So you’ve caught up on all four seasons of Netflix’s adrenaline-soaked soap opera, Formula 1: Drive to Survive (or as Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk correctly frames it, the international motor-sport franchise of Real Housewives) and are fully obsessed. Well, buckle up for a follow-up buffet of documentaries about legendary drivers, get to know current drivers through their adventures on YouTube and Instagram, and tide yourself over during the off-season with the Dakar Rally. Plus, the races! The first of the season was held on Sunday, and wow, what a result! Zoom, zoom!
I Have Three Hours. Can You Make Me Sound Extra-Smart About F1?
I got you, babe.
Only the most steely-hearted viewers can even make it through the Senna trailer without crying, but this film is so worth watching that it’s an absolute can’t-miss. Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna — fast, daring, witty, passionate, handsome, and cute — was widely and reasonably predicted to be the GOAT of Formula 1 until his death at 34 caused by injuries sustained in a high-speed crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. The three-time World Champion driver held a record 65 pole positions (that’s F1 for “starting in first place”) until 2006. Directed by Asif Kapadia (who later won an Academy Award for Amy) using exclusively archival footage and sound, with no retrospective commentary to pull us out of his subject’s eternal present, this heartbreaker of a film won a much-deserved Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
This engrossing New Yorker profile of Red Bull designer Adrian Newey is a perfect combination of gossipy Formula 1 history and its rigorous technical specificity. Amid the human drama, it’s easy to forget that F1 is very much a design and engineering challenge. In fact, that’s the “formula” in Formula 1: Every car’s design must adhere to regulations set down by the sport’s governing body, the FIA. This year’s cars are the result of the most significant overhaul of those regulations in the last 40 years. F1TV’s technical analyst Sam Collins neatly summarizes the changes and the rationale behind them in this four-minute explainer video.
Give Me Some More of That Sweet, Sweet Historical Context!
Here’s a Formula 1 Ambient Knowledge Starter Pack to introduce you to more legends of the sport, and to give you a feel for how absolutely batshit dangerous it was back in the day.
Remember in Drive to Survive season three when we met Haas’s new driver, Mick Schumacher? And everyone talked about what a legend his father, Michael Schumacher, was in F1, but there were no contemporary video or photos of him? That’s because the seven-time world champion (whose record fellow seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton wants to surpass) survived terrible injuries in a 2013 skiing accident and has been rehabilitating at home, not appearing in public at all since 2014. The 2021 documentary Schumacher is a loving portrait of a motor-sport hero. It also provides some context for why Mick’s Nice Young Man Energy is remarkable in itself, and throws it into even higher relief against his former teammate Nikita Mazepin’s Privileged Whiny Baby Energy.
The fun feature film Rush (with a script by The Crown’s own Peter Morgan!) covers the rivalry and evolving respect between two Formula 1 drivers of the 1970s, louche hottie James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and taciturn overbite icon Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). After winning the drivers’ championship in 1976, Hunt went on to work for the BBC as a motor-sports commentator. Lauda stayed closer to F1 after his three drivers’ championships, working with Ferrari, Jaguar, and eventually Mercedes, home of Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton. Lauda’s influence and status as a beloved and revered elder in F1 was such that when he died in 2019, drivers young enough to be his grandsons paid emotional tribute to his legacy.
This piece on Jochen Rindt and his posthumous championship win in 1970 provides a strong grounding in the glamorous yet gritty atmosphere and expectations of the sport in a period when, as Rindt’s friend and manager (and longtime F1 bigwig) Bernie Ecclestone put it, “Don’t forget, we used to lose a couple of drivers a year, so they all knew there could be problems. When somebody got killed in a race or a practice or something, they would just continue. Nobody would think about talking about it or saying anything. They wouldn’t dream: ‘It could be me next.’” Compartmentalization is a helluva drug.
I Want to Know Literally Everything About My Favorite Drivers
Great! Let’s start with a zippy rundown that may help you choose which driver(s) you want to focus on from the complete list. ESPN’s coverage of F1 isn’t on the front page, but because the network is “the exclusive home of Formula 1 in the U.S.,” its coverage is pretty robust, and this piece about why you should root for each driver and/or team is a nice one. It’s also a good place to start if you are a beautiful chaos Muppet intending to just dive straight into watching races without prelude, coasting on pure vibes.
For those of you with an eye toward knowing who the drivers of the moment are, the results of last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix yielded some really fun surprises, including returns to form from Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas.
On the podium, we had Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes). Many drivers live in Monaco to protect their fabulous wealth; Leclerc grew up in Monte Carlo with a father who drove in Formula 3. Sainz comes from racing royalty as well: His father, Carlos Sr., is a two-time World Rally Champion. The two sat for a joint interview with People back in November, speaking about their upbringings, what it’s like to be so competitive, and their aspirations for the 2022 season.
As Mercedes’ lead driver, Hamilton is likely 2021 World Champion Max Verstappen’s (Red Bull) top rival for the 2022 drivers’ championship. Hamilton’s brilliant influence-wielding skills came into extra-sharp focus in 2020, when he spoke out, participating in demonstrations against anti-Black police violence, and demanded action at Mercedes to begin to remedy F1’s lack of racial diversity. Sir Lewis (QEII knighted him in January) seems like the kind of person whose big heart and restless intelligence would move him to speak and act on issues important to him no matter what, but being so exceptional for so long has given him a unique platform. Most recently, he’s announced that he plans to incorporate his mother’s surname, Larbalestier, into his own name. No choice but to stan, etc.!
Verstappen — who had to retire from the race following engine failure — refuses to sit for talking-head interviews for Drive to Survive. No matter! This in-depth profile is very insightful into what makes him tick as a competitor.
Finally, please imagine the delighted screaming that went down in group texts the world over when F1’s Instagram dropped images from Vanity Fair’s fashion pictorial with five drivers and Vanity Fair posted a charming interview with the guys to its YouTube channel. Shout-out to Lando Norris’s matter-of-fact comments on working with a psychologist — as Drive to Survive amply illustrates, success in F1 requires a significant investment in mental health!
I Feel the Need for SPEED!
Okay, Maverick, here’s how and where to watch the races for the 2022 season. Each Grand Prix is a full-weekend event, with practice sessions on Fridays and Saturdays, qualifying sessions on Saturdays, and races held on Sundays. In the U.S., ESPN is airing them all, starting with this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
If you don’t have access to ESPN, F1 has its own channel, with two subscription tiers for fans who are cool with watching races on demand (F1 TV Access, $2.99/month or $26.99/year) and fanatics who want to watch everything live, including access to onboard cameras (F1 TV Pro, $9.99/month or $79.99/year). Both plans provide access to F1’s race archive, featuring race footage going back to 1981. Bear in mind that due to the international race schedule, watching a race live may mean a serious disruption to your sleep schedule. For example, race time for the Australia Grand Prix on April 10 is 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. ET.
If you find yourself longing for more automotive daredevilry when we get to the off-season, you may be able to tide yourself over by watching coverage of the Dakar Rally. Chummily known to fans as the Dakar (when the race first launched in 1978, the Senegalese capital was its end point), this two-week off-road endurance race across stages including sand dunes, mountains, mud, and rocky terrain is notable for a majority of its contestants being amateurs. Competitor categories include cars, motorbikes, trucks, quads, and more. The Dakar’s YouTube channel offers annual highlights, and you can find coverage via NBC Motorsports, as well.