It’s taken me a little while to get around to watching the new Grand Prix Driver show on Amazon’s Prime Video service, but with the first race of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship just around the corner I thought now would be a good time to check it out.
The first episode begins with narration from Hollywood actor, Michael Douglas, who explains that the show will give you, the viewer, a rare behind the scenes look into the McLaren Formula One team’s 2017 pre-season preparation which involved building a car, testing it and launching it globally.
Douglas explains that the show will follow new McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne and two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso as they prepare for the 2017 F1 season. The attention-grabbing preview ends with McLaren racing director, Éric Boullier, saying “It takes years to build an F1 team, but you can kill it in six months”.
Following the opening credits, the show gives a breakdown of McLaren Racing’s Formula One achievements and pays homage to former chief executive, Ron Dennis, and his outstanding contribution to their success over the years. The director of McLaren Technology Group, Jonathan Neale, talks about how much of an influence Ron has had on the core values of the organisation. He also talks about how McLaren formed a partnership with Honda in 2015 to help give them championship status. McLaren Technology Group’s chief marketing officer, John Allert, then talks about the decline in race wins since 2012, and the expense of competing competitively in Formula One.
Next, narrator, Michael Douglas, briefly talks about Dennis’ departure from his management roles at McLaren and the end of his 37-year association with the company.
After that, we meet the three new executives in charge of the day-to-day running of the McLaren Technology Group: Zak Brown, Jonathan Neale and Éric Boullier. We also get to meet the drivers and join Stoffel Vandoorne as he gets a seat fit for his F1 car. Various measurements are taken to ensure that Stoffel is as comfortable as possible when the time comes for him to drive the car. Senior Design Engineer, Scott Bain, explains that getting the seat fit right will mean that the driver can concentrate on the job at hand, rather than any niggling issues.
After explaining that the new 2017 McLaren Formula One car livery was introduced to mark the beginning of a new post-Dennis Formula One team, we join Stoffel Vandoorne as he jumps in a driving simulator that models an F1 car. After the session, a debriefing meeting takes place. The engineers, along with Vandoorne, discuss potential improvements to the setup of the car to increase performance and handling.
Focus shifts over to Zak Brown who explains the importance of securing sponsorship for an F1 car, and points out that it normally accounts for half of the team’s budget. He claims that a Formula One team needs to be bringing in over $100 million in sponsorship money to be at the front of the field.
Next, we join Zak Brown and Stoffel Vandoorne in Geneva for an event being held to celebrate a multi-million dollar partnership deal between McLaren and watchmaker, Richard Mille. The narrator, Michael Douglas, explains that although McLaren have secured a deal with Richard Mille, Stoffel still needs a title sponsor.
The next destination is Vandoorne’s hometown in Kortrijk, Belgium, where we join Stoffel and his father, Patrick. He tells a story of how he was once commissioned to help design an indoor kart track. Patrick brought his six-year-old son to the track to do a couple of laps, and he ended up coming back every evening to compete because he enjoyed it so much. The owner of the kart track talks about how much of a talented go-kart driver Stoffel was as a child. Patrick says that by the age of fifteen, Stoffel had already become the Belgian Karting Champion.
The episode closes out with video footage of Fernando Alonso’s crash with Esteban Gutierrez at the 2016 Formula One Australian Grand Prix. It gives you a good indication of what content to expect in episode two.
This show not only lets you see the pre-season preparation that happens at a Formula One team but also gives you some insight into the business side of running a team. It’s never easy to replace an influential person in a business, but here we get to see how three executives at McLaren set out on a different path, leaving the old ways behind.
Throughout the episode, you get to see how intense and pressurised the industry is. For the drivers, preparation is everything which means that getting the setup of the car right is crucial to their success. Being able to witness Stoffel Vandoorne’s seat fitting and the simulated driving session felt special. You also get to see how much work the drivers need to do other than just driving. They are required to take part in sponsorship events, media days and lots of meetings.
We also get to see how expensive it is to compete in Formula One and how much of an impact sponsorship deals have on a team’s ability to be competitive.
You get a real sense of how important everyone’s role is within the McLaren team. It’s clear how passionate each person is about getting everything right and making sure the drivers are happy.
Everything about this show from the editing and production, to the narration, was done to a high standard. You can tell that director, Adrian McDowall, and executive producers, Anwar Nuseibeh and Manish Pandey, understand the sport and worked hard on delivering something most F1 fans haven’t had access to ever before.
I am impressed with what I have seen so far and cannot wait to watch the second episode.