February 27, 2024
Melinda Head

Have you already binged all episodes?

The concept is still going strong, as is Box to Box

“Formula 1: Drive to Survive” has had tremendous success, with 6 seasons to prove it and no sign of waning with its most recent release. F1 enthusiasts want behind-the-scenes coverage, a peek into the lives of the rich and famous, and a nail-biting plot. The highly anticipated yearly review, now in its 6th season, was strategically released on Friday, providing more than enough fuel to ensure high viewership at the start of the 2024 F1 season in Bahrain and beyond.

F1’s former Managing Director of Commercial Operations, Sean Bratches, is considered to be the brainchild behind “Drive to Survive”

Red Bull’s Christian Horner scandal is an unexpected cherry-on-the-sundae, with devoted F1 fans surely checking online several times a day to find out how the Sport’s most recent scandal with Max Verstappen’s 4th consecutive title-winning team will be resolved. The pace of the investigation is said to be a great source of frustration for new engine partner, Ford, and its CEO, Jim Farley.

“… Ford’s values are non-negotiable … prompt and serious attention (to the matter is necessary).” (Jim Farley, CEO, Ford Motor Co.)

Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, is in the spotlight, with an independent investigation under way after an employee allegation about his undefined behavior

Netflix pays Formula One Group (a subsidiary of US-based Liberty Media Corp.), the F1 Commercial Rights holder, to produce “Drive to Survive”. The Series essentially delivers free advertising for the sport and its sponsors, while Netflix increases its subscriber base and viewership stats. The collaboration is a win-win for everyone.

“I think Netflix has been outstanding for Formula 1 … Our whole ecosystem starts with the fan and when you get the fan, you have countries that want to hold races, you have broadcasters that want to spend money and broadcast our event, which then all trickles down to the racing teams, which then allows us to pay all the salaries of the men and women that work at our racing teams, drivers included.” (Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing)

Box to Box, an independent documentary film production company, actually makes the Emmy Award-winning “Drive to Survive”. It was co-founded in 2016 by Paul Martin and James Gay-Rees. Martin’s “Ronaldo” (2015) and Gay-Rees’ “Senna” (2010) were strong enough credentials to convince Netflix to partner with them. There has been no looking back.

Paul Martin (right) and James Gay-Rees (left) are the co-founders of Box to Box Films, the folks who make “Drive to Survive”

Box to Box has repeated its winning formula in tennis (“Break Point”), rugby (“Six Nations: Full Contact”), golf (“Full Swing”), cycling (“Tour de France: Unchained”) and surfing (“Make or Break”). A yet untitled documentary about Lewis Hamilton is in the works for Apple. Outside of sports, you may also be familiar with Box to Box’s “The Billionaire, the Butler & the Boyfriend” about the L’Oreal family and “Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn” about the fall of Nissan/Renault’s CEO. These men are on a roll!!!

“Drive to Survive” has connected with F1 fans, while also creating new enthusiasts. It is a 10-part annual series, all of which are released at the same time. For this reason, the ratings agency, Nielsen, measures its first week impact – as many people watch all 10 episodes immediately (if not in quick succession) and some even go back to watch previous years’ content.

Liberty Media is pushing F1 fan growth in America. The first Grand Prix to be held in the US was at Sebring, FL. Over the years, Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Detroit, Phoenix and Vegas were all tried. Today, there are 2 F1 street races (1 in Miami and 1 in Las Vegas - the newest venue), and 1 at the permanent Circuit of the Americas just outside of Austin, TX

What Netflix (and Box to Box) has done is incredibly smart. If you don’t know Formula 1 and sit down to watch a race, you probably won’t “get it”. If you only watch Formula 1, you might become bored, depending on what’s happening during a race. If you watch “Drive to Survive”, whether you are a fan or not, you exit with a much better understanding of the sport.

Carte blanche access to the F1 paddock, much to the chagrin of photographers whose views are now often obscured by film crews, has provided us with another layer of F1 detail that was rarely seen during the Bernie Ecclestone reign.

The net result of “Drive to Survive” has been increased reach and engagement with the sport of Formula One, whether measured in eyeballs, bums on racetrack seats and/or buzz.

“F1 is still a sport, but sport is entertainment.” (Christian Horner, Team Principal, Oracle Red Bull Racing)

All of this translates into huge financial opportunities. For example, in 2022 Disney (which owns ABC and ESPN) renewed its US F1 broadcast rights to the tune of $85 million annually, compared to just $5 million the year before. Cha-ching!

In this year’s off-season, when the Box to Box film crew was not present, we witnessed several unexpected events – the sudden departure of renowned Netflix star and Haas Formula One team principal, Guenther Steiner, followed by the rejection of Andretti-Cadillac’s bid to join the F1 grid, the announcement of Lewis Hamilton’s departure from the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team and, lastly, the disruption to the sport caused by internal accusations made against Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner. Too bad filming is limited to the racing season!

Interestingly, Bernie (a previous F1 team owner) was the first to obtain the commercial rights to Formula One. In 2000, he made a sweet deal with the sport’s governing body (the FIA), to lease the rights to F1 for 110 years in an agreement worth $360 million. In 2017, those rights were sold to Liberty Media for $8 billion. Not bad for the son of a fisherman who initially dabbled in the sale of second-hand motorcycle parts. Dubbed “F1 Supremo”, 93 year old Ecclestone provided the foundation for which we all should be thankful today.

Bernie Ecclestone (right) put today’s Formula One on the map. Here he is pictured with his Team Brabham driver, Nelson Piquet

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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