F1 Documentaries on Netflix Are Filling the Void Live Sports Left

I know nothing about racing but watching 'Senna' and 'F1: Drive To Survive' turned me into Formula 1's newest fan.
Chicago, US
Vladimir Rys/Netflix 
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It's overwhelming to try to process how many things I'm missing because of coronavirus. There's no going to a bar to catch up with friends, no seeing a show at a local venue, no eating a delicious meal in a packed restaurant, and no watching my favorite sports teams play in person. With no playoff basketball or hockey, the absence of live sports has led me to some unexpected and somewhat desperate places. I'm currently trying to get into the KBO, South Korea's baseball league that's finally returned for fan-less games airing on ESPN in the wee hours of the morning, and attempting to watch every 30 For 30 film. While both those things are worthy endeavors, it's admittedly rough out there.

So far, the most fun boredom-induced sports detour has been becoming a fan of Formula 1 thanks to some excellent racing documentaries on Netflix. Before queuing up Senna—the 2010 doc about the late, legendary Brazillian driver Ayrton Senna— on a whim, I knew absolutely nothing about the sport. But watching the immersive Asif Kapadia-directed film, a rare documentary that doesn't feature any talking heads, I became enthralled by F1. While automobile racing had never interested me, Senna revealed human drama behind the fast cars to a total novice like myself. Senna's icy determination and zealous competitiveness reminded me of Michael Jordan, his often petty rivalry with his then-teammate Alain Prost made for an impossibly juicy sports soap opera, and his tragic 1994 death behind the wheel of an F1 car proved the real danger inherent in racing.

Senna is one of the best documentaries of the 2010s and a thrilling gateway into a small slice of F1's history. However, Netflix's F1: Drive To Survive is the perfect primer into the sport's current storylines and intrigue. The documentary series, which shares a producer with Senna, relies on in-depth access of the league's 20 drivers divided across ten racing teams. Like any good sport, the show features F1's racing highlights, athlete rivalries, underdog stories, and contract disputes. While its second season boasts F1's reigning heavyweight teams in Mercedes and Ferrari, the real exciting storylines come from the struggling ones, like the U.S.-owned Haas, whose colorful and curse-happy team principal Guenther Steiner is the series MVP, and the English team Williams, once a powerhouse in the sport (and subject of their own Netflix doc) that's now relegated to last place.

F1: Drive To Survive tackles both the 2018 and 2019 seasons of F1 racing and it's impossible to binge the series without finding people to root for. When Steiner, dismayed that Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean crashed into each other, calls them " two fucking idiots," it's exhilarating TV. Even more so when he yells, "This is not a fucking kindergarten here.” There's also the relentlessly charming Australian driver Daniel Riccardo who hams it up with a happy-go-lucky demeanor throughout the entire series, making him an easy favorite. Other storylines like upstart racer Pierre Gasly getting demoted by Red Bull Racing mid-season makes for a compelling comeback story. Without knowing the drama the Netflix series provides, a newcomer to F1 would just see the sport as fast cars going around a track.

The best way to escape the mind-numbing depression and boredom of being stuck at home is through your own curiosity. With the mesmerizing Senna and the easily-bingeable F1: Drive to Survive, there aren't many better things to explore for the stuck-at-home American sports fan. Even if racing and F1 feel uninteresting, learning about something you know nothing about is worth it. While there are no set plans for actual F1 races to resume, it's good to have another thing to look forward to.