The fallout from the dramatic conclusion to the 2021 Formula 1 season continues, and race winner John Watson believes that Netflix's series Drive to Survive is at least partly to blame for the controversy.
Watson, a native of Belfast, spoke to Racing 365 this week, and suggested that the Netflix series has had a detrimental impact on Formula 1, with the sport's directors increasingly focused on the entertainment aspect.
John Watson questions influence of Drive to Survive on Formula 1
Formula 1: Drive to Survive has caused a surge in popularity for Formula 1 since it debuted on Netflix in 2018. Offering unprecedented access to behind the scenes drama, it has created an entirely new fanbase for the sport, and was a major factor behind the huge viewership of the dramatic 2021 season finale.
Its impact on the sport hasn't all been positive, however.
Northern Irishman John Watson won five Formula 1 Grands Prix during the 1970s and 80s and, speaking to Racing 365 this week, he argued that the sport had suffered from the introduction of the series. He cited the new-for-2021 radio messages between the FIA and team principals, suggesting that their introduction was not for the better of the sport, and that Drive to Survive was at least partly responsible.
There are channels for challenges but not as a part of what I feel has become the consequence of the access given to Netflix and Drive to Survive, wherein we've now got this type of support act to the stars.
These people, ie. the FIA and their officers, some of them have become a part of this 'show'. They're not there to be that – they're there to adjudicate. They're not there to be known or shown or whatever.
2021 world champion Verstappen has already confirmed he refused to take part in the upcoming series of Drive to Survive, and it will be interesting to see if public opinion turns against the Netflix series in the coming months.
The finale to the 2021 Formula 1 season caused great confusion and controversy. With the safety car deployed in the closing laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, race director Michael Masi appeared to bend the rules in order to ensure a last lap showdown between leader Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, the two drivers contending for the championship.
Masi's decisions to clear only some of the lapped drivers, and to restart the race earlier than expected, have opened a can of worms - especially given that it can be argued that his call cost Hamilton an eighth world championship.
A formal investigation is underway, and Watson does not foresee a pretty ending for Masi. When asked if he saw Masi continuing in the position of race director, Watson said:
Personally, I would say it's difficult. Masi didn't take a side and favour one driver or one team over the other, but there's the consequence of what his actions were and his desire, I believe, to see the race finish under a green flag.
I understand that it would have been awful way to end the championship if it finished under a Safety Car. But there were potentially other options [...] that would have been a level playing field for everybody, but the way that it unfolded made it an unlevel playing field for Lewis, and a much more favourable one for Red Bull and for Max.