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Yeah, We Talk About Golf Here Now

Howdy, hi, hello. Welcome to Engine Failure, a culture newsletter that dives into what the fuck is really going on in Formula 1. It’s written by me, Lily Herman.

Welcome back, fellow internet rapscallions! We’re less than two weeks out from the official start of the Formula 1 season, which means today we’re talking about…golf. Well, we’re also discussing plenty of other stuff — but largely golf thanks to the premiere of Full Swing. (Of course, we’ll connect it back to Drive to Survive and F1 at large. I’d never leave you hanging like that!) Oh, and Formula 1 once again made the mistake of inviting me to another Outing™ where Important People™ were present, so we have to gab about that too. Plus, there’s lots of fashion and other doohickeys in the mix. What a time!

Lastly, there also may or may not be a mysterious bonus issue coming this week depending on things outside of my control. But, uh, I’d keep an eye on your inboxes for the next 48ish hours…

My Commitment to The Bit™ Continues: A Way-Too-Detailed Review of Full Swing

First of all, if you didn’t read my review of Break Point (or at least skim my overarching points in that review about what the series means for larger Box to Box Films canon), you can do that here. If you don’t, the word mush that follows won’t make as much sense to you (and that’d be a bummer!).

But to go over the broad strokes of why an ~*~alleged~*~ Formula 1 culture newsletter is spending a great deal of time on a golf docuseries, here’s a short (for once) refresher: After the success of Box to Box Films’ F1 series Drive to Survive, Netflix commissioned a ton of similar-ish programs centered on other sports. There’s a lot of debate in the media and sports worlds about if these shows can create the same hype as DTS did for Formula 1 (or if that’s even The Point), but obviously the jury’s still out on that since we don’t have enough data. As such, because I’m the boss of this newsletter and can do whatever the fuck I want, I committed to watching all of the series as they premiere and comparing and contrasting them to one another and DTS while also analyzing their ongoing connection to the fandom of these sports in the future. You know, very casual and normal things that people should spend 4,000 words on.

So anyway, last month Break Point, the tennis-centric docuseries, debuted on Netflix to lukewarm reviews. As I wrote earlier, while I found the cinematography and surface-level storytelling perfectly adequate, the show generally lacked umph; there was no interpersonal tension, stakes, or conflict to speak of, and I’m already having trouble remembering probably eight of the 10 players I met on the show just a few short weeks ago. I have no personal interest in seeing part two of the series in June and wouldn’t plan to watch it if it weren't for the fact that I said I would for these goddamn missives. (I really painted myself into a corner, didn’t I?)

And now for a confession: I’ve been a hater of the general idea of Full Swing, the golf version of this docuseries bit, for well over a year now, and given how meh Break Point was, I went in fully prepared when it premiered on February 15th to sort of grit my teeth and muscle through it for the sake of Engine Failure. (I’m a selfless individual!!!!) However, I was pleasantly surprised: This series is infinitely better than Break Point — and more reminiscent of the behind-the-scenes nonsense and organic drama that many folks loved about Drive to Survive. I watched the whole thing in about 36 hours.

Here’s a brief rundown of what worked before we dive into more analysis and bring things ‘round to F1:

  • More time spent away from tournaments: There were plenty of great sequences from actual golf events throughout the year, but I didn’t feel like I was watching endless golf tape. I got the gist of what I needed to in order to understand why certain configurations were difficult, and the moments when we were watching putts and cutting to anxious family members at tournaments were all the more impactful as a result.

  • Actual interpersonal relationships and conflicts between golfers, the sport's governing bodies, and the media: Similar to Drive to Survive and unlike Break Point, I could walk away from Full Swing with a general idea of how all of these golfers are interconnected. (Obviously, some of these scenarios and setups are, well, zhuzhed by producers, but that’s just the name of the game in reality TV.) That said, now I know that Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are jet-setting besties! Joel Dahmen is sort of weirdly beloved by a lot of the top golfers! Quant nerd Matt Fitzpatrick has a friendship with a bro-y Barstool Sports journalist that goes all the way back to when they were in college together for a hot second! Those are the types of connections that stick with viewers.

  • Actual stakes: As I said in my review of Break Point, producers didn’t do a good job in that series setting up the stakes of tennis to a general audience, whereas there was plenty to wade through in this series. Like, I didn’t know that these guys can lose their PGA Tour cards so easily?! And while I think I vaguely knew beforehand that you get cut after two days of most tournaments, but I had no idea about the whole “no pay” thing if you don’t make it to the weekend rounds??? It might not be life-or-death like we see in Formula 1, but basically being an independent contractor who only gets paid after a certain point is some shit I can understand given my profession. I AM STRESSED ON THEIR BEHALF!!!! THAT’S MY WORST NIGHTMARE!!!!

  • The whole “PGA versus LIV” thing: Given that the pitch for this series happened years ago, producers couldn’t have foreseen filming a golf show during one of the most tumultuous times in the sport’s history, but it paid off for them. We’ll get into some of the lopsided storytelling when it came to this “there’s a new tour!!!!!” debate down below, but generally, I liked the idea that there was something larger at play for everybody involved. Yes, there were internal conflicts between golfers and then between golfers and the PGA, but there was also a larger chess game going on between the sport’s institutions.

I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to compare all of these shows past a certain point since they’re different sports and athletes, but what I think is important is that I came out of Full Swing with a greater appreciation for the sport of golf and an understanding of its appeal. I was also able to fully follow why the misogynistic Tiger Woods moment from last week with the tampon was so shitty — a thing I generally could’ve done before Full Swing, but now I also know who golfer Justin Thomas is. Wow! Deeper culture analysis! (I also know from perusing Justin Thomas’ Wikipedia page while watching the show that he had a homophobic incident in 2021, which, of course, wasn’t mentioned on the show. Beep boop.)

The PGA Tour Really Doesn’t Have Any Moral Upper Hand

In Full Swing, the PGA Tour REALLY wants you to know that the LIV Tour (pronounced “live,” not “L-I-V,” something I also didn’t know before this show) sucks. They suck so bad! Saudi Arabia is doing a bunch of sportswashing to erase all of its atrocities out of our collective imaginations! Anyone who joins them is now complicit in that!

Of course, all of those facts are correct. But for all of the airtime that the (mostly) men in the docuseries spend bashing the LIV Tour, there’s literally zero reckoning with the PGA Tour’s own wildly problematic history — or the sport’s issues in general. I mean, Augusta National, where the Masters Tournament (one of the majors) is played, didn’t extend an invite to a Black golfer until 1975, didn’t allow for a Black club member until 1990, and didn’t offer membership to women until 2012. Oh, and for all of my fellow Jewish baddies out there, I’m sure quite a few of you know that the Country Club Carls of the world weren’t (and in some cases, still aren’t) fans of us at their golf courses either. (And if you want even more discussion of the PGA’s issue on these various fronts, this lengthy Ringer feature from Lex Pryor is excellent.) We also can’t ignore the fact that one of the biggest athletes of all time, Tiger Woods, was at the center of what’s definitely among the most outrageously messy infidelity scandals of at least the last 50 years, if not the last century. So, uh, yeah: The league’s main institutions and key players aren’t so squeaky clean. In the words of that viral TikTok sound, “Side-eye…SIDE-EYE!!!!!”

LMAO @ the Soundtrack

Perhaps one of the unintentionally funniest elements of Full Swing that I immediately noticed is that this show features songs with actual lyrics — not just solely background instrumentals???? This was definitely not an initial feature of DTS nor BP in the same way, so I was intrigued and amused by whatever song choices came in every episode.

If you want a place to start, my pal (and actual golf fan) Nadia El Ferdaoussi graciously helped me start compiling this playlist of a few of the major songs featured in Full Swing, plus a couple of the instrumentals. (I stumbled upon this playlist someone started drafting online as well, but a few of their selections are…questionable.) They’re not cohesive as a “soundtrack” together whatsoever, and that’s what I love about them. (I also reached out to the actual composer of the original music, H. Scott Salinas; there were 10 additional music producers listed as well. Stay tuned!)

Lastly, if you really want to go on a ride today, I recommend listening to all of the other playlists on Spotify labeled “Full Swing.” I’m tripping balls completely sober right now.

Episode Superlatives

I don’t really know if I could rank the episodes past a certain point, but let’s talk about some of the highlights across the entire series:

The Best Episode, Period

Hands-down episode four, which centers on Joel Dahmen (whom I basically refer to as a more athletic version of New Girl’s Nick Miller brought to life), was my favorite; it’s also likely to be the same for a lot of other folks. One perspective that a show about something like golf can really share that F1 can’t is what it’s like to be, say, ranked 90th in the world in your sport. 

Sure, Drive to Survive has done plenty of episodes on “rest of the rest” teams like Williams and Haas. But they're in ninth or tenth place out of 10 total orgs; someone like Joel Dahmen is ranked behind 89 other dudes and there are still another 35 other dudes or more behind him. Watching a below-average golf player (in terms of standings) just trying to not get cut after two days at any tournament (since he doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t play the weekend) or keep his PGA card in general is already interesting. But Dahmen is so compelling because basically everyone on the tour agrees that he could be fighting for majors if he really wanted to. (Oh, what’s that???? The sound of a man not reaching his full potential???? Everybody’s swooning now!!!!)

Moreover, coming off of episodes where we watch some of these guys flitting about on private jets and betting thousands of dollars over card games or golf rounds, it’s refreshing to see a golfer open up about astoundingly difficult personal struggles. Dahmen’s mom died when he was a teenager, and he felt completely aimless in the ensuing years as a young adult; life took another detour when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in his early twenties. Unlike a lot of the guys he’s competing against, he’s seen some of the rough shit life can throw at you, and his perspective is permanently altered because of it. That comes with pros and cons: He doesn’t get wound up too tightly about unnecessary things, but he also lacks the confidence to know when to take himself and his talents seriously. It’s all the more frustrating for the people around him who love him and believe in him.

And of course, the other major part of this episode is Dahmen's relationship with his best friend and caddie Geno Bonnalie. It was such a wholesome, healthy, and lovely exploration of male friendship, and if someone were to be like, “Show me an example of platonic soulmates,” I’d be like, LOOK AT THESE TWO FUCKERS RIGHT HERE!!!! Dahmen’s wife Lona is equally delightful, and they’re probably the only couple in the world who wouldn’t make me visibly full-body cringe if they referred to themselves as being “married to their best friend.” So yeah, Joel Dahmen isn’t at the top of the leaderboard most of the time, but he’s also not dealing with the outright fuckery that comes with performing that well in the sport — plus I really love the people he’s surrounded himself with. It’s an interesting trade-off.

Regardless of what everyone else is doing, I actually want to know what happens to Dahmen going forward in golf. Hey, Nick Miller ended up writing the best-selling series The Pepperwood Chronicles in New Girl; maybe Dahmen will have his own turning point in 2023.

The Healthiest Father-Son Relationships

After being immersed in the world of Formula 1 for years now, I almost forgot that male athletes could have relatively — and objectively — functional relationships with their fathers. Huh, who knew? Here’s a ranking of my favorite father-son storylines (*cough* no gas station desertions in the mix):

1. Tony Finau: Tony Finau plays the role of Ultimate Wife Guy™, and if I ever come across any information that contradicts that in life, I will be absolutely crushed. But aside from how much Tony and his wife Alayna seem like a team, I loved hearing his dad talk about building a driving range in their garage from scratch when they had no money and were living in a condo complex. What a guy.

2. Sahith Theegala: Obviously I can’t tell you anything about Sahith Theegala IRL, but I had a soft spot for the version of him they presented on the show. That sweet bb was on his way to winning a tournament as a rookie and just couldn’t hang on! Poor guy! At least his dad was there to comfort him!

3. Ian Poulter: The tables are turned here given that golfer Ian Poulter is the dad in this scenario, but he seems to have a delightful and loving relationship with his kids despite being away so much. Good for him!

4. Justin Thomas: Justin Thomas’ storyline was in the first episode, so you can imagine that I was thrown for a fucking LOOP when I saw his dad talking about coaching him and wanting to go about that differently than his own father had. Wow, learning from mistakes and avoiding passing on generational trauma??? F1 doesn’t know her!

There were also plenty of glimmers of other golfers having supportive dads (and parents, spouses, and loved ones in general), but those were the Core Four for me.

The George Russell Perpetual Class Presidential Candidate Award

This distinguished honor can go to none other than Rory McIlroy. All I knew about Rory prior to Full Swing was that he was a golfer who unceremoniously dumped former fiancée (and now-retired tennis champ) Caroline Wozniacki Joe Jonas-style riiiiight after the pair sent out wedding invitations in 2014. It’s actually worse in this case, because he ended a three-year relationship (and engagement!) in a three-minute phone call and then kept talking about their time together in interviews for literal years. Mess!

The Will Buxton of Full Swing

As soon as I told F1 friends I was watching Full Swing, the immediate reaction from at least 82% of them was, “Tell me who the Will Buxton of the show is!!!!” Full Swing has excellent commentators in my opinion, rivaling or even beating DTS in some episodes. The closest we get is probably a combination of GOLF magazine senior writer Dylan Dethier and then-Golf Digest (now-Barstool Sports) writer Dan Rapaport. (The latter is the aforementioned friend of Matt Fitzpatrick’s.)

(Oh, and if you’re wondering how many women regularly appear as talking heads in this series, the answer is exactly two — CBS Sports commentator Amanda Renner and former professional golfer Henni Koyack. Break Point is in the lead on this front, largely due to the fact that they actually cover women athletes HMMMM...)

Contextual Odds ‘n’ Ends

Being myself (aka a person who procrastinates work by hyper-fixating on random subject matter and going down rabbit holes), I spent too many hours over the past week reading every single profile, feature, review, interview, and reaction to this series. Here’s what came from all of that:

1. I was super interested to see what a lot of golf-related outlets had to say about the series, and luckily, Golf Digest did a whole review roundup, which included general interest publications mixed with golf-specific ones. I also really enjoyed The Ringer’s take and liked their (very basic) takeaways post. And yes, I agree with them that Full Swing is basically an advertisement for Jupiter, Florida.

2. The second episode of the series (you know, the one with perpetual wet blanket Brooks Koepka) was actually supposed to be the first episode, but Netflix execs thought it was too depressing to kick off a show. For once, I agree with a decision Netflix made.

3. Another fascinating lil’ mention in GQ’s feature on the show: The Netflix engineers say that the Masters Tournament has the best streaming app on the market — after their own, of course. But what about F1TV, eh?

4. Justin Thomas was actually one of the first golfers to say yes to appearing on the show. This surprised me because aside from being one half of the driving force of the first episode, he sort of drops off as the series goes on and isn’t really a regular talking head.

5. Jay Busbee, the Yahoo Sports editor who used to edit my daily newsletter The Yodel every weekday morning, wrote a great piece about how Netflix is changing the way we watch sports. Good on ya, Jay! (The New York Times also wrote a piece in a similar vein, and other outlets penned missives on the subject when Break Point premiered. I have a feeling this is about to become the new “Did DTS alone revamp Formula 1?!?!?!” article.)

6. I was fascinated by the frat party culture of the Waste Management Phoenix Open (a most unfortunate name for a massive tournament), so of course I ate up this GQ piece on the subject.

Other Random Observations

Lastly, here are a few other things that entertained me about Full Swing or that I just simply wanted to mention because I’m the Chattiest of Cathies:

1. Mito Pereira referred to his wife as “a little short but really charming,” and I readily admit that I’m stealing this tagline for at least one social media bio going forward. (And once again, Full Swing hit the ground running in terms of WAG acknowledgement just like Break Point did. I'm curious as to why it took F1 and Drive to Survive so long to realize people would like that stuff, but maybe that's a product of being The First...)

2. Something I find fascinating about the culture of F1 versus golf is how many golfers — though especially the Americans ones — get married at, like, ages 22-25. Roughly 85% of these guys are walking around with multiple children and a wife and I look them up and they’re several years younger than me??? I’m not cut out to be a WAG in any sport regardless, but I feel especially unqualified for golf WAGdom seeing as I’m more than old enough to be off of my parents’ health insurance. (Also, that was a depressingly bleak quasi-joke that’ll go right over non-Americans’ heads.)

3. I’ve never seen the grumpy/sunshine romance trope better personified by two real-life people than Brooks Koepka and his then-fiancée (now-wife) actress Jena Sims. If Max Verstappen is ripe for an enemies-to-lovers arc, Brooks Koepka is meant to ride off into the grumpy/sunshine sunset.

4. Similar to Break Point and depending on the episode, Full Swing also does a much better job incorporating the golfers’ significant others than Drive to Survive during the first few seasons of its run. Some are more prominent than others, but it was fun nonetheless to see them. Also, we get quite a few more golfers’ kids than we saw or heard about in both BP and DTS. I don’t necessarily think any of these elements are 100% necessary, but they paint a much fuller and realistic picture of who we’re seeing on screen.

In particular, I really liked that Tony Finau’s episode addressed the struggles of him trying to be there for his wife, who had just lost her father a few months prior, while also attempting to improve his golf game on the tour. Their parenting solution of taking their gaggle of kids on the road with them to Finau’s tournaments was a chaotic one, and I’m glad we saw that unfold in all of its messy but beautiful glory.

5. It’s only a few minutes into the first episode that golf is billed as a “traveling circus,” a phrase we’ve heard used time and time again to describe F1. Hmmmm!

Give It to Me Straight, Lily: Should I Watch This Series?

In case it wasn’t obvious, yes, I’d recommend this show. Similar to any sports docuseries (not just those produced by Box to Box Films), you should go in with a healthy amount of skepticism and use these series purely for ~the vibes~ as opposed to hinging all knowledge of a sport’s inner working on them. And if you’re having trouble getting into Full Swing during episodes one and two, just skip ahead to episode four when Joel Dahmen enters the picture.

Lastly, here’s my ongoing ranking of all of these sports docuseries as they come out this year. (Think of this like how Dalton Ross just adds the newest season of Survivor every six months to an existing ranking infrastructure. Also, Dalton Ross is the GOAT of TV show recaps and someone I look up to as a writer; it needed to be said.)

Without further ado:

P1: Drive to Survive: DTS really is That Bitch™. I’m not saying it can’t be topped, but it’s hard to win against the show that really kicked off this current craze and the belief that a singular docuseries could alter the trajectory of an entire sport.

P2: Full SwingGolf’s answer to Drive to Survive came in hot with eight episodes that capture the charm and grit of a sport that’s largely known for its soft clapping and chaotic array of polos. The show can be a tad lopsided sometimes, but overall, it’s got the juice. Two words: Joel Dahmen. (Also, the use of actual lyrical songs in this series was an unexpected surprise and an added bonus.)

P3: Break Point: While cinematically sound, this show was a bit of a meandering snoozefest that had trouble finding a rhythm and answering the question, “What exactly is the point of all of this?” Plus, Break Point is split into two parts because #reasons, which is hard since it took me two weeks just to work through the first five episodes. It’s not a categorically Bad™ show; it’s just not a great (or memorable) one either.

Formula 1 People Keep Inviting Me to Things

Friends, it seems that The F1 Establishment™ has forgotten that I’m simply a Very Online menace, because I got invited to Yet Another F1 Thing. This time, I was at a private screening for the first episode of Drive to Survive season five, where they also played a recap of the 2021 season, a recap of the 2022 season, and a preview of the 2023 season. (Lots of previews!!!!) There was also a lil’ discussion panel that included Ian Holmes (Director of Media Rights at F1), Brandon Snow (Managing Director, Commercial at F1), Kate Jackson (Vice President of Production at ESPN) and Paul Martin (Co-Founder of Box to Box Films), all moderated by the wildly talented Ariana Bravo. (You know how you see some people and you’re like, “Okay, I totally get why they’re a presenter”? Ariana Bravo is one of those.)

(Going on a brief aside here: The event was held at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens; I love Queens and I love this museum and I thought it was a lovely venue fit for premiering something cinematic. Everything was super well-run and manageable. Also, the appetizers were great; several people told me to convey in this newsletter how good the beef sliders were. F1 needs work on, you know, the racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia things, but those people really know how to throw down when it comes to a bite-sized cheeseburger.)

Anyway, I’m under embargo (journalism speak for “you can’t say anything until a specific date or else some PR people will be very angry and send you a million high-key passive-aggressive emails for not following the rules”) for reviewing the show until right before it drops on Netflix, so all I’ll say is that I was impressed by episode one of season five. (And just to give a timeline here: My lengthy review of this season of DTS will go out right after the weekend. Y’all need a few days to watch!)

Of course, I would never leave this type of shindig without goodies for y’all, so I had the chance to talk to Kate Jackson and Paul Martin for a few minutes after all of the excitement. (And yes, I asked Paul about Max’s return to Drive to Survive this season. I don’t have time for only pleasantries; I was there for The Tea™.)

Here’s What Kate Jackson Had to Say

I don’t know about y’all, but when I first heard that ESPN inked a new broadcast deal with F1 again for a lot of money, I was like, “Oh, yeah, cool, that tracks.” I didn’t actually know what any of that meant past a certain point.

That’s where Kate Jackson comes in. As the company's VP of Production, she gave me a rundown of what’s up. And yes, I got to explain the whole “Lewis Hamilton thirst trap-to-someone getting fired” pipeline. You know, the important things. 

Lily Herman: I know this sounds like a basic question, but a lot of people don’t necessarily think about the nuts ‘n’ bolts of what they see every race weekend. How does production work within ESPN collaborating with F1?

Kate Jackson: It’s an interesting and somewhat unique partnership. So we have a broadcast rights deal with Formula 1; its [media division] essentially provides world feed coverage of all the practices, qualifying [sessions], and races for all of the people who have broadcast rights with them. That's one layer of our partnership. And then we also partner with Sky UK, and we take their commentary on top of the Formula 1 media feed. So [that] has [David Croft’s] play by play and the various analysts that Sky has. We also take their pre-race coverage [and] some of their post-race coverage, and they do all the practices and qualifying [sessions]; then we take some of their ancillary programming in our digital offerings at ESPN. It’s a kind of a two-pronged partnership.

LH: You were also there when the partnership with F1 started with ESPN, just prior to the massive Drive to Survive/pandemic boom in the sport here in the States. How have those experiences differed overall?

KJ: I think it was interesting when ESPN first started [with Formula 1], because we have been in the racing business for a very long time. But F1 was sort of a different sport [and] a different sort of beast than what we had normally [done]. We weren't 100% sure what to expect; we believed it was a great product, and people were gonna be interested, but I don't know that anyone could have predicted how quickly it took off and how quickly ratings grew. Audience engagement grew. Interest in the United States grew. I always like to say it was the perfect storm of all things at once: Drive to Survive happened and ESPN sort of got back in the business, and it was just moving so fast. 

It's been interesting year over year, because I feel like every year, I find more people from inside ESPN who are like, “Oh, my gosh, I'm such a big F1 fan! Man, I just want to talk to you about the sport. Is there something I can do? How can I get involved?” It feels like every single day is a snowball effect. I think you're gonna see it more on SportsCenter than ever before. We have a podcast, and you're gonna see more digital offerings; it's just the snowball getting bigger and bigger and building and building. I love it. I've been a race fan from birth, so this is perfect for me.

LH: There are three races in the U.S. in 2023, which means three “home” races where ESPN also brings in some of its own talent in addition to who’s already there. How are you looking at covering those American GPs?

KJ: Because of our partnerships with F1 and Sky, we don't necessarily have to do anything with practices, qualifying sessions, pre-race, that sort of thing. That's taken care of. So U.S. races are a great opportunity to engage what I describe as the ESPN Machine. We know what the competition coverage [looks like], they're crushing it, they're gonna do what they always do. People are gonna watch it; it's gonna be great. 

So what else can we do? [I ask], what are all the other sorts of things that ESPN brings? That makes ESPN the big, beautiful, fabulous machine of coverage for fans. I think you find [that] we have tried to engage more in the U.S. races, the home turf. Timing is always really good because we're all sort of in the same time zone, and that really helps. I think that there'll be even more of that this year with Las Vegas.

LH: This is a question I typically ask for Engine Failure’s Patreon, but do you have a favorite driver conspiracy or hot take you’ll take to your grave? Or if you want something more straightforward, who are you invested in on the grid this year?

KJ: That's a really great question. If you’ve grown up a racing fan, which I have, I think Ferrari and their re-emergence is interesting [to] watch. That’s an iconic car and an iconic brand. And Lewis Hamilton is the greatest of all time; he might be mad after [last season], so what happens now with him?

LH: Lewis has been posting a lot of thirst traps on Instagram, so he seems ready.

KJ: He’s like, “I’m here!”

LH: Well, there's a conspiracy that when he takes a shirtless selfie, someone either leaves F1 or gets fired. That happened with Mattia Binotto, for instance.

KJ: I’m definitely gonna have to look that up. It is a distraction: Shirtless selfies.

LH: Yes, put this in the permanent Mercedes playbook.

KJ: I just think whatever works, use social media to your advantage however you can!

I’m with Kate on this one; Shirtless Lewis Selfies™ on the TL for all!!!!! Democracy at work!!!!

Annnnnd Here’s What Paul Martin Had to Say

In addition to Kate Jackson, I had the pleasure of making chitty-chatty with Paul Martin, the co-founder of Box to Box Films. Of course, I had questions that I needed to get to the bottom of ASAP, and luckily, he obliged.

I also ended up telling him about the Lewis thirst trap thing too, because of course I did. I’ve gotta make sure the people in high places know what the lowly proletariat is up to.

(Oh, and shout out to my friend/pal of EF Emily Selleck — better known to y’all as The All-Knowing Dinner Diviner — who did her interview with Paul alongside me due to time constraints. You can see the tea she gathered from him here about who’s taking over as the protagonist of Drive to Survive now that Danny Ric has quasi-peaced out. And yes, she’s also the person who wrote those two banger pieces about Christian Horner a few weeks ago.)

Lily Herman: I’m starting off this interview with more of an observation than a question, which is that the season five preview of episode one gave me season one vibes.

Paul Martin: I think last year, because the championship battle was so front and center, our show [prioritized] that, and this year, I feel like it's gone back to the early seasons where the politics is a bit more front and center again, which is great. I love that. Hopefully it's a welcome return for that stuff. 

[Editor’s note: Emily and I had a similar line of questioning here since, you know, great minds think alike and such. She asked the first Q and I had a follow-up.]

Emily Selleck: How did you go about approaching the season when you realized that you didn’t really have the kind of championship battle on your hands that you did in 2021? 

PM: The great thing about that paddock is there's always so much drama; you don't have to scratch the surface particularly hard. You know that the driver market is always going to throw stuff at you; you know that they're all trying to get the upper hand in some way. The battle in the paddock is as important as the battle on the track. It was a nice, welcome distraction to have when it became clear that Max was going to win the title in the second half of the season. It was quite refreshing to think, “Actually, we got a lot of great stuff [from] what we've seen [and] what we've got going on.” It's going to have a very different feel this season.

LH: Following up on Emily’s question, during season one of filming, no one had any idea what y’all were doing, and that was part of the charm. Now, in these later seasons, you have drivers joking, “Don’t put this on Drive to Survive!” What are the benefits and the challenges of the show’s subjects having that level of self-awareness?

PM: The [main] benefit is that everybody has had such a halo effect on the sport. Even if they really don't want to be a part of it, they recognize that it's brought so much to the sport and become part of the fabric. 

I think the challenge is we don't want to become complacent and we don't want to become too comfortable. We still want to shine a light on some of those things that, frankly, the teams would rather you didn’t, and we've got to be careful every year that we don't become too much a part of the fabric. We're constantly reminding our crews that the show works by sometimes shining the light on those things that make the teams squirm in their seats a little bit. It’s [about] retaining that distance rather than fully feeling like, “Hey, we're part of Formula 1, and we're part of this paddock!”

LH: Max Verstappen is returning to the show after a season away. Can you take me through a little bit of what that was like? Was there any negotiating in there?

PM: It never was as dramatic as some people made it out to be. We, Formula 1, and the teams don’t force anybody to be part of the show [who] honestly doesn't want to be part of the show. Max is all about the drive; he really is. He's a phenomenal driver; I’ve got nothing but admiration for him. I think, for whatever reason, he didn't want to engage in the show last year as he had done previously, and this year, he did; it was really as simple as that. It wasn't some lengthy kind of negotiation or anything. It was just [that] with Red Bull, we're obviously always keen for them to be part of the show and want him to be part of the show, but they were never going to force him to do something that he didn't want to do. And [for season four last year], he decided that he didn't want to. [Editor’s note: I have…thoughts. Stay ‘til the end!]

LH: Full Swing will be out by the time this interview is published, and I watched all of the existing Break Point episodes; I'm committed to the bit as far as these shows go. How do you temper expectations as people start to look at these other series and compare them to Drive to Survive?

PM: All the sports are very different, the athletes are very different, and the worlds are very different. Drive to Survive was the first, and I think it was, in some ways, lightning in the bottle. I'm not sure anything can recreate what happened. I don't think there was one factor [that made it successful]; there were a bunch of factors. We just try and set out to make the best shows that we can in these worlds, and the rest will sort of take care of itself. We hope they all find the biggest possible audience, but we never enter those worlds and say, “Hey, we're gonna come and do for your sport what we did for Formula 1,” because honestly, I've got no idea why Drive to Survive became so popular and has driven this huge interest in the sport. It's amazing that it has, but I don't know why, and I don't know how. So we never go in with that [expectation]; we're story-driven, and the focus is always on character [development]. Hopefully the audience falls in love with the sport.

LH: I have one more question that I like to ask everybody: Do you have a favorite driver conspiracy or hot take? I just explained a theory to Kate where Lewis takes a shirtless selfie and then someone either gets fired or let go in F1.

PM: I deliberately stay away from all that stuff! I mean, some people were convinced that we had somehow been responsible for the Lewis/Max Abu Dhabi ending [in 2021].

LH: Oh my god, what happened with that?

PM: Yeah, people were like, “They fixed it! Netflix fixed it!” And meanwhile I was at home watching the race on TV aghast like everyone else. That always kind of makes me laugh as if we had that much power.

It was almost worse for us. People were saying, “It must’ve been a dream for you guys!” And we were like, “It was a nightmare!” [That was partially] because of how quickly we have to turn around the last race of the season; normally, episode 10 can be a bit highlights-y since we’re just right up against it. And so we were suddenly like, “Oh my god, we're going to have to make a proper episode.” It was honestly the worst thing that could’ve happened.” [Editor’s note: OMG tea, Paul!]

Whew, thank you to Paul for a fun interview.

All right, my note on the Max tidbit (that’s less about the tidbit and more about contextualizing it) I’m still eyebrow-raising a little bit not because of anything Paul said (he’s lovely!!!) but because, as we’ve already established, Max has had a looooooot to say about the show over the years — pretty much more than practically any other driver with the exception of literal DTS protagonist Daniel Ricciardo. As such, the mystery of what goes on in Max Verstappen’s head and what changed his mind on the show (for now) will remain!

An Abercrombie x McLaren Merch Collab Debacle Update

*sighs* This Abercrombie x McLaren merch collab has been the bane of my existence, but considering people have been giving me updates on their own orders for the past week, let’s go through my experience. (And if you need a refresher on what the fuck this is, check out last week’s newsletter first.)

Soooooo, after last week’s shenanigans of having to order T-shirts from the men’s section of Abercrombie (and they remain only in the men’s section. All together now: SIDE. EYE.) and then being told they were backordered, I then received an email 12 hours later informing me that “part” of my order was on its way. I got my T-shirts seven days later, and in the meantime, Abercrombie apparently put more stock up online…only for it to sell out lightning-fast once again.

I also had a friend (shout out to Baillie!) send me one of the shirts after seeing it at a brick-and-mortar Abercrombie location, and a few other people said they had an easier time finding them in those stores. There you have it!

Like what you see? Check out other recent Engine Failure issues, check out the EF website, join EF’s Patreon, and then forward this newsletter to a friend because you're a nice person who wants to see me ~succeed~:

And if you have tips, suggestions, theories, intel, gossip, or questions, tweet me, DM me, send me an email, or use EF’s anonymous tip box.

On Monday, February 20th, Lance Stroll announced that he’d miss pre-season testing due to an injury stemming from a bike accident. (He says he’s recovering and plans to be ready for the actual season, but things look a tad murky for Bahrain…) Former F1 driver (and FE champ) Stoffel Vandoorne and F2 champ Felipe Drugovich are the team’s two reserve drivers, and it looks like @drugo.jpg himself is taking his seat to kick things off during testing.

That said, if Stoffel and Drugo were to suddenly be unavailable, here’s my ranking for who/what else should take the seat instead:

P1: A clone of Fernando Alonso: I know tons of researchers are in a race to clone all kinds of shit, but if Fernando Alonso could drive every car on the Formula 1 grid at the same time and the only way to do it was to literally create multiple versions of himself, he’d figure out the science before anyone. ANYONE.

P2: Joel Dahmen: A Drive to Survive x Full Swing crossover I can get behind!!!!!

P3: A plastic bag drifting through the wind, wanting to start again: Actually, just put Katy Perry herself in the car. I’d also argue that the iconic Nicki Minaj line (via “Swish Swish”), “Don’t be tryna double back, I already despise you” was Lewis Hamilton’s mantra heading into last season.

P4: Michelle Yeoh: People have been asking me for the past several months why Michelle Yeoh keeps being surrounded by F1 people at various awards shows and other gatherings, and I have to remind them that her IRL partner of two decades is Jean Todt, which remains one of the most confounding fun facts in all of Formula 1. Anyway, I’d trust Michelle Yeoh with my life, therefore AM can put her in their car; we should all certainly put our faith in the lady who zoomed through the multiverse.

P5: Mohammed Ben Sulayem: I know he still technically heads up the FIA, but he basically needs a job, right?

P6: Nyck de Vries: Mr. Clean did some driving for them last year and has basically driven almost every car on the grid at this point. Also, we’ve got to get him out of those pesky 3D AlphaTauri knits. Need I say more?

P7: Paul Martin: I can think of nothing more entertaining than having the Box to Box Films co-founder drive the car. Think of how meta that is! Maybe Lance can carry around a camera!

P8: The lint in my belly button: Surely this will go fine.

I’m low-key sad that Yuki Tsunoda is stuck at AlphaTauri, mostly because it means he has to wear that cursed clothing line all the time. However, we got a brief reprieve last week when he wore a truly stunning (STUNNING!) Eigensinnig Wien jumpsuit to a Juventus game. (A big thanks to the Style of Yuki Tsunoda account for finding the outfit deets and Molly for sending the post to me!)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Zhou Guanyu had a new partnership with Lululemon (he’s an ambassador for them going forward), but what was weird is that no Western media really covered it, and Zhou himself hadn’t announced it. Good news: He officially talked about it on Instagram, and it looks like it’s a go.

Lewis Hamilton looked *Alexis Rose voice* hottie boom body at British Vogue’s 2023 Fashion & Film Party. According to one of my favorite Lewis style accounts on Instagram, his stylist was once again Eric Mcneal, who seems to have usurped Law Roach over the last few months. 

And to reiterate something for the uninitiated even though we’ve discussed it plenty: It’s not uncommon for celebrities to work with more than one stylist, especially if someone is especially high-profile! These folks all have absolutely ridiculous schedules, and sometimes, teams just can’t work together purely because of logistics. Moreover, celebrities may stop working with a stylist for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with tensions or feuds; sometimes a different stylist is better suited if a high-profile person wants to make an image pivot, sometimes they need someone with a different schedule, the list goes on and on.

A lot of our WAG clothing focus lately has been on Carmen Montero Mundt, but the significant other who’s really been a gal about town in 2023 is Carlos Sainz’s longtime GF Isa Hernáez. Ever since leaving her fashion PR job at Scalpers to become a full-time influencer roughly a year ago, Isa's had a little trouble finding her sartorial footing amid all of the gifted items and sponsored posts. However, I think we're starting to enter an interesting fashion era for her, and I'm starting to get excited again to see what 2023 holds. (Btw, yes, the purple outfit is from Scalpers.)
Here’s the full Drive to Survive trailer in case you haven’t seen it. Child star-turned-racing driver Frankie Muniz came in 11th during his ARCA Racing debut. So, about those F1 sustainability goals… Viscountess Bridgerton (aka Simone Ashley) went to the BAFTAs afterparty with that boyfriend she met at the Monaco Grand Prix. The Iron Dames racing team got the Vogue treatment. Lewis Hamilton said, “Fuck your political statement bans!” Alpine’s development academy is huge this year. We’ve got yet another Danny Ric x Harry Styles connection. That new IndyCar Indy 500 docuseries premieres on April 27th. Lewis Hamilton is on the hunt for Brad Pitt’s co-star in that Formula 1 movie. Williams gained Michelob Ultra as a sponsor, while Max Verstappen became a Heineken ambassador. Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez are changing NASCAR. Interest in F1 is good for motorsports in general. Japan’s making a push for motorsports tourism. Alpine reportedly really wants more women in F1. Haas partnered with a golf-adjacent apparel brand. NYT posted its missive on the Miami Grand Prix … nine months late. Ugh, motorcore took over London Fashion Week. Hmmm, another new F1 podcast. If you’re feelin’ morbid, you can see Romain Grosjean’s burnt 2020 Haas car at the F1 Exhibition. F1 Fantasy is back, baby!

Thank you to everyone who wrote into last issue’s Conspiracy Corner question: You have the opportunity to make a scented candle for your favorite driver. What does it smell like and why?

Glad to know so many candle biddies subscribe to EF:

  • Melody: Charles Leclerc: Sweat, tears, and disappointment.

  • Lauren: As a self-appointed candle connoisseur, this is made for me: A vanilla and jasmine candle with a hint of salt breeze for my sea-loving KMag and his lovely family to light while relaxing on their sailing adventures (that I've invited myself too; Kevin, I know how to sail, please let me tag along!).

  • Lisa: Maybe a bit obvious but a maple syrup candle for Lance. It's very sweet smelling, possibly a bit overpowering; some people will love it and some will really hate it, just like the man himself.

  • Hazel: I don't know if this happened on stream or something or I remember it from an interview, but I have it as completely canon in my head that Lando Norris has a bunch of scented candles he got given for Christmasses through the years and it feels wasteful to throw out in case he has a powercut. I desperately hope he packed them all up, dusty and steadily losing their cinnamon scents, and took them to Monaco. I feel like the ideal candle for him is something just incongruous, like candied peel and brandy in July or whatever because he decided to have a fancy bath and now the whole place smells like cake.

  • Nina: I look at the latest Dior x Zhou photoshoot while I'm trying to scent my candle and my eyes wander to the scents. Cinnamon? Elderflower? No. But wait there it is: The perfect scent. I pour three drops into the molten wax. Soon enough, the room smells like yellow roses and leather.

  • Elle: A candle for Charles that smells like cotton but doesn’t actually smell of anything. Disappointing, like he’s used to.

  • Erin: Max Verstappen is not my favorite, but the boy needs therapy and I’m here to help. I shall perfectly capture the scent of the gas station his dad left him at as a child after a bad race. With luck, the scent will transport him back to that moment and allow him to relive the terror he felt watching his dad drive away and realize his dad is actually The Worst. After that, it’s up to him, which I admit is not promising.

  • Kate: It would have to be a bacon-scented candle for Roscoe, but as a vegan, Lewis would prob never feed such a delish treat to his pup.

  • Pam: I make a Pierre-scented candle for Yuki. I mean, he looked so sad at the livery reveal and I know it wasn’t just because of the 3D knits.

  • Claire: Carlos: Notes of la clavel, la flor de España, sea salt, and burning hot sun-baked sex.

  • Molly: The candle would be Eau De Goat, and it would be for Lewis. Enough said.

  • Allison: I would take the job knowing exactly what the brief would be: Valtteri's candle would tragically smell like coffee with creamy oatmeal and light gin botanical notes. I would grit my teeth and follow that brief because my guy is nothing if not consistent and literal when it comes to his designated food and drink memes. I would turn out a nice smelling candle and decide that Valtteri's team was right not to let me influence the concept development of the candle because it would've smelled like sauna herbs, beer, expensive sunscreen, and just a whiff of sweaty bucket hat.

  • Kara: I feel like Lewis is the easy/obvious answer, so instead I'll go with Logan Sargeant. It's a marine, beach-y scent that smells like the very best Gulf Coast boat day you could ever dream of. It's aquatic, there's a creamy hint of sunscreen, a touch of salt. It smells the way you feel after your post-beach, pre-dinner shower/nap combo on family vacation...warm, sleepy, a little sunburnt.

Today’s question: You can choose only one F1 driver as your single source of paddock gossip during the 2023 season. Who do you pick and why?

Submit your answer here.

This issue was published on February 21, 2023. Photo credits: Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Brooke Koepka, Matt Fitzpatrick, Joel Dahmen, Tony Finau, Sahith Theegala, Ian Poulter, Justin Thomas, Netflix, Dan Rapaport, Jordan Spieth, Tess Steinkolk, Formula 1, Box to Box Films, Abercrombie, Nyck de Vries, Michelle Yeoh, Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu, Vogue, Edward Enninful, Isa Hernaez.

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