F1 business expert Mark Gallagher believes Netflix series Drive to Survive offers a misleading view of the sport, with potential new fans switched off by the dominance of Max Verstappen and Red Bull in 2023.
Drive to Survive has become a key tool since it first aired in 2019, allowing F1 to reach an unprecedented level of popularity under commercial rights holders Liberty Media.
Interest peaked during Verstappen’s season-long tussle with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in 2021, which ended with the Red Bull star securing the first of three successive World Championships in highly controversial circumstances.
Drive to Survive ‘democratises’ F1, says expert
Verstappen has dominated F1 over recent years, winning 44 of the last 66 races since the start of 2021, with Red Bull winning all but one of a possible 22 grands prix last season.
Appearing on the Flat Chat podcast, former Jordan, Red Bull and Cosworth man Gallagher says Drive to Survive “democratises” F1 by covering all 10 teams and 20 drivers equally.
This, he believes, leaves potential new fans frustrated when tuning in to watch races to find one team and driver dominating, describing the 2023 campaign as particularly “devastating” for F1’s appeal to a new fanbase.
He said: “My view on it is that the series is a 10-part television commercial for Formula 1.
“One of the things about Drive to Survive is it democratised Formula 1, so one episode would be about Haas; another episode would be about Alpine; another episode would be about Alfa Romeo; another episode would be about Mercedes.
“It’s drawn in fans fascinated by these 10 teams and these 20 drivers – but then you go to an actual race and Max Verstappen wins and Red Bull totally dominates.
“There’s a couple of other quite competitive teams behind and then, quite frankly, the bottom end of the grid are also-rans.
“So you’ve got a sport which has presented itself as this level playing field where everyone is in with a shout on the Netflix series, but actually the sporting/entertainment side of it is the technical meritocracy that we all know so well.
“I think [2023 was] quite devastating for Formula 1. Brilliant for Red Bull, but devastating for Formula 1 because here we are [reflecting] on Max’s 19th grand prix [win] of the season.
“And all of a sudden, those records that we used to talk about from McLaren, winning 15 out of 16 races in 1988, has just all completely been blown away.
“Fans around the periphery, fans who have been initially switched on to Formula 1, for those fans to then be converted into diehard, that’s the next step and it’s challenging.
“There have been a few commentators – even in America – talking about the fact that Formula 1 has built this crescendo, but there’s now a threat hanging over it because the dyed-in-the-wool fans, the fanbase who really understand Formula 1 and have followed it for years and years and years will stick with it through thick and thin.
“Whereas the more transitory fans who have come into perhaps in the last two years may just suddenly now start to find that it isn’t compelling enough to make them want to watch all the races and indeed, in this case, turn up to Miami, Austin, Las Vegas and actually buy some tickets.”
Gallagher pointed to the cost of tickets and merchandise as another issue, claiming F1 faces a nervous wait to see if it’s popularity can be sustained.
He explained: “I have to say, from my own point of view and being an older person around the sport, you do tend to look back with rose-tinted glasses, but I’m a realist and I run a business and I know values have changed over the years.
“I go to races now and I look at what fans are having to spend in terms of tickets and then merchandise – look at what the merchandise costs are – I honestly don’t understand how some of the races make it happen. I just don’t understand how the fans get out there.
“[At the Australian] Grand Prix earlier this year, it was a fantastic weekend and it was almost record crowds again – but again, talking to people who went, they all commented to me about just how expensive it was.
“If you had if you had a son or a daughter or a dad or a mum who asked for a baseball cap or a t-shirt, they just couldn’t believe how much money it cost.
“So it’s going to be an interesting next phase of Formula 1’s growth: can they sustain it, can they keep that audience that they’ve built up?
“Or are we now going to start down the other side of the slope and see a little bit of a tailing off?”