Zak Brown’s decision to open McLaren doors to the documentary cameras of Amazon is a bold step in any sport, let alone the incredibly secretive world of Formula One. The streaming service already boasts series on the NFL and another motorsport series in Le Mans, but F1 is a real feather in its cap.
An invisible barrier is broken down in its new series Grand Prix Driver, and then some. Encapsulating the build-up to the 2017 season, it covers a variety of stories that defined McLaren in that time; briefly touching on the ousting of patriarch Ron Dennis, the appointment of his successors, Stoffel Vandoorne’s promotion to race driver and his preparation, and the tetchy relationship between McLaren and power unit partner Honda. Delivered with the comforting tones of Hollywood’s Micheal Douglas, is a fascinating watch.
“It takes years to build an F1 team, but you can kill it in six months” – Eric Boullier
We all know now how everything turned out – another disastrous year for the combination that resulted in a split later in the year. As FOM refused to allow race footage to be used, by the end of the last episode the relationship is ended in Singapore in scenes that feel tacked on as closure to the storyline.
Getting to that point, however, is absorbing. The four, half-hour episodes focus on the development of the car more than anything else, with Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso’s training almost cast off like filler. Awkward silences build as first, the engine doesn’t fire up, and then the development stalls thanks to delays and a cancelled test.
The final episode delivers in terms of climax, even with the Made in Chelsea style scenes for the divorce proceedings. As the car finally takes to the track it becomes abundantly clear to all involved that no progress has been made from the previous two seasons, as it succumbs to pressure problems and is limited to only a handful of laps. Alonso’s almost libellous summary of the whole situation causes you juggle between laughing and crying. “This is really a s**t engine, a s**t power unit, you know”, barks the Spaniard.
There’s a telling line from McLaren group chief operating officer Jonathan Neale as the series concludes – “As far as I’m concerned the McLaren team had got the job done.”. It’s a statement that lays out what the episodes seem to be implying; that McLaren fell to Honda’s inadequacies and they were, in part, blameless. Without any real defence – on screen at least – from Honda, it’s a strong undertone.
There are a few other areas of concern. If you’ve been lucky enough to be a Sky subscriber since the channel’s inception in 2012, then some of the driver’s footage feels familiar. In fact, most of them feel like an extended piece of pre-race coverage. And at only four 30 minute episodes it’s a shorter watch compared to the other sports documentary series on Amazon.
Alas, these are minor grumbles about a series that does, for the most part, allows viewers closer to Formula One than ever before. For a starting point, it’s an excellent introduction for American viewers and an in-depth binge for more astute F1 fans. If this is a sign of the future, then it’s very bright indeed.