“Ride for Survival” made Americans fall in love with Formula 1

What it does have is team principal Gunther Steiner, who “Drive to Survive” has transformed into one of Formula 1’s most popular personalities. Hailing from Italy’s German-speaking region of South Tyrol, Steiner has worked in racing for three decades, including briefly as Red Bull’s technical director. All this time, almost no one outside the sport knew of its existence. “I’ve followed Formula 1 for years and been to the races as a spectator,” says Rodgers. “And I had no idea who he was.” When I first met Steiner during the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, we walked together casually through the paddock, the pedestrian walkway used for the garages and temporary office space the teams provide during the week. In Miami, he was recognized every few seconds. Box to Box discovered Steiner’s penchant for German-accented candor and salty language and used him as a recurring character. This made him a cult figure after the first season and eventually a star. He claims he never watches the show. “For the simple reason that you look at yourself and maybe behave differently,” he says. “And I wouldn’t want you to do it any other way.”

He probably better not watch the second episode of the second season called “Boiling Point”. In it, William Storey, an energy drink entrepreneur, with his beard hanging down on his chest, is shown on a helicopter ride. He explains that he has 35 million British pounds invested in Haas. “They’re a bit rock ‘n’ roll,” he says, “and they’re the Davids taking on the Goliaths of motorsport.” The rest of the episode chronicles the series of disasters the team experiences early in the season. In Canada there’s a spin into a wall, in England both his cars crash, engines mysteriously cutting out. “This is the worst experience I’ve ever had in any race car,” Kevin Magnussen, one of two Haas drivers at the time, said via two-way radio. The cameras captured Steiner describing both drivers as “[expletive] Idiots,” and Steiner’s teenage daughter asks him if he likes his job during a family outing. Soon after, Storey pulls his investment, leaving the team in financial disarray. By the end, Steiner is close to tears. If Haas ends up failing, he says, “I would have no idea what to do next.” It was a painful thing. No one just watching the races knew this was happening.

As Steiner became wildly popular while his Haas team remained completely irrelevant, Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal, took notice. From the start, Horner has been one of the show’s most compelling characters, a charming but Machiavellian aristocrat shown arguing with Wolff, his colleague at Mercedes, as their two teams battled for the championship last season, but also masterfully riding a horse. Country estate with wife Geri Halliwell, Spice Girl. According to Bratches, at the start of the show, Horner called Netflix to say that if they would send a crew to Red Bull’s headquarters in southern England, he would make it worthwhile. “These guys are ridiculously competitive, and not just with cars,” says Braches. “We took advantage of it.”

Just as Steiner’s character hadn’t appeared if Ferrari and Mercedes had been involved in the first season, and Horner might not have opened Red Bull’s doors wide enough to keep Steiner in the spotlight, “Drive to Survive” wouldn’t have had the wide reach. It is doing this now, if not for the pandemic. Season 2 was released on February 28, 2020, just as the world was shutting down. Fans had all day and night to watch sports, but not live events. According to Riegg, viewership metrics for Drive to Survive are up. “Suddenly, it was like a hockey stick,” he says.

That July, Formula 1 resumed competition by constructing a virus-free bubble that contained only team members essential to the race. Somehow, Netflix successfully made the case that “Drive to Survive” deserved access. Its crews were issued regulatory team uniforms to let local officials know they were part of the balloon. In fact, they were involved with drivers and engineers. “The material we got as a result was incredible,” says Rogers. “The access you get when you become part of the team makes those moments feel really intimate.” More than two years later, the presence of Box to Box film crews dressed as team employees has become part of the sports landscape.

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