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How Netflix's "Drive to survive" scaled the viewership massively for F1

It’s not everyday you see a show have such a massive impact on the viewership of a sport as Netflix’s Drive to Survive has had for Formula 1.

Formula 1 may be a major sport but it has often struggled for a broad audience. Then comes Drive to Survive which transformed the audience for the sport by adding captivating drama to it. As is the case with any popular show, heroes and villains were made out of the characters which had an effect on public perception.

According to The Guardian, last year the overall ratings for Formula 1 were up more than 40%, making it the highest watched F1 season in the U.S. ever. The sport added approximately 73 million fans globally. Drive to Survive, which is essentially a dramatized version of the sport most definitely has a correlation if not direct causation to this happening.

The Netflix show garnered high viewership by making F1 less about the cars and more about the men who drive them. We got an insight into their ambitions, disputes, and lives. Instead of going for a series that deals with technical precision, they opted to examine the complex aspects of the human condition instead. And who doesn’t enjoy watching rage, disloyalty, jealousy - all the drama come alive on to your screens?

Well, contrary to what most but believe, there are some who did not enjoy this entirely.

To get into the context, let’s catch up on the latest season of Formula 1.

Mercedes AMG Petronas has been dominant in Formula 1 for nearly a decade and the team has come in first place in the World Drivers Championship for seven years straight. This crazy streak ended last year.

Hamilton led most of the final race. But a couple safety cars led Verstappen to change to fresh tires, whereas Hamilton and Mercedes left on the old tires.

Now here’s where things get tricky.

The final safety car was caused by a crash. According to the rules, all the lapped vehicles should overtake the safety car and take their place in the actual order of cars. The safety car then should take an additional lap before exiting, at which point racing should resume at the starting line.

FIA director Michael Masi ignored those rules, only allowing the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves. He also brought the safety car in a lap early. It seems like following the rules would have been anticlimactic and that’s why this was done.

With fresh tires, Verstappen had no trouble overtaking Hamilton and winning the race and the Drivers Championship.

Many fans of Formula 1 feel that the officials juiced the story line to keep new Netflix fans entranced. Not being true to the rules of the sport is undoubtedly not the right thing to do. Many people wondered if the decisions in the race were made for the benefit of the viewers or the drivers? The question that was on everyone’s mind was the conflict between what is real and what is constructed.

Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that the show’s massive success had knock-on effects for Formula One itself. A record number of people, more than 108 million, tuned in to watch the 2021 season finale.

Do you think the rules were bent in order to produce a better storyline? Opinions will differ between people but one thing is for sure, the next season of Drive to Survive will garner even more hype for the sport.

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