Formula 2 has started the year with a documentary series on F1 TV following its 2019 season, focusing on the championship frontrunners and the impact that the black day at Spa-Francorchamps had on the paddock
For a show titled Chasing the Dream, there’s an inevitable focus on “living in a nightmare”, as series CEO Bruno Michel says it, due to the events at Spa-Francorchamps which resulted in Anthoine Hubert’s death and Juan Manuel Correa’s heavy injuries.
The five-episode F1 TV-exclusive series tackles the 2019 F2 season in chronological order, meaning the impactful Spa weekend – which is tackled with care – is kept to episode four.
This means the show begins with the Bahrain season opener, and the oft-repeated ‘F2 is the best single-make championship anywhere on Earth’. Sadly, the series’ scale of importance and speed isn’t shown enough, rather focusing on drivers’ home lives and Ross Brawn soundbites.
It’s an approach that would work with Formula 1 as the subject, given those drivers are already established characters, but viewers new to F2 need to invest more in the drivers’ on-track exploits before exposure to the mundane elements of their lives.
Arden’s Tatiana Calderon and DAMS’ Nicholas Latifi do make great on-screen impressions from the off, one for delivering a back-to-basics explanation of F2 better than Brawn’s and the other for showing down-to-earth charisma that F1 will get to enjoy in 2020.
Of the scant on-track action used, the race highlights are choppy in episode one and difficult to follow. This may be a case of editors having a tricky job tying live commentary to non-TV footage. Thankfully, the other episodes don’t suffer the same fate.
Music is used almost constantly to illustrate the action, or dialogue, and Bahrain is dubbed with country and western riffs.
The narrative pauses for the first of several side-steps into drivers’ everyday lives across the series, with episode one’s example being ART Grand Prix’s Nyck de Vries in a headband lounging on a boat in Sneek and chatting about Christmas dinner with 2018 F2 champion George Russell. While it isn’t really a convincing example of “being a 24-year-old guy like everyone else”, de Vries gives insight into his motivations that will leave followers of his career reading between the lines.
The audience also gets to follow de Vries on his way into the paddock for round two in Baku, and it’s one of the rare instances where the series explores some gripping visuals and backgrounds, and utilises slow-motion on-track footage.
Being with the drivers inside a team truck, or the green room pre-podium (or even a minivan between paddocks at Silverstone later in the series) is another example of the series at its best as we get to see the drivers interact with each other. From a journalist’s perspective, it’s scenes like this that make you want to jump into the screen and straight into the paddock action.
Episode two begins with the Monaco round, and Arden driver Hubert’s at-home life is explored via a stay with his girlfriend. This is more effective than other similar segments, as once again it leans on interactions between the drivers and people that are close to them rather than isolated straight-to-camera pieces.
There are two big stories of the Monaco weekend, and the documentary surprisingly skips over the quirky tale of de Vries winning in Formula 3 driver David Beckmann’s overalls rather than his own after ART accidentally binned them.
Hubert’s win is covered with far better context, and some beautiful shots of his post-race celebrations, before the episode takes an unexpected trip to the Canadian Grand Prix, albeit with good reason due to the presence of local Latifi and his ultimately significant Williams practice outings.
Rather than exploring the Canadian’s relatively unknown but interesting background story, the episode examines Virtuosi Racing driver Guanyu Zhou’s shoe collection in his London home and a brief round-up of the racing at the Red Bull Ring.
Episode three begins at Silverstone, and is the most exciting episode when it comes to watching cars on track. Luca Ghiotto (Virtuosi) and Jack Aitken (Campos Racing) have their charges to victories detailed in epic style, and with some much needed scale, and both drivers also share some personal thoughts which add to the feeling of being present in the action.
Calderon gets more time in the limelight, before the Hungaroring round is rushed in to the running time to free up the fourth episode for Spa-Francorchamps and Monza.
Many potential viewers will be more curious about this episode than any other, and it is a great tribute not only to Hubert, but to his Arden team and everyone working in F2, as it shows how painful it was to return to racing just a week later at Monza.
Contributions from significant F1 figures, including the series’ CEO Chase Carey, reflect how that weekend was painful for people in motorsport across the world, but its the use of interviews from Hubert’s team-mate Tatiana Calderon, F2 & F3’s head of communications Alexa Quintin and her boss Michel that instantly leave a lump in the throat.
Billy Monger’s new year special
On December 31 2019, Pau Grand Prix winner Billy Monger appeared on late-night disability-focused comedy show The Last Leg on British television, and taught one of the presenters how to drive a British Formula 4 car at Donington Park, the circuit where Monger had the crash that resulted in the amputation of both of his lower legs in 2017.
Alex Brooker, who was born with hand and leg deformities and had one of the latter amputated as a child, successfully completed a lap of the circuit at speed in a Carlin-run car. He became the first ever disabled person to drive an FIA F4 car, and the feat was achieved after a scary spin into mud for the comedian. To find out how close to the pace Brooker got, UK viewers can see the programme on the online catch-up service All4.
Monger’s appearance on the programme also included bantering with British comedian Johnny Vegas, best known for appearing in adverts for tea leaves alongside a famous knitted monkey called Monkey.
Capturing Lewis Hamilton and Esteban Ocon’s shocked live reactions to the crash hits hard, and Arden F2 team manager Kenny Kirwan’s and Correa’s recollections of the immediate aftermath highlights how brave both were and still are – especially the latter given his involvement in the crash put him in excruciating physical pain and eventually a coma. The filmmakers cut the music for this episode, with a shot of a slowly closing garage door encompassing darkness telling a thousand words.
The solidarity of the paddock in Monza is shown just as strongly as the loss of Hubert at Spa.
Ending the series is an episode that focuses on the title battle, and some more revealing dialogue from champion de Vries. This time he’s joined by Latifi and Ghiotto in showing his true feelings in an unexpected way, as well as an encouraging chat with an upbeat Correa who’s still in rehabilitation from the injuries to his legs and lungs sustained at Spa.
Making the admittedly niche F2 into a documentary topic for the first time obviously comes with its difficulties, especially when trying to give 10 relatively unknown drivers some significant screen time when off-track. In doing so, the series goes some way to achieving its goal of telling the stories of commitment required to ‘chase the dream’, but also sometimes ignores the appeal of the on-track product of single-seater cars racing closely at some of the world’s top circuits.