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EXCLUSIVE: More access than ever, ‘brutal’ edits and sub-plots aplenty – How Season 6 of Drive To Survive came to life

Staff Writer

Mike Seymour
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Drive To Survive returned to Netflix this week, with the sixth season of the popular behind-the-scenes documentary series getting released to the world. Fresh from it hitting fans’ screens, we spoke with Executive Producer James Gay-Rees about how the latest instalment came together, the “brutal” editing process behind it and what the future for the series holds…

As usual, the new season of Drive To Survive covers the previous year’s tour around the world, in this case a campaign that Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominated – the Dutch driver winning a whopping 19 out of 22 races and the Milton Keynes team incredibly winning all bar one event.

READ MORE: From Ricciardo’s dramatic return to Hamilton’s future dilemma – 5 standout moments from Season 6 of Drive To Survive

Season 6’s many sub-plots

You could be forgiven for thinking this might have had a negative impact on the show’s end product, but Gay-Rees points out that, while appreciating the world champions’ efforts, there were plenty of other intriguing stories and sub-plots to track as the campaign wore on.

Indeed, it got to the stage that the Box to Box production team – which Gay-Rees and fellow Executive Producer Paul Martin oversee – were considering whether to go beyond the usual structure of 10 episodes used from seasons one to five.

“Obviously you’re not talking about a season where there’s a massive title rivalry, so really it’s interesting watching the fight for second, third, fourth taking place,” says Gay-Rees as he sits down for a conversation with Formula1.com.

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Left to right: Drive To Survive Executive Producers James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin

“It’s really good for some of the drivers in those teams, like Oscar Piastri, Pierre Gasly, having really, really substantial stories this year. Daniel Ricciardo coming back to F1 was fantastic and a massive bonus for the series.

“The style of story-telling hasn’t radically changed, but it’s a really strong season. We went into it slightly worried that because Red Bull were so dominant it might be a little bit skinny, but actually it’s not. We even nearly did more episodes than we normally do because we had quite a lot of stories to tell.

QUIZ: Drive to Survive Special – Test your knowledge of the must-see Netflix show

“It’s really good to shine a light on those other teams. Mercedes have a tricky year that they turn around, Aston Martin start big and then fall away, so there were some interesting and surprising shakes in it, even if the headline was pretty written early, if you know what I mean.”

Bringing Verstappen back into the equation, Gay-Rees continues: “I get for the casual viewer that it may get a bit repetitive with Max winning every weekend, but I do think, in hindsight, people are going to understand what an amazing driver he is.

“That car is not easy to drive, as far as my F1 sources tell me. Checo [Sergio Perez] is a brilliant driver but he can’t drive it quite as well as Max can. Max can drive it no matter how difficult the car is, and that’s the brilliance of Max, which is kind of fascinating.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 6 official trailer | Netflix

“That doesn’t necessarily come through on the show, because it’s not that kind of show, but I do think that Max’s dominance will be really appreciated in the future.”

More access (and editing) than ever before

Verstappen previously opted against appearing on Drive To Survive for a year but returned to screens last season and, according to Gay-Rees, the entire F1 paddock is as committed as ever to providing as much access as possible to show creators.

EXCLUSIVE: Inside the making of Drive to Survive, its impact on F1 and what the future holds

That means a huge amount of time embedded with teams at the track – alternating throughout the season to provide access up and down the grid – and plenty of hours of footage that do not make the final cut for the 10-episode season.

“Massively so, actually,” says Gay-Rees, when asked about all 10 teams and 20 drivers being happy to contribute. “You can’t fault them. People bend over backwards to try and make it work.

“With the nature of the show, you have to shoot a lot of material in order to get an episode. We don’t use quite a lot of stuff, because editing is just a brutal process, but they all do give a lot, which we’re extremely grateful for.

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Members of the Drive To Survive team in action in the F1 paddock

“Any ‘access show’ basically works on the basis of 20 to one, so for every 20 hours you shoot you can use one hour. That’s just an industry rule of thumb. It might be 10 here, 30 for others, but that’s not unheard of for all these shows.

“If you’re shooting a show about an airport or a hospital you’ll shoot way more than you use by definition. It’s observational film-making; you’re not shooting a fixed script, you’re shooting material, which you then pull together to make episodes.”

READ MORE: The Guenther Steiner way – Drive To Survive’s ‘reality TV superstar’ and the show’s impact in the US

Departing and returning faces

Two popular characters who have recently stepped away from F1 are former Haas and Ferrari team bosses Guenther Steiner and Mattia Binotto, who put smiles on fans’ faces at the start of Season 5 with their road trip through the Italian countryside, though both still appear in the new season.

On the flipside, those departures are tempered somewhat by Ricciardo and his bubbly personality – the Australian one of the early stars of the series when it landed several years ago – making a full F1 comeback.

“We’ve got a different opening this year, which does have some similarities, but then it segues into a very different sort of opening episode which I’m really, really excited about – it just feels big and sexy,” says Gay-Rees.

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Ricciardo’s bubbly personality returned to F1 midway through last season

“All the usual suspects are in the series. Like I said, with Danny [Ricciardo] coming back, that’s really good news for everybody. We’ve got some drivers commenting on his return in an incredibly insightful and perceptive way, which is one of the funniest scenes in the series. It’s become such a popular show that the drivers are aware of how it works.

“Obviously I’m really sad about Guenther [leaving Haas]. Guenther is such an amazing bloke, a great character. We’ve got a great episode with him again – as you’d expect – this year, but Haas didn’t have a great year. But who knows? Maybe he’ll come back in a different guise.”

LISTEN: How Drive To Survive is made

What Drive To Survive’s future holds

Speaking of a different guise, Gay-Rees and his team are currently pondering where Drive To Survive might go next as they get ready to embark on filming for Season 7.

With viewers still hooked and several other sports following F1 in launching their own documentary series – such as tennis’s Break Point and golf’s Full Swing, which are also produced by Gay-Rees and Martin – the series looks set to go from strength to strength.

“We may try and approach it a little bit differently next year, but we’re not going to throw the baby out of the bathwater,” he comments. “The team’s being pulled together right now and kind of thinking about it.

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“Now’s the time when you kind of think, ‘We could do it like this, we could do it like that’, and sometimes you think actually, let’s tell the whole thing backwards, or have no F1 in it at all! It’s always a kind of silly season.”

He adds: “We still love making the show. It’s still incredibly hard to make, it really takes a lot out of everybody. All these shows look really easy, but they’re incredibly hard to land. At the end of the day, all that really matters is that people watch it and enjoy it.

READ MORE: ‘I need to think about where I hang out!’ – Steiner explains how he has dealt with ‘Drive to Survive’ fame

“We’ll just have to wait and see. I don’t take anything for granted, but hopefully there’s enough goodwill around the series that people tune in. It is a good season this year. The stories and the episodes are really solid, I think. It doesn’t tail off; it’s solid until the end.

“I do think a lot of the characters like the Zak Browns, the Guenthers, and the drivers that we mentioned, they’re really a part of the landscape now, in the show’s sense. It’s good for them, it’s good for us, it’s good for Netflix and it’s good for F1.

“Long may it continue!”

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