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A new season of Drive to Survive has become a fixture of any Formula One fan’s calendar and the fifth installment of the blockbuster hit is no different.
This year’s installment opened a lid on several key moments and storylines last year. ESPN was in the paddock as they unfolded and can shed more light on some areas and reveal a few moments the docuseries missed.
Schumacher and Haas seemed destined to fail
The breakdown of the relationship between Mick Schumacher and Haas boss Guenther Steiner is a fascinating backdrop to the fourth episode, one of the strongest in the new season.
It was clear within the paddock in the early stages of last year that patience with Schumacher was running thin. Big crashes in Saudi Arabia and Monaco, combined with his failure to match the big results of Kevin Magnussen when Haas had a competitive midfield car, were clearly grating on the team’s management. The feeling within the team was that Schumacher had to prove himself if he wanted a 2023 seat but it was interesting to see how the perception was away from the paddock, something which is captured well during the episode.
Guenther Steiner and Mick Schumacher talking during the 2022 season. ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images
In Baku, Steiner calls one interview with Sky Germany “brutal” as they questioned whether the team was giving the youngster the support he needed. It was clear throughout the season that the German media were being briefed by Schumacher’s camp that Haas were not giving him fair treatment, an implication which annoyed Steiner and others at the team further. In 2021 Haas had dealt with Nikita Mazepin and his father’s complaints that the team were not treating the Russian rookie fairly when he was not performing and there was a feeling in the team this was just an extension of the same line of excuses when Schumacher was the one in the firing line. As the episode shows, team owner Gene Haas felt Schumacher was “in over his head”.
There were other things which soured the relationship behind the scenes beyond the primary factor, which was Schumacher’s poor results and habit for sticking the car in the wall. Schumacher missing a meeting with Steiner early in the season did not help, nor did the presence of those close to him. Sources say the team grew increasingly frustrated by the overbearing presence of Schumacher’s manager Sabine Kehm, who held the same role with Mick’s father Michael for much of his legendary career. It was felt within the team that Kehm behaved as though she was still managing the seven-time world champion and not his unproven son and that the issues and headaches she caused behind the scenes were not justified given his poor form and eventually made the final decision much easier.
The truth is likely somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. While Schumacher has been protected by a small group of people since he arrived on the F1 scene, this is not surprising given the public interest in him and the family’s desire for privacy around the injury his father Michael sustained in a 2013 skiing accident. The episode does not properly convey that Schumacher was and remains well-liked within the team and there was genuine optimism that his points finishes in Great Britain and Hungary were the sign of a turnaround. Sadly this was not the case, as he failed to finish in the top ten again. Sources have suggested there was a chance Schumacher would have been replaced in the summer break without those two results, with Antonio Giovinazzi understood to have had a seat fitting around the same time.
Insight into the silly season
Later in the Haas episode which shows how the Schumacher relationship fell apart, Guenther Steiner is recorded telling Kevin Magnussen that Daniel Ricciardo would have asked for “ten f——- million” to join the team as his replacement. Ricciardo’s price-tag was an interesting talking point, as several important decision-makers in the driver market felt the Australian’s form at McLaren did not warrant the money he might want to race in 2023. The episode is edited in a way which suggests the conversation about Ricciardo took place during the British Grand Prix but it is unclear exactly when this thought process started for Haas.
What is clear is that Steiner texted Ricciardo to ask about his future plans during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend three weeks later. After the race that Sunday, McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl would tell Ricciardo the team would be cutting his contract short one year early. Curiously, it seems as though Ricciardo never even entertained the idea of joining the American team. Sources have told ESPN that Steiner did not get a reply to his message.
The sixth episode briefly touches on Zak Brown’s attempts to swap Ricciardo for Piastri, but sources close to Ricciardo said it very quickly became clear the French team’s attention had fixated on bringing Pierre Gasly across from AlphaTauri. Laurent Rossi is seen telling one journalist that Ricciardo’s departure from the team at the end of 2020 would not help his cause in terms of coming back and this dimmed Renault CEO Luca de Meo’s enthusiasm for Ricciardo, although an Alpine mechanic is seen telling Ricciardo they wanted him back.
Sources at Alpine have said most at the team would have welcomed Ricciardo with open arms, so it is clear any frustrations at how he left lay with senior management and not with the rank-and-file members.
Wolff vs Horner is still box office
The behind-closed-doors confrontation between Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix is one of season five’s standout moments and might end up being considered one of Drive to Survive’s defining moments. Horner reacts angrily to Wolff’s suggestion that the FIA step in to fix the bouncing issues Mercedes had struggled with so much, citing concerns over safety. Horner replies that Wolff should “change your f—— car”.
It’s an explosive moment and one that was talked about behind the scenes in the days and weeks which followed. The day after the meeting, one team boss told ESPN they felt Wolff had been playing up to the cameras in the room. Another commented ahead of a media session later in the weekend that they hoped the meeting made the final cut of Drive to Survive as they didn’t think their description of what had happened would do it justice.
Alonso joins (or stays on?) the dark side
Fernando Alonso is one of the best characters in the paddock — a superbly complex and hard-to-understand individual. He seems to appreciate this more than ever in this series, commenting that the sport is about heroes and anti-heroes and that he sees himself in the latter camp, “the dark side”, as he refers to it.
“Bye bye, from the bad guy,” he says at one stage while walking away from the cameras.
One moment in particular stands out from the episode. Alonso has a sheepish look on his face as Alpine throw him a slightly awkward 41st birthday party. From what sources with knowledge of the situation have told ESPN, Alonso had already been contacted by and met with Aston Martin boss Lawrence Stroll at this point about a 2023 contract and was leaning towards signing it.
Alonso signed the deal the Sunday evening after the race – roughly the same time Szafnauer was enjoying the sponsor dinner which rounds out that episode — and then left to go on holiday.
Alpine’s PR team found out he had signed when Aston Martin sent out a press release confirming the news the following morning. It is believed this is the first Szafnauer knew for sure Alonso had signed the deal, although the episode shows that ahead of the race the team principal did know the Spaniard had met with Stroll. Alonso would ignore Szafnauer’s calls over the days which followed.
Piastri ‘the next Verstappen’
A moment which might fly under the radar is a quote from Horner about Oscar Piastri, who will race as a rookie for McLaren this year. The legal battle between McLaren and Alpine for Piastri’s services dominated the news agenda after the summer break. Piastri had been lined up to replace Alonso at Alpine – something Szafnauer is shown announcing to the team’s factory before the team put out a press release saying so – only for the Australian youngster to send out his now-famous tweet that the announcement was put out without his knowledge and that he would not be racing for the team in 2023.
Piastri, who won the Formula 3 and Formula 2 championship in consecutive seasons, might well be racing in Red Bull colours in an alternate universe. In an interview about Piastri, Horner says he
believes the Australian is “the next Verstappen” and admits he regrets Red Bull passing up on the opportunity to add him to the team’s driver academy early in his junior career.
This opinion of Piastri’s potential is common around the paddock and explains why so many were bewildered that Alpine got themselves in a situation where McLaren was able to sign him. One team boss has told ESPN that he feels Alpine’s failure to tie Piastri down long term will go down as one of the biggest blunders in F1’s recent history.