The reach of Drive to Survive goes beyond F1 fans. Now other sports want to copy the show’s success

As a kid, Mike Janik spent his days smashing Hot Wheels cars together and playing racing games.

Now, two decades later, he’s ‘giddy’ knowing he’s attending this weekend’s 2022 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal – and can check by looking at ‘the pinnacle of motorsport’ on his bucket list. things to do.

Growing up, Janik always followed the rally scene more. Until one day he came across F1 highlights on YouTube and his interest went “from zero to 100”.

“I went from no knowledge to…in the blink of an eye, in the snap of a finger, I’m logging into every race weekend,” Janik said. “I don’t miss a beat.”

Ralf Schumacher, center, of the BMW Williams team reacts as his brother Michael Schumacher, left, and Mika Hakkinen pour champagne behind his back after his victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in 2001. Since that victory, fans of sports have grown, much of it due to new movies and TV shows. (Reuters)

From the Netflix series Drive to survive – featuring behind-the-scenes footage of usually secretive racing teams – debuted in 2019 as F1’s viewership exploded. In May, the show was confirmed for the fifth and sixth seasons. And Apple Studios has confirmed it is producing a racing film starring Brad Pitt, co-produced by champion driver Lewis Hamilton.

But that’s more than other studios trying to cash in on F1’s new audience. Other sports, like the PGA Tour, want to see if they can too.

As F1 focuses on high-octane racing, the show lifts the curtain on the drama and complexity of what makes a living as a Formula 1 driver.

“I think the most eye-opening part of this series…was kind of understanding the real team effort behind it,” Janik said. “Seeing these teams pull out all the stops to gain thousandths of a second and perform at this superhuman level, I think that’s really what sold me.”

Mike Janik can be seen playing racing games as a child. As an adult, he became a huge Formula 1 fan. (Submitted by Mike Janik)

Popularity as a driver of new content

The show’s humanity is part of its winning formula, says Adam Seaborn, sports media analyst and head of partnerships at Playmakers Capital.

It takes audiences beyond the track, giving people the chance to connect with drivers and teams – and it breaks down the complexity of racing for people who wouldn’t otherwise watch the sport, he said. declared.

“You can get a script,” he said. “You can know their back stories, you know the rivalries, where they grew up… So it’s easy to figure out who against whom every week.”

The popularity of the sport and its Netflix show has pushed the streaming platform into a bidding war for the racing rights to the F1 series – hoping to topple ESPN, whose TV rights are ending next season.

People also watch the show outside of prime time, averaging 200,000 to 400,000 viewers per run between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., Seaborn said. In Canada alone, the show’s ratings doubled from the previous year, he said.

“Netflix is ​​in millions and millions of homes across Canada,” Seaborn said. “I think [Formula One] reached an intersection of digital media, social media and sport at the perfect time.”

A car can be seen from the pits during the Formula 1 free practice session at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Janik will be among those watching this weekend. (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports)

Direction to stardom

In the past, movies like Rush and Ford versus Ferrari marked the start of the race’s growing media presence. But reality TV has boosted the visibility of Formula 1, straddling the line between sport and entertainment.

“What we’re obsessed with and interested in right now is actually piloting the content, which I think is so exciting,” said Alexandra Nikolajev, who started watching the show during the pandemic.

Since the Netflix series Drive to Survive – featuring behind-the-scenes footage of usually secretive racing teams – debuted in 2019, F1 audiences have exploded. In May, it was confirmed for the fifth and sixth seasons. (Netflix)

She became fascinated with the sport and its level of luxury and exclusivity. Only 20 drivers can compete, creating a world of drama, politics and teamwork between drivers and vehicle creators behind the scenes.

And F1 stars themselves are embracing new media, said Nikolajev, who shares pop culture analysis on TikTok with his more than 92,000 followers.

“They’re starting to do podcasts, they’re starting to do interviews,” she said, adding that fans are “starting to engage.”

Not everyone is on board with bringing F1 racing to the masses, Nikolajev said. There has been some backlash from legacy fans who would prefer the sport to retain its air of exclusivity.

“But I think the whole point of content these days is accessibility – and bringing us all together. And I think it’s…amazing that we’re still pushing that boundary.”

Drivers advocate for social change

Reaching this wider audience gave drivers a chance to push further boundaries.

Drivers use their celebrity status to advocate for human rights – and other causes they are connected to, said Shanika Abeysinghe, co-host of Get Checkereda Canadian Formula 1 podcast.

“Pilots are advocating for change, whether in their own little world or publicly or whatever,” Abeysinghe said.

Sebastien Vettel has advocated for the inclusion of an LGBTQ driver in Formula 1, wearing a rainbow jersey with the words “Same Love” on it at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix. Hamilton is the only black Formula 1 driver and created a non-profit organization identify and reduce barriers for black people in British motorsport.

Drive to Survive fan Alexandra Nikolajev shares pop culture analysis on TikTok with her 92,000+ followers. She is seen here with amazing cars. (Submitted by Alexandra Nikolajev)

But while the sport has grown in popularity, Abeysinghe said, it still doesn’t reflect the diversity of its growing fan base.

“It’s the powers that be, i.e. the FIA, that have to realize that we need a woman to drive, we need someone who identifies as LGBTQ to drive,” said she declared. “There are only 20 seats – so how can we create fairness in a sport that is inherently unfair?”

Inspirational Impersonator Shows

As Drive to survive is considering its next season, other sports bodies are exploring the possibility of using the show as a model for developing sports media.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton roams the paddock at the Canadian Grand Prix on Thursday. Hamilton is one of the best drivers in the world and started a non-profit organization to lower barriers for other black people to enter the sport. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The PGA Tour has struck a deal with Netflix to provide behind-the-scenes access to the sport, trying to recreate Drive to survive Hit.

“In many ways, there are a lot of similarities. It’s the athletes who are independent contractors who have great stories,” Seaborn said.

“You get them into the entertainment piece. It’s exciting, it should be fun. And if you become a real fan, you become hardcore.”

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