F1 tunes into Netflix to turn on younger audience

Because Mercedes refused to cooperate, there are few close-ups of Lewis Hamilton in a Netflix series that is part of a drive to ‘bring F1 to popular culture’. (AFP pic)

Formula One have turned to online streaming giant Netflix to seduce a younger audience with a 10-part documentary series retracing the dramas of the 2018 world championship although Mercedes and Ferrari opted only for supporting roles.

The goal is to “bring F1 to popular culture” said Ellie Norman, the marketing and communications chief of F1 ahead of the series which broadcasts for the first time on Friday.

The documentary, “Formula 1: Drive to survive”, represents the latest move by the sport to become a heavyweight player on social media, widening its public reach at the same time.

As well as the return of some races to free-to-air television, F1 has also partnered with Snapchat and backed an eSport championship.

They are developments pioneered by US group Liberty Media, the owners of the sport since January 2017 when they took over from long-standing ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone.

“This is an example of the change coming in Formula One,” said sporting director Ross Brawn.

“Since we started this new era, something that has come across very strongly from the fans is that they want to understand about the drivers.

“The philosophy of Formula One now is to engage in those areas and make the sport much more special than just what is going on out on the track.”

Rather than presenting a blow-by-blow account of how the 21 races in the 2018 championship unfolded, the Netflix series looks at specific chapters in the race for the title as told by drivers, team bosses and paddock insiders.

The series follows them in their daily lives as well as at circuits.

Episode Two, for example, examines the admiration and rivalry which linked Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr, 24, to his illustrious predecessor and compatriot Fernando Alonso, the 37-year-old who was world champion in 2005 and 2006.

However, not everyone was on board with the Netflix show.

World champions Mercedes refused to open its doors to the cameras while bitter rivals Ferrari, the sport’s iconic team, only came on board for the second half of the season after the Italian Grand Prix.

They remain the major absentees from the documentary with viewers missing the close-ups of the world title battle between Mercedes’s defending champion Lewis Hamilton and German rival Sebastian Vettel.

Despite that, filming for a second series started with winter testing in Barcelona and will continue with the season-opening race at the Australian Grand Prix from March 15-17.