Drive to Survive: How a Netflix Series Birthed an Extended Fandom
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Formula 1 has been traditionally known as a male-dominated sport, both on and off the track. However, in recent years, the landscape of the F1 fandom has changed, with a growing number of women joining the community and making their voices heard. The Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive has played a significant role in this shift, bringing the sport to a wider audience and breaking down some of the barriers that have historically kept women from fully engaging with F1.

Before Drive to Survive, the sport was often seen as inaccessible, with a language and culture that was difficult for newcomers to understand. For women in particular, the F1 fandom was often unwelcoming, with a significant gender imbalance and a lack of female representation in the media and commentary.

However, with the release of Drive to Survive in 2019, things began to change. The series offered an inside look at the sport, taking viewers behind the scenes and showing the human side of the drivers, teams, and races. The show was a hit, appealing to fans and non-fans alike, and introducing a new generation of viewers to the excitement of F1.

For women, the impact of Drive to Survive was profound. Where many hadn’t been exposed to Formula 1 before (as far as many non-fans knew, the only motorsport to watch in America was NASCAR) suddenly the rules and procedures of races became more digestible when set to a narrative, rather than going into a race week blind and trying to figure it out on the fly. The series takes the time to showcase different rules and scenarios and gives a better understanding of why certain things happen on the track (even if parts of it are highly dramatized or heavily edited). 

With this newfound visibility, women in the F1 fandom began to organize and make their presence known. They created online communities and started attending races, both as fans and as participants in the sport. They also began to speak out about issues that matter to them, such as the treatment of female fans and lack of diversity both on and off the track.

These online communities provide a space for women to engage in the F1 fandom without the toxicity often brought on by male-dominated spaces for fandom like Reddit. In these communities, it’s safe to discuss if you think a driver is cute, alongside expressing your opinions on tire strategy. Almost no one will call you a bandwagon fan, or accuse you of only watching the sport because you think the drivers are attractive. These things can coexist: we can enjoy the fact that drivers are good-looking while also having an informed opinion on strategy. 

Some of these female-centric communities also provide ways for members to meet up and communicate at each race. The “Grid Clique” community in particular sets up group chats for every race, and members can find others who may be sitting in their section, so they don’t have to sit alone. There has also been a noticeable increase in the number of female Formula 1 content creators overall since the boom in popularity–which has created a space for female fans to gather and enjoy the sport together. We can share in the highs and lows of a race week (or an entire season) without shame or fear of other fans.

However, as the popularity of Drive to Survive has grown, it has also become something that some fans use to ridicule those who discovered the sport through the show. Some have criticized the series for oversimplifying the sport and focusing on the drama, and have dismissed new fans, saying the Netflix show “ruined the sport.” While it is easy to see between the actual race and the depiction in the series that some events were over-dramatized, this criticism is short-sighted and dismissive of the impact that Drive to Survive has had on the F1 fandom. The series has helped to bring the sport to a wider audience, particularly in America.

The reality is that there is no one “right” way to be a fan of F1. Actually, the only “wrong” way to be an F1 fan is to be one of the jerks who have decided to harass fans, drivers, and crew of teams they’ve decided they don’t like. At the end of the day, the sport is complex and multifaceted, and there is room for fans of all backgrounds and levels of knowledge. What matters is that people are passionate about the sport and are actively engaging with the fandom in a non-toxic way. We can all have fun with F1.

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By Hannah

Lover of all things geeky.

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