just for sports fans, you’d be hard-pressed to find a series with more of a narrative arc than Drive To Survive. And it’s a show that takes its new fans very seriously – the ratings for F1 races have almost doubled since the show started – and so, just like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the behaviour gets more and more outrageous in every season. Now that’s sports entertainment!

*The remaining 5% is handsomeness.

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