Throughout its seventy-year history, Formula 1 fans have witnessed amazing stories play out on and off the circuit, some of which filmmakers have excellently retold in recent years to a new generation of fans.
Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey brought the story of Ayrton Senna to the masses, utilising F1’s rich archive to fulfil their objective.
More recently, Ron Howard successfully turned Niki Lauda’s rivalry with James Hunt into a box office hit, with Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth doing the larger than life characters justice in Rush.
But there is one recent story arc from the late 2000s that deserves a showcase on the grand stage, and it is not what you think.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic looking unlikely to stop soon, the chances of Netflix’s F1 Drive to Survive being able to focus on the 2020 season diminishes by the day.
Luckily, Motorsport Broadcasting has an alternative suggestion. I started watching Formula 1 in 1999 aged 7, so have seen the Schumacher era, Red Bull era and Mercedes era unfold in front of my eyes.
These eras exclude a period encompassing the rise of Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Kubica, Massa, all trying to emerge as F1’s new top dog following Michael Schumacher’s retirement.
The 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix marked the end of one era, whilst at the other end, the sun rising in Barcelona in March 2009 would begin the greatest underdog story in Formula 1 history.
The events in the intervening period, encapsulates everything that resembles what Formula 1 is about. Political drama, on-track drama, controversial moments, sub-plots, and two title races that go down to the wire.
Could Netflix turn this era, culminating in the Hamilton versus Massa showdown in Brazil, into a ten-part documentary? Maybe. Here is how it could work…
Episode 1 – Schumacher
Every story needs a beginning, and the first episode covers the closing phase of the 2006 season, as Spain’s Fernando Alonso dethrones Germany’s Michael Schumacher in a battle that went back and forth for the entirety of the season.
The episode introduces us to Alonso, as he clinches his second championship at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix, stepping out of Schumacher’s shadow as the German headed into retirement.
Although everything looks comfortable from the outside, Alonso is not one to stay in the comfy chair, shocking the F1 world by jumping from Renault to McLaren (in a move done the previous Winter) ready for the 2007 season.
World champion makes you the de facto team leader, right? Unfortunately for Alonso, not quite. Enter, Lewis Hamilton.
Episode 2 – Pretenders
The key challenger to Alonso’s throne would turn out to come from within at McLaren, with Britain’s newest F1 hopeful.
Episode two gives us Hamilton’s backstory into motor sport, featuring archive footage of him racing the likes of Sebastian Vettel in the lower formulae.
Ferrari’s challengers for 2007, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, also get their first outing in the series, with emphasis on Massa given his friendship with Schumacher. There is news of a reshuffle in the off-season since Schumacher’s retirement, causing friction at Maranello.
But the focus is very much on McLaren, and it is clear all is not well at Woking. Hamilton is performing better than expected as the 2007 season begins, leaving the team with difficult decisions to make.
Do McLaren back their number one driver, or do they back the young Brit on the charge?
Events come to a head at the 2007 United States Grand Prix, as Hamilton and Alonso battle side-by-side down the start-finish straight…
Episode 3 – Spy-gate
As if the on-track action was not dramatic enough, activities off-track were about to take a sinister turn, with internal politics and turmoil at McLaren and Ferrari colliding.
Accusations flew of McLaren stealing Ferrari’s intellectual property, all playing out in front of the public eye.
The result was F1’s governing body the FIA fining McLaren $100 million and stripping them of all their Constructors’ Championship points for the 2007 season.
On-track, it became increasingly clear that Alonso was heading out of McLaren and back to Renault for 2008, following a bizarre sequence of events during the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying session.
Nevertheless, the Drivers’ Championship fight continued between Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen, heading towards a three-way tussle at Interlagos, Brazil.
Episode 4 – Brazil
Brazil again was the scene for a championship decider. Technical problems would get the better of Hamilton, with Raikkonen clinching the Drivers’ Championship for Ferrari.
The story here is that Ferrari have won, and McLaren have lost in a year where the off-track drama dominated the headlines. The challenge now for McLaren was to rebuild ready for the 2008 season, and put the sorry situation that was 2007 behind them.
Elsewhere in the field, episode four introduces us to fellow British driver Jenson Button, who drives for the Honda team.
Whilst Hamilton is getting all the limelight from a British perspective, Button is trundling around in his Honda, with only one win to his name in his eight F1 seasons.
Hope remains for the Brackley based team however, with reports that Ross Brawn is set to join the outfit ahead of a regulation change coming soon to F1…
Episode 5 – Canada
Another two young talents begin to make their mark on F1 in 2008 and episode five focusses on the first of those, recounting the events of Canada 2007 and Canada 2008.
From an accident that almost ended Robert Kubica’s F1 career, to his first ever victory, the episode covers Kubica’s journey up until this point. Is Poland’s rising star about to spring a surprise?
A calamity involving Hamilton and Raikkonen at the end of pit lane allowed Kubica to take his first ever victory with BMW team-mate Nick Heidfeld following him home in second.
Episode five also focuses on the opening phases of the 2008 season, with Hamilton and Massa leading the way.
Episode 6 – Seb
Also rising in stardom is Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, hoping to emulate his compatriot to become an F1 mega-star.
The episode features more archive footage with Vettel and Hamilton, this time from Vettel’s perspective as opposed to Hamilton.
Vettel breaks into the Red Bull ranks in the Summer of 2007, joining sister team Toro Rosso, building up experience with every passing race.
And then, the heavens open in Monza for the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, allowing Vettel in the Toro Rosso to shine. At just 21 years of age, Vettel becomes both the youngest pole sitter and youngest race winner in F1 history, a remarkable feat.
Meanwhile at Honda, times remain tough for Button, finishing over a minute behind Vettel at Monza, as rumours begin to swirl that Honda are looking to exit F1. Has Button lost his chance to break into the big time?
Episode 7 – Spa
With two-thirds of the 2008 season gone, Hamilton and Massa were leading the chasing pack. Hamilton stepped up to the challenge for his second season in F1, winning a classic race at Silverstone.
Massa was never far away, winning three races up until that point. An engine failure robbed him of what should have been a fourth victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Another thing seemingly never far away for Formula 1 was controversy, as the Belgian Grand Prix proved, with politics coming back to haunt McLaren.
Another classic saw Hamilton overtake Raikkonen for victory, the Finnish driver eventually crashing out.
After the race, Hamilton was controversially penalised for cutting the chicane handing victory to Massa. Both Hamilton and McLaren strongly disagreed the judgement handed down, opting to appeal the steward’s decision.
Episode 8 – Renault
A missing character from the past few episodes is Alonso, whose return to Renault had not gone according to plan, his highest position fourth in the Monza rain.
Nevertheless, fortune was about to pick up for Renault in F1’s inaugural trip to Singapore, which is where episode eight takes us.
A conveniently timed spin from team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr was enough to trigger a Safety Car, leading to Alonso’s first victory of the 2008 season, and Renault’s first since 2006.
All is not as it seems though and, although the episode may not explicitly state this, Renault’s victory was not a genuine one…
The events of Singapore also cost Massa a near certain race victory, and potentially his first Drivers’ Championship, thanks to the accident successfully executed by his compatriot.
One thing is for certain: yet again, the Drivers’ Championship is heading down to the wire…
Episode 9 – Showdown
It all comes down to this. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. One race. One champion. The venue? Massa’s backyard in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
For Massa to win the crown, he must win the race, with Hamilton finishing lower than fifth. A tall order, but still possible.
Massa takes the early advantage, clinching pole, as Hamilton starts down in fourth. Vettel continues to surprise, qualifying seventh. Meanwhile, at the other end of the field, Button qualifies a dismal 17th.
Race day dawns with rain on the horizon, dramatically turning into a storm minutes before the start. Massa keeps his lead off the line, but Hamilton remains favourite for the title.
The rain clears, but dramatically returns in the closing laps. The leaders pit for intermediate tyres, however other runners stay out on dry weather tyres, an inspired decision as conditions continue to deteriorate.
At this point Hamilton is set to win the title, that is until a mistake sends Hamilton wide on lap 69, dropping him to sixth and putting Massa in championship winning position!
The destination of the 2008 Drivers’ Championship hinges on the final two laps…
Episode 10 – 38 Seconds
Spygate. Alonso. Controversy. Spa. The past two seasons for McLaren have seen the team at some of their lowest points internally. Can Hamilton turn everything around?
Massa crosses the finish line, as champion!
“Is that Glock going slowly? That’s Glock! Hamilton’s back in position again!”
Hamilton moves ahead of Glock on the final corner of the final lap, taking fifth position to become the 2008 Formula One World Champion! Jubilation at McLaren, heartbreak at Ferrari. Massa was champion for just 38 seconds.
The cameras follow the scenes from garage to garage, contrasting fortunes everywhere you look, capturing a moment in Formula 1 history that even Hollywood could not write.
As the teams begin to leave Brazil, news emerges of Honda’s imminent exit from Formula 1, appearing to end Button’s Formula 1 career.
Back at base, McLaren and Hamilton celebrate their title victory, as attention quickly turns to the 2009 season, with new regulations set to change F1 forever.
As 2009 edges closer and the new look cars hit the circuit, stories emerge from around the sport that Ross Brawn has saved the Honda outfit from oblivion, rebranding the team as Brawn GP.
The ten-part series ends with Jenson Button taking the Brawn car onto the Barcelona circuit for the very first time, as a familiar bass riff plays in the background.
And well, the rest is history…
Is a documentary series like this, in the style of ‘Drive to Survive’, possible?
In my view, yes.
You may argue that covering two years of F1 in one series makes little sense. But, in the context of the Hamilton and Massa battle, both grew in stature throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons, reaching a climax in Brazil 2008.
The first nine episodes would result in viewers, in F1 and beyond, becoming invested in both characters, and the associated sub-plots, ready for the finale in episode ten.
Senna, released in 2010, shows what you can do with the archive material on offer, and that covered an even earlier period than suggested here.
A series of this nature would utilise footage from F1’s own internal archive, including footage filmed by Formula One Management as well as F1’s broadcasters during that period (ITV in the UK, Speed in America, Premiere in Germany, TV3 in Spain).
Supplementing the in-house footage includes footage from news reports, as well as amateur film from that time, like we saw in the Senna movie.
Every broadcaster records hours of footage in the paddock ‘off-roll’ for usage later if needed.
WWE recently aired a documentary series on their over-the-top platform called Ruthless Aggression, focusing on what made the mid-2000s special for them, retelling stories for a new audience, using never-before seen footage spliced with present day interviews.
F1, and motor sport, can learn a lot from WWE in the archive space.
In my view, there is enough footage in the archives, both at F1 and elsewhere, to make a series like this a reality, creating some excellent new material for fans to watch in the process.
So, F1 and Netflix. What are we waiting for?