Dubai Diaries: The power of access as demonstrated by Formula One
The line between hate and love, it turns out, is Netflix exposure
I used to hate Formula One racing. Granted, it’s a little strange for a car writer to admit, but right now I’ll raise my right hand and testify: I found the endless calendar of races and squabbling over the tenths of milliseconds between competitors’ lap times an expensive exercise in pointlessness. “Those vehicles bear no resemblance to those 99.99999 per cent of the global population can enjoy, so what’s the point?” was my rationale. Combine it with the generally unrelatable personalities exuded by a starting grid of identical 5ft 6” robotic millionaire drivers and I was convinced the sport was never going to be for me. I used to dread Sunday afternoons when the contests beamed in from far flung destinations clogged up valuable TV scheduling or worse when I, an ungrateful snot bag, was fortunate enough to attend a meeting and the only enthusiasm I could muster centred on the interesting characters in the crowd.
And then a revolutionary moment occurred. In 2016 American mass media moguls Liberty Media bought a controlling interest in the Formula One Group out from under the sport’s former omnipotent honcho Bernie Ecclestone and dragged it into the 21st century. Whereas the aforementioned British supremo had only been concerned with providing bare-bones action to official television broadcasters who paid enormous sums raised through pay-per-view fees, the new group recognised the power of social media and granting enhanced free access to coax in more diverse demographics than the previously often older and overwhelmingly male sports TV subscriber. It worked. The F1 YouTube channel grew from a grand total of zero subscribers in late 2015 because the channel did not exist, to 5.2 million today. Throw into the mix 12.7million Instagram followers and an official podcast and you have yourself an online legion of younger excitable fans.
Perhaps the greatest feat in altering peoples’ opinion on arguably the world’s most privileged pastime, though (and this is certainly true for me), was the commissioning of Netflix’s Drive To Survive (2019-present). This intimate fly-on-the-wall documentary series did what no post-race interview or one-off special could ever achieve: it made the seemingly overpaid automaton pilots human. Witnessing an unaltered first-hand view of the sacrifice and pain making it to elite level racing can entail, only for it to just as quickly disappear for some if results didn’t go their way can be heartbreaking. The pure elation of a win, the scheming politics of the team bosses behind the scenes and the nerve jangling a crash can produce is worthy of any fictional drama the streaming behemoth can produce. If you haven’t already tuned in I implore you to watch at least the first season, before settling down to watch this afternoon’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in a new frame of mind.