Formula 1 Drive to Survive: The Unofficial Companion

The Stars, Strategy, Technology, and History of F1

by Stuart Codling

“‘Drive to Survive’ is an excellent entrée to F1, but the forty-minute format has its limitations. Loaded with photos, authoritative text, and informative box-outs, ‘The Unofficial Companion’ takes you beyond the personalities and off-track drama that drive the series to provide the further context that too often ends up on the cutting-room floor.”

Produced in a collaboration between Netflix and Formula One this streaming docuseries launched with the 2018 season, has run continuously, and plans for a sixth season are firmly in place. Given the success of DTS, it seems almost odd that there has not been a companion book already.

Full disclosure: I was skeptical about this book, and, probably, also the merits of a docudrama that is intentionally more drama than documentary, meaning its soap opera-style (10 episodes per season) unduly hypes certain aspects and dynamics in the interests of achieving its most basic goal: to stir up interest in a sport that especially in the US has struggled to attract eyeballs.

You’ll recognize all the topics you see here on the Table of Contents as story points in DTS but there’s almost never enough context to really understand how things came to be the way they are.

No question, executive producers James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin have managed to capture—and hold, for now five seasons—the attention of a growing number of viewers, and, beginning this year, we find ourselves with the unprecedented spectacle of three US Grands Prix (in Miami, Austin, Las Vegas). This is not the first time the FIA Formula 1 World Championship (and its predecessor, the Championnat des Conducteurs du Monde [World Championship of Drivers] which ran from 1950 to 1980) had US events on the racing calendar so let’s hope this time it’ll stick.

An entire chapter covers rules. Who would have thunk that the very year this book comes out a whole new format was introduced for the Saturday sprint races (themselves only invented in 2021) that determine the starting grid and also additional championship points.

As to books about the sport, entire forests have been decimated over the decades to churn out, to put it kindly, tripe. I was not at all sure what to expect from this book but I took a first look as soon as it had arrived, took another, closer look, and found myself thinking that there really was something here. You have to realize that someone with my background and disposition is not at all the target audience for DTS but I give author Stuart Codling full credit for providing the reader a larger frame of reference for the rather arcane and too often convoluted and baffling world that surrounds the FIA F1 World Championship.

The book does exactly what it sets out to do and does it well. It is not meant in a disparaging way to say that it is a sort of F1 for Dummies in the sense that if you don’t know what you don’t know you can’t even ask the right questions but depend on your “guide” to lay out the dots to connect. For instance, the casual viewer/reader may not at all be cognizant of the intent behind the usually vastly complex technical and business decisions that make one season different from another but this book will broaden the horizon. From track design to pit stop strategy to sponsorship deals and a whole lot more, a book like this makes it easy (there’s a decent Index too!) to look up the things the show only glosses over. As a longtime motorsport journalist/broadcaster/author, Codling has a firm grasp of the subject matter.

There’s enough here to get you curious about the sport’s long and colorful history.

To return to an earlier point, it is interesting to note that DTS has been nominated for awards in each broadcast season and mostly wins in for sound and for editing, i.e. the methods by which it tells—and sells—the story. For anything deeper, you’ll need a book, and not just this book. Or, if the visual medium is your preferred way, spring for a subscription to F1TV which in 2020 started its own show called Chasing the Dream which, having a different audience in its crosshairs, is less punchy than DTS but a lot more context- and background-rich

Formula 1 Drive to Survive: The Unofficial Companion
The Stars, Strategy, Technology, and History of F1
by Stuart Codling
Motorbooks/Quarto Publishing Group, 2023
192 pages,150 images, softcover
List Price: $34.99 / £22
ISBN 13: 978-0-7603-8067-3

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