Netflix’s ‘Formula 1’ series opens up a seemingly unapproachable sport

Automorbit, Sport – Until about two weeks before writing this, I had never in my life wanted to sit down and watch a car race. NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula racing never looked appealing to me as a spectator sport.

I think it’s a universal experience for people with movie and TV streaming accounts to throw their hands up at one point or another and say, “I guess I’ll try watching this!” We get bored or feel stagnant with the things we normally choose to watch and decide to sample something that’s out of left field.

For me, this was Formula 1. I’m a fan of sports movies and shows, and after watching and enjoying the car racing documentary Uppity about the career of Willy T. Ribbs and the racism he faced in his sport, I thought Formula 1 may be a good series to check out.

Formula 1 is an exhilarating, dramatic, and uniquely intimate look at the most elite level of car racing on the planet, following the drivers and their teams as they navigate tracks at speeds upwards of 200 mph, change out tires and parts in pit stops that fly by in under three seconds, and fight to make the most out of their businesses.

Once the show started, I quickly realized just how approachable Formula 1 racing actually is. There are only 20 drivers and 10 teams (aka constructors, as it recognizes all the people who actually construct and maintain the cars), with two drivers per team. There are 21 races per year, and racers earn points for themselves based on the position they finish in. At the end of the year, the racer with the most points is crowned the world driver champion, and the team with the most points is crowned the world constructor champion.

The two seasons build all these miniature narratives within the singular years of competition that each documents. The first season begins with a focus on the undeniably charming Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo, who drove for Red Bull in 2018, and brings us into the world through his performance in races, his relationship with his team including fellow driver Max Verstappen and manager Christian Horner, his background, and his relationship with the sport at large. It’s a great introduction to the sport and the series, showcasing a team that’s battling for position among its rivals in the top two spots: Mercedes and Ferrari.

Across the two seasons we meet more and more drivers and team members, following them as constructors make new sponsor partnerships to cover the exorbitant costs of building the world’s fastest cars, drivers flirt with the idea of joining other teams, and teams try to figure out why the hell their cars aren’t performing as well as others. Condensed into 10-episode seasons, it makes these storylines easily digestible. Within one weekend, I watched a whole season and a half of it.

We meet young drivers who have just made it to Formula 1, seasoned drivers who have multiple championships under their belts, and drivers on struggling teams that just can’t seem to get out of the bottom of the lineup. As crashes and errors mark many of the races, you not only learn about the ins and outs of racing themselves, but also the sometimes dangerously dramatic rivalries that spur between drivers, even two on the same team.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the action and drama of these peoples’ lives in Formula 1 racing. When the show focuses on one driver for a time as they’re angling for a better position during the race, you almost forget that sometimes they’re just aiming to hit ninth or tenth place. The difference in position even that low on the pole can make a huge difference. When the possibility of a race-ending crash for a driver consistently looms within inches of their vehicles, drivers need to stay alert and competitive at all times.

Formula 1’s first season takes an interesting approach to its subjects in that it almost entirely ignores the drivers for Mercedes and Ferrari, which are the most consistent, top-performing racers in 2018. Instead it drops viewers into the middle of the pack with reams like Red Bull, Renault, McLaren, and even some closer to the bottom like Williams Racing, whose team manager Claire Williams is in a constant struggle to maintain the legacy of the team her father built and bring the company back up into a better, more competitive position.

There are so many gripping storylines in Formula 1, like that of up-and-comer Charles Leclerc whose goal is to race for Ferrari. His godfather Jules Bianchi had that same goal, but before he made it there, he died in an accident during a Formula 1 race in 2014.

With crashes dotting Formula 1 with a pretty high frequency, death and injury hangs in the air, adding an emotional undercurrent throughout the series that can be heart wrenching.

The speed, the drama, the emotions, and the business of Formula 1 racing all congeals into this highly bingeable series that welcomes its viewers into a sport that, unless you grew up with it, is likely completely outside your purview.

It was certainly outside of mine, but after watching, I was compelled to wake up at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning to catch the Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix race on Aug. 16. I also plan on watching the next race on Aug. 30. It also helps that this is one of the few sports that is actually running pretty normally in 2020.

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