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Everything Is a Shit Show This Off-Season

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.

Folks, did you know it’s possible to get a pinched nerve in your neck? Because now I do! And after dealing with this for almost a month, I do not recommend it! The pain was almost unbearable! And thank god it’s worked itself out!

All this to say, EF’s a little behind on a few things, including getting up my week of Patreon vids and a fun Q&A. I also have some…F1 things in the works that have taken up more time than expected. And let’s just say that despite (or maybe because of?) my last missive about on-the-ground Formula 1 reporting, some things have suddenly fallen into my lap. You’ll read about those later this month.

Last piece of housekeeping: Choosing Sides: F1 is nominated for the Ambies, which you can think of as trying to be the Oscars of podcasting. Thank you to everyone for listening!

Anyway, I’ve had these drafts sitting here for weeks while I was convalescing and have plenty to talk about. Like, 13,000 words-worth of things that required a good gab. Let’s go through all of 'em! (And before you ask about why I don't just do a bunch of shorter bonus issues, the answer is that that’s actually a lot more work for me. So understandably, I’m not interested in that. Just open this email in your browser and call it a day!)

Let’s Discuss the Lil’ Antarctica Expedition

Friends, I have a confession to make: After sending January’s lengthy Engine Failure issue on the state of F1 media, my lil’ Formula 1 heart was left with nothing but a giant void. Oh no! I thought to myself. I have nothing to talk about! Not a single thing is going on in F1 right now! The off-season is D-E-A-D!

And then Shaun White — yes, the five-time Olympic snowboarder and three-time Olympic gold medalist — saved our asses by posting a Reel on Instagram. On a first watch, it appears tame: Shaun (a certifiable Rich Person™) is on a private yacht in Antarctica jumping off of the back of the boat into the frigid waters. People around him are laughing and cheering as he climbs back onto the deck.

And then suddenly the camera pans to folks in a hot tub on the yacht and…LEWIS HAMILTON APPEARS. WITH A WOMAN SITTING IN HIS LAP.

“But Lily,” y’all are saying, “you are the queen of receipts. Where is the link to the video????”

Obviously the brosephs and brosephinas on the boat knew something was Afoot™, because Shaun deleted the IG Reel within a matter of minutes. And then folks started connecting the dots: People began pointing out that Deuxmoi had mentioned earlier in the day that people like Jared Leto and Zoey Deutch were also on this trip with Shaun White and his girlfriend Nina Dobrev. And then more tips kept pouring in about this star-studded glacial affair.

(Pausing for an aside here: What the fuck is up with F1 people and loving snowboarders? Lance Stroll’s sister aka songstress Chloe Stroll is engaged to Olympic halfpipe medalist Scotty James, who’s also besties with fellow Aussie Daniel Ricciardo.)

(Oh, wait, I have another aside: Alexandra Stockton, a luxury travel agent, told me that these private yacht trips to Antarctica like the one that Lewis 'n' crew were on cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million. Meanwhile, I would just like to have, you know, decent health insurance. But I digress!)

(This is my last aside for this section, I PROMISE: We do not need Antarctica tourism!!!!! I’d like to keep our glaciers and planet intact, thank you very much! If you want to be cold for literally no reason, just stick your head in your freezer!!!! If you’ve got dough to dish, try some cryotherapy!!!!)

ANYWAY, who was the mystery woman on Lewis’ lap? That’d be none other than model Juliana Nalu, who was veeeery recently (like, literally November/December 2022) linked to Ye. (Also, despite evidence to the contrary, many people kept insisting the woman in question was Camila Kendra, a model whom Lewis has been linked to on and off in the past and who previously dated Tyler Cameron, otherwise known as the Pete Davidson of The Bachelor (in terms of dating pretty much everybody). The mixup was...hmmmmmm.)

Lewis’ love life aside, I was very invested in this trip given the bizarre array of people on it. You’re telling me that besides Shaun and Nina, try-hard wannabe Hollywood weirdo Jared Leto, GOAT race car driver Lewis Hamilton, and modern-day rom-com queen and beloved nepo baby Zoey Deutch were all hanging out together for weeks in freezing conditions???? (Also of note: I don’t think Lewis and Zoey are that close. I certainly don’t think they were feuding by any means, but it took Z almost a month to post a photo of him that wasn't a group shot, despite her adding dozens of pics to IG Stories and her feed. Nina Dobrev also only posted one picture with Lew and Zo together in a smaller group setting.)

Anyway, I love when rich, famous, hot people do ridiculous shit. I wish this endeavor wasn’t fucking with, um, the planet, but it is what it is.

WTF1 Had a Weird Month, Right?

With the exception of Kelly Piquet’s Vogue Netherlands cover, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so many EF inquiries as I did about WTF is going on at WTF1. (Yes, I’m super clever for that sentence. Pipe down.)

To recap what WTF1 is, the media company was founded in 2010 by Tom Bellingham as a news source for more internet-savvy F1 fans. Among its many offerings, it has a podcast, YouTube channel, blog, merch, and much more. While there’ve been different contributors to WTF1 over the years, the mainstay programs were helmed by Tom and Matt Gallagher; additionally, in recent years (and important to our discussion), podcaster and web editor Katy Fairman was also in the mix as a more recognizable and consistent face and name. While obviously WTF1 would never hand out its stats to lil’ F1 newsletters like EF, its YouTube channel has over 1.1 million subscribers and its podcast has thousands of ratings across different platforms; all this to say, we’re talking about a legit operation here, not just some quaint randos floating around the motorsports ether. It's a site that's consistently brought up when people talk about F1 fandom infiltrating the internet over the past decade-plus.

Annnnnd relevant to our story: Though it had other vendor involvement throughout the 2010s, WTF1 became part of The Race Media in 2020. (Separate from WTF1, The Race is also part of The Athletic’s podcast network. I know, it’s very confusing. Media is a disastrously complicated.)

So anyway, WTF1 was chuggin’ along as usual at the end of 2022. A few ~insiders~ told me that there were vague rumblings that something might change in 2023, but there wasn’t anything concrete out there to the public. Here’s a summary of what transpired over the course of roughly a month at the start of the new year:

  • All of a sudden on January 9th, The Race Media dropped a press release (very sloppily, I might add; it first went up on LinkedIn but then didn’t go up on other platforms for a few hours...and then the site went down) stating that there were “new faces” coming to the WTF1. This included commentator Jack Nicholls taking over a popular WTF1 YouTube franchise and Andre (Dre) Harrison, Hannah Atkinson, Ciaran Oakes, and Charley Williams filling in on streams, podcasts, the blog, and more. Shortly thereafter on the same day, Tom and Matt announced that they were leaving WTF1 immediately to start a new then-unnamed venture; no one really knew what was happening with Katy. (And just to speak to the utter disaster of this rollout and its subsequent fallout: WTF1 deleted Tom and Matt’s goodbye video from its YouTube channel but left it up on Facebook, where it was posted a day later than the initial announcement to begin with. What kind of embarrassing amateur nonsense is this?)

  • Given the ambush, pandemonium ensued online. Many paying WTF1 subscribers felt like they were blindsided by the news (which they were vaguely told was Tom and Matt’s decision), tons of people took to sites like Twitter and Reddit to complain, and the media company’s new hosts were left to fend for themselves amid all of the backlash and confusion.

  • I thought we were out of this mess towards the end of January, but then on February 6th (literally three days ago), Katy Fairman announced that she too was leaving her role as web editor for the brand. Again, we hadn’t really heard much from WTF1 about her until this point, and we still don't know a lot.
  • Literally as I was putting the finishing touches on the newsletter TODAY (as in, February 9th), the first video went live on Tom and Matt’s new P1 Podcast YouTube channel, where they claimed that the reason they broke away to basically start anew was to have more fun and not be so tied down creatively to certain concepts just because that's what did well stats-wise. A 20-minute companion podcast episode also went up to talk more about the decision. (We’ll get more into that endeavor below.)

I spent much of the month talking to a combination of people with more insight into this specific situation as well as folks in F1 media who have been around this ecosystem a lot longer than me. In particular, motorsports writer extraordinaire Elizabeth Blackstock and F1 explainer queen Toni Cowan-Brown were kind enough to answer a few questions from me on the record about this whole mess back in mid-January, so I’ve weaved their quotes into my analysis below:

1. I’m not gonna sugar-coat it: This rollout was far more chaotic than it needed to be, and it immediately made me believe something went very wrong behind the scenes. I barely passed every high school math class I was in, but even I can tell that more than a few things weren’t adding up here. (Or, as Toni put it to me, “Anyone who knows anything about change management or media companies or startups pivoting [can tell that] if [something] looks wonky from the outside, you can rest assured it’s an absolute shit show from the inside.” Cosigned!)

The main elements that made me go HMMMMMM:

  • Everything about this felt incredibly sudden. Toni pointed out to me that often when media companies are making a crisis-level shift, they’re advised to say as little as possible. However, it feels like whoever was calling the shots here really didn’t factor in the longtime and/or diehard fans of this brand (especially the paying ones). “You owe it to them to be open and transparent,” she said. “For a brand like WTF1 that is so personality-driven [and] that was always a brand for the fans/by the fans, when it comes to a transition like this, you can’t all of a sudden pretend that the fans aren’t there and then act like a corporation where one day someone’s in and the next day someone’s out.” To her, it felt like a decision that didn’t show respect for people who’ve bought into this brand literally and figuratively.

  • Logistically, this wasn’t a coordinated rollout whatsoever. As I said, the website kept timing out, the announcement was made over several hours (even days, in some cases) on different social media platforms, the list goes on and on. Somebody needs to call Marie Kondo, because this was a mess.

  • The fact that the new hosts weren’t introduced and slowly brought into the fold at an earlier date was disappointing and short-sighted. I’ve heard conflicting reports of who exactly was responsible for that decision, but the bottom line is that these new folks coming in weren’t given the tools they needed and the confidence of the org to succeed from the get-go; their road to maintaining and growing this fandom is going to be infinitely harder than it needed to be all because of this botched beginning that wasn't their fault.

  • I’m in agreement with Toni’s sentiment on Twitter, as I too was incredibly confused why Katy wasn’t mentioned in Tom and Matt’s initial goodbye video, nor was her future with the org made clear despite her being a central part of programming. “They said a little bit too much to get people asking a lot of questions, but none of those questions were answered,” Toni added, saying that Katy’s fate with the org was the biggest unnecessary mystery, and that bizarre silence led to quite a bit of dramatic speculation.

    I certainly hope that Katy herself had some say in how her role was discussed and that this was her choice. But as an outsider, my most generous interpretation is that the optics looked funky at best. Given the F1 world’s historic erasure of women’s contributions in a multitude of capacities, this was simply Not Good™.

2. In addition to the emphasis in Tom and Matt's recent video and podcast episode on wanting to get back to creating ~fun~ stuff, a few of my sources said (I'm keeping things vague here) that money played a not insignificant factor in this ordeal.

Speaking from over a decade of experience as a freelancer, I empathize with independent media folks who have to make hard choices over things like whether or not to partner with a larger org or keep doing their own thing. Even within my time covering F1 professionally, I've had the experience of running my own shop where I have full creative control as well as working on another program with other people; there are benefits and drawbacks to both scenarios. As such, there are also many pros and cons to a media entity — especially a small and/or indie one — being centered on one or a few specific personalities as opposed to a true ~ensemble~ of different voices. (*Taylor Swift voice* It’s me! Hi! I’m the problem, it’s me!) On the one hand, people are more likely to trust individual faces they can grow attached to. That’s just human nature: We like to see who’s behind everything.

On the other hand, a cult of personality makes it hard to build that more stable ensemble franchise, especially if there’s not an intentional lead-in to that transition. Parasocial bonds form quickly, which can make it all the sadder when these types of programs institute a sudden pivot. Like, imagine if y’all opened up EF one day and without warning some other biddy said (in Emma Roberts’ American Horror Story: Coven voice, of course), “Surprise, bitch! I’m the new writer of this garbage castle now, ass munchers! Lily peaced the fuck Audi!” You'd probably want to unsubscribed from this newsletter immediately. (Also, I'm now realizing the potential consequences of using the term "ass munchers" in a newsletter that both of my parents allegedly read, but such is life. They brought me into this world; one could argue they did this to themselves.)

“When you say ‘WTF1,’ there's a good chance an F1 fan's brain immediately says, ‘Matt and Tom,” Elizabeth adds. “They are WTF1 in the eyes of a lot of people — and those people are going to follow them to their next endeavor, because those people are likely Matt and Tom fans. WTF1 itself is then left with grumpy and critical folks who aren't likely to give these newcomers the benefit of the doubt.”

Speaking more to the podcasting side of the WTF1 endeavor, when I interviewed iconic audiobook narrator Julia Whelan last year, she mentioned that there’s a certain intimacy to audio that other mediums don’t have in the same way. Longtime listeners have spent hours upon hours of time with folks like Tom, Matt, and Katy in their heads; it’s tough to give that up. And even away from audio, WTF1’s YouTube channel can have a similar lived-in familiarity to it; these folks have built up authority in certain spaces over time.

3. Myself and a number of other people in the F1 media world all had the same question: Why not bring on this new talent sooner for an easier transition period? “Sure, (almost) everyone did a little video and offered up a short bio, but this is such a pivotal moment for WTF1 that I would have really liked to see a stronger investment in setting these new creators up for success with a slew of videos, articles, podcasts, etc. that showcase who these people are,” Elizabeth pointed out. “I understand not wanting to take the farewell spotlight off Matt and Tom, but everyone is currently just staring into a ‘who are these people’ void.”

Not only would that have been a better off-ramp for the departing hosts, but it also would've allowed the new folks to work out early issues with their content and material. Moreover, if someone just simply wasn’t adjusting well, it’s easier to give and incorporate feedback or offboard them at that time if need be.

Toni contrasted WTF1’s previous talent structure (which slowly came to be centered on Tom and Matt and, to a lesser extent depending on who you talk to, Katy) to something like Quadrant. “It definitely feels like a squad where everyone plays a main character and a main role,” she told me about Lando Norris’ esports and lifestyle brand. Yes, his name was used to spark initial interest, but there are plenty of videos and other initiatives he doesn’t participate in. This has enabled his collaborators — who already had followings of various sizes before they all joined forces — to carve out their own fanbases as individuals and as a collective.

Meanwhile, another important point that Elizabeth brought up that’s in line with what I discussed in my whole F1 media access diatribe: Will these new additions be able to get the same opportunities in the paddock as their predecessors did? “Matt and Tom were [around] for ages,” she said, “As a result, they forged solid relationships within the F1 world that helped them do something that no one else was doing. How many of these new folks are going to be able to grab a fun interview when so much of that ‘fun’ comes from a driver having a relationship with the interviewer?” I speak from personal experience when I say that trying to get F1 teams, drivers, and sponsors on board with anything media-related is often like pulling teeth; it’d take anyone time to get those relationships established in a way that pays off.

4. The question y’all probably want answered at this point: What's up with P1 Podcast and its timeline? Tom and Matt are only just starting to open up about it, but according to the U.K. government’s publicly available business tracking website, a new private venture called “P1 Podcast LTD” (company #14567547) was incorporated on January 3, 2023 and lists both Tom and Matt as “directors” in terms of "officer" positions. (The pair confirmed in that new video that they are, in fact, co-founders this time around; before, Tom was listed as the sole founder of WTF1, and Matt said he never had an official stake in that business venture.) Following that initial filing on the 3rd, on January 12th, the pair launched a YouTube channel and posted a video very vaguely teasing the new show. As of today, February 9th, that's a go.

So, uh, here’s where things get a tad awkward: A project called P1 Podcast already exists. It’s a tiny companion show for a San Diego rock station, but it covers a wide variety of topics, including fetishes, lessons from porn, and stuff. Hey, these are life’s most important conversation starters and ones I certainly want to get from local radio hosts!

So, What Can We Expect From ~the New WTF1~?

Obviously y’all can do whatever you want with your time (though you might not be the best judge of character seeing as you’re already 3,000+ words into this pyrotechnic trash heap of a newsletter), but since we know I’m fascinated by F1 media at large, I’m tuning in to see what this new WTF1 crew is up to in the coming months. Personally, I wanted to hear how they felt about the sitch that transpired, and lucky for me, newly minted WTF1 podcaster Dre Harrison has been a long-time supporter of all things Engine Failure (thank you, Dre!!!!!); he was kind enough to thoughtfully answer a few questions on the whole ordeal.

Dre spoke incredibly candidly about his experiences as an F1 fan and commentator, his future with WTF1, the internet reaction to the transition news, and the Formula 1 conspiracy he’ll take to the grave. Keep in mind that this interview was conducted around January 16-17th:

Lily Herman: Before we get into WTF1 specifics, I'm sure a few Engine Failure readers would like to hear more about your background. When did you get into Formula 1 as a fan, and when did you start more formally discussing the sport?

Dre Harrison: Man, I want to say around 1999! I grew up in a sports-heavy home and my dad is a huge sports fanatic; it was the one thing we really bonded over. He was a classic glory hunter who liked to back winners, so Manchester United, Valentino Rossi, and Michael Schumacher were his heroes. I loved cars growing up; I was your stereotypical 90s young boy with the Hot Wheels and Scalextric set, and every game on my PlayStation was a racing game. I was sitting down every Sunday with my dad, and watching F1 was a key part of the weekend. Michael was my first sporting hero, and it just stuck with me as I grew up. 

Formally discussing the sport came in 2011. I loved YouTube in its more embryonic days and had already experimented with different channels for things I loved, like playing Pokemon competitively (seriously) and vlogging about professional wrestling, but for a birthday present, I got a video capture card and played F1 2010 on the Xbox 360, and it stuck! I thought just showing the gameplay was boring, so I rambled about the sport and people really liked it. It developed into full-blown video commentary about the state of the sport, and it expanded into MotoGP and IndyCar; [that’s] what led to Motorsport101 and the podcast being my full priority! 

LH: I always find this fascinating to ask folks in the industry and love to hear from others: How do you personally go about consuming the sport as an F1 media person, and what does your process look like for analyzing and commenting on what you're seeing?

DH: LOTS of dialogue. We have a Discord server for all the Motorsport101 Patreon backers and friends of the show, and the amount of discussions and different perspectives we all bring to the table is a huge reason why I'm the media person I am today. It's incredibly enriching and it's made me so much better at talking about not just F1, but most sports I consume!

Not going to lie, I’m also a huge Twitter addict, so spending a lot of time scrolling on there and picking up on the little stories that I find interesting and prompting discussion that way I find fascinating. I am ALL about finding alternative angles in a sport that's pretty much had its cake baked in terms of coverage for most of its existence. I can adamantly say I'm one of the few folks who've compared F1's Silly Season to the NFL draft or MotoGP's Jorge Lorenzo to Lex Luthor because the sport was crying out for an anti-hero at the time. That's what makes me want to leap for the keyboard at 2am!

LH: You've obviously been at this a lot longer than me as far as the F1 media space goes. What's changed and/or shifted during your time talking about the sport with various audiences? Where do you see it going in the near-future?

DH: Well, I came from a YouTube background, and there's one obvious thing to point out: It got too big to ignore as the years went by. Ten years ago, the peak of this side of the community was having 5,000 YouTube subscribers and maybe getting a review copy of the latest F1 video game a week early. That ceiling is now 1,000,000, and we're getting content creators on TV and on racetracks regularly. Seeing Chain Bear, Tom McCluskey, Katy, and Matty on Sky Sports News or Sky F1's "Any Driven Monday" breaking down the latest race was the sort of thing I was dreaming about as a teenager. "Alternative" media has a genuine seat on the table now alongside the big-name hitters. I am walking proof that if I can make it with a 1080p webcam and a half-decent blog, so many more can and will carve out their own followings. 

And I think the way things are going, we're going to see more and more media firms throw many at this sport to do the same. If the pandemic and the much-noticed DTS era have shown me anything via social media, it's people who I've never seen care about F1 start caring. The podcast game has exploded. [Things like] seeing people like Spencer Hall, the best college football writer in America, write full-on feature pieces about just how wacky the sport can be, Lewis Hamilton being a genuine top 10 most recognisable athlete in the world, Martin Brundle getting on f***ing TMZ over Megan Thee Stallion tell me that F1 has a genuine mainstream foothold for the first time, maybe ever. I think the sport will start climbing further up the priority lists for more big hitters in the sports media space soon because I think F1 might be one of the few still untapped potential markets for sports coverage left.

LH: I'd love to hear a little bit about the process of joining the WTF1 team. What was that like, and what will change now that there's more of an ensemble group of people from different motorsports backgrounds coming in to commentate on Formula 1?

DH: A genuinely huge shock! I was just minding my own business clearing out my emails and the next thing you know, it's the guys from WTF1's management wanting to chat about a potential job opening. It was the stuff of fairytales. Motorsport101 has absolutely been my baby, but it's never been a big player in the content creation landscape, so for them to reach out to me was a huge honour. Being able to walk away from life as a bookmaker in the gambling industry and actually get a livable check for making content about something I love doing is dreamland territory!

And I personally think it's brilliant we've got different walks of life coming into such a huge platform. I've been following the journalistic side of the sport for years, and it's the same names in the same spots year after year. I get it, you wanna trust the experts and the experience that brings. Social media is a huge hub for discussion of the sport and "wheel knowledge" is essentially a currency at this point. But I think as a consumer of this sport, we all need to embrace the fresh eyes and the outside perspectives coming in. Whether people my age and up want to admit it or not, TikTok is a huge growing platform and is now an embedded part of how we consume media over the Internet. It's impossible to ignore and it's shaped every other competitor’s platform. (YouTube Shorts changing its monetisation, Instagram implementing Reels, custom content for Snapchat, etc.) And no, I don't think you should ever need to know who finished 14th at the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix to have your opinion deemed more serious than others.

I spent years within the media with fans, journos, and drivers all pondering how the sport was ever going to grow its audience as its average viewer got older, and more and more countries were seeing their coverage move behind paywalls that Millennials and Gen Zers can't afford to commit to. The pandemic, the U.S. marketing push, and Drive to Survive were, to me, the lightning in a bottle F1 desperately needed to open it up to a whole new set of eyes. So when I see comments from fans dismissing anyone from TikTok or newer fans, I cringe. It's the same gatekeeping I saw watching soccer in high school and seeing young women being told, "Name five Arsenal players or you're not a true fan!" These are the people you WANT coming in to watch you and care about your product. That, for most sports, is priceless, and I'm glad to see such a huge entity like WTF1 take a gamble and push that envelope and bring in people [whom] you wouldn't normally go out of your way to listen to from areas like fashion (a huge part of the glitz and glamour culture that this sport loves to indulge).

The "DTS era" that people want to dislike with their keyboards actually had people come into my bookies when I was working there and they’d want to talk to me about the sport. That's happened to me more in the last two years than in the previous 15. That means something, and I sincerely hope that more people keep an open mind and listen to the "new fan" more. We may just learn something.

LH: As with any media franchise where longtime personalities leave and new folks come in, there are some questions about what comes next for the brand. What excites you most about the future of WTF1, and what are you personally hoping to bring folks on your end?

DH: Of course, and I'm not going to hide from that. The amount of times I've heard myself, Hannah, Ciaran, and Charley compared to the rebooted cast of Top Gear has been off the charts in the last 48 hours! And given how much I loved Rory Reid post-reboot, I am more than at peace with the comparison! I get it. WTF1's had and still has some incredible talent. Tom and Matt (and Jess beforehand) were more than just the brand; before she even joined, I knew Katy Fairman was a juggernaut [who] was always going to go far. They harboured a brilliant community that represented so much of what the young, modern F1 fan is today. Change is always scary, so I knew going in there'd be questions asked. I'd be more concerned if there weren’t!

I'm more excited to just see all the different potential paths this network can take; I think we can genuinely be a one-stop shop for everything F1 content-wise like a cable box has. The building blocks are already there with F101 helping to educate newer fans, the instant gratification we love about sports on Twitch with the watchalongs and live shows, and then the analysis side of it with the podcasts. The team is more culturally diverse than ever before and I genuinely believe it'll make for more nuanced, even better content. I love the topical debates that come out of this sport so frequently as well, and this is what I'm excited for most. I am a very opinionated person and I genuinely enjoy going back and forth with people about things I'm passionate about. I love strong debate, and I love trying to make people think a little differently about motorsport when so many think a situation is cut and dry, even if it means risking some backlash for it. I've often tackled some of the most difficult subjects this sport throws at its consumers, like racism, discrimination, sportswashing, and misogynistic attitudes, all things that so many of us as an audience don't like talking about. I hope that I can add some more nuance, just a little bit of edge, and prompt even wider discussion about the sport to so many more people. I can't wait to get going!

LH: This is a question for Engine Failure readers to get to know you better (I normally ask it during Spare Parts interviews): Do you have a specific F1 hot take or conspiracy theory that you’ll stand by until your dying breath?

DH: I'm a huge Sebastian Vettel fan to the point where it was part of my own Twitter "personality," so I will always stand by the fact I think Ferrari lost faith in him and dumped Kimi Raikkonen for Leclerc just to drive him out. I'm taking this to my grave, Lily, kicking and screaming.

A Very Lengthy Analysis of Break Point and Drive to Survive Canon

In case y’all didn’t know, the sports world has been so enamored with the success of Drive to Survive in terms of the growth it has spawned for Formula 1 that virtually every athletic governing body under the sun is clamoring for a similar docuseries. There are at least half a dozen of these shows coming to Netflix alone in the next few months covering everything from tennis and golf to cycling and soccer. (This is on top of the fact that a soccer-related docuseries already exists on FX via Hulu called Welcome to Wrexham, which is like Ted Lasso IRL but featuring Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.) Amazon Prime has made some additional forays into similar storytelling, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The first of these spinoffs to come out on Netflix though was Break Point, which is basically trying to be Drive to Survive but for tennis — and it was nowhere near as good, in my opinion. However, what do I love to do in this newsletter? That’s right: Bore you to tears with thousands of words of nuance. So sit back, relax, and let me take you through the extremely complicated tale of what we expect from sports docuseries in a post-DTS era.

Do We Need All of These DTS-Inspired Shows?

I’m going to answer my own question in the subheader upfront: No, we do not.

Here’s the problem that all of these series face: Because of Drive to Survive’s monumental influence on Formula 1’s fanbase, culture, and global relevance, there’s now an unfair expectation that every subsequent series will do that same thing for its respective sport. That’s a lot of absurdly unnecessary pressure, not to mention a lot of fatigue on the part of viewers if they were to watch every single one (or even just one or two).

Moreover, all of these sports are entirely different from one another in just about every way. They have wildly diverging histories, hyper-specific rules, plenty of niche jargon, you name it; it’s an apples to oranges situation. All of these sports contend with some of the same systemic problems (um, hello, racism, misogyny, and classism!!!!!), but those manifest in a variety of ways.

Is Break Point Good™?

Folks, I took exactly one class in Wesleyan’s legendary film department when I was a wee undergrad wearing moldy combat boots, so I feel super prepared to analyze this docuseries from every angle. (Also, because I know Wes alums subscribe to this newsletter and will ask: The course was “The Language of Hollywood” during the first semester it was ever offered back when I, like every freshman on campus, thought for 14 seconds that I would become a Movie Major™. That didn’t end up transpiring thanks to a small kerfuffle that took place during the first few months of my college experience involving the film department, the campus blog Wesleying, and the creators — fellow Wes alums — of Beasts of the Southern Wild. I’m still cackling at the fact that a single tiny incident freaked me out enough that I didn’t pursue a major and potentially an entire career path. But hey, life’s funny and 18-year-olds are ridiculous! I also think it worked out for the best; I’d much rather be here yelling about Car Things™ on the internet, another professional trajectory I couldn’t have foreseen as a moody and misguided teen.)

Here’s the thing: Break Point is generally a decent surface-level look at the aesthetic appeal of tennis. We meet 10 very likable young stars in the sport, and the visuals are great. But there are few major issues with the series as it stands — both in terms of its own filmmaking as well as what it means for this DTS-esque docuseries era at large:

1. As I said earlier, part of the problem with Break Point and all of these post-DTS shows is there’s now soooooo much pressure being put on them to bring legions of new fans to a sport instead of simply focusing on producing a new (and very good) documentary or docuseries. On its own, without this context, Break Point is fine. It has some fun action shots! It has interesting personalities! It has solid cinematography! But if I was brand new to this sport, I wouldn’t feel like I got a particularly good sense of the mechanics and logistics. For instance, how do you qualify for these tournaments? How does the world ranking work? How do people afford to shuttle from place to place? I want the basic hot goss and I didn’t get that!

2. Honestly, while I get why they made the decision logistically, I think it was asinine and unnecessary for producers and Netflix to break this series up into two parts — with the second half not airing for six months. There’s simply not enough momentum in this show for that, and I feel like we were left on a non-cliffhanger that I’m not really dying to see be brought full circle. There’s a good chance that I’ll completely forget to watch the second half of this show when it rolls around in June; I’m just not that invested. 

Related to this: Something that was always interesting about DTS to me is that the series never cared about showcasing all 20 drivers on the grid equally. While that’d be entirely impossible in tennis as a whole, Break Point is obsessed with splitting its airtime perfectly between the two subjects in every episode. By the end, I don’t think I really learned much about most of them???

3. One immediate problem I saw from the get-go when this series was announced is that the sport of tennis simply doesn’t function the same way as Formula 1 (or most motorsports series), and that makes it harder for filming this kind of show. Break Point didn’t do a good job of explaining the mechanics of seeds and rankings, and as we know, players aren’t meeting the same opponents every time. That can make for harder storytelling because you don't know when or if certain narratives will pan out. (For instance, no tournament can guarantee that Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will definitely face off in a round, and you can't always get some fresh-faced young kid winning a Grand Slam.)

In contrast, Formula 1’s format is simple: The same 20 drivers (barring illness, mechanical problems, or other rogue issues) race together during all 20-plus weekends, so they’re competing against the same pool every time. (Obviously, I’m not comparing Max Verstappen in a Red Bull car to Nicholas Latifi in a Williams car, but you catch my drift: They’re still technically in these races.) And unlike some other motorsports series, drivers don’t — at this point in the sport’s history — need to worry about if they'll get to compete at all on race day following qualifying; they’re just trying to figure out where they’ll start on that grid. In 2021, part of what was so compelling about that championship battle is that we (and DTS producers) knew that Max and Lewis Hamilton would have to go head-to-head every single weekend; the same can’t be guaranteed in tennis. Obviously, that's not the fault of that sport; that's a production issue.

4. There’s almost no interpersonal conflict in Break Point even though plenty obviously exists IRL in tennis. Aside from a small commotion involving Rafael Nadal’s uncle (and former coach) working with another player who then has to play against Nadal, there’s no drama between any of these people in this series.

If you think back to the first two (even three) seasons of Drive to Survive, part of what made it so addicting was not just the insider access but also the little bits of shit-talking and personal squabbles that unfolded between all of these Daddy Issues™-ridden men. Even something as simple as Guenther Steiner trying to assuage Gene Haas’ concerns over the phone while also eye-rolling at his boss was compelling. And who could forget Cyril Abiteboul wishing Daniel Ricciardo ill when the Aussie jumped ship from Renault to McLaren? That was some funny and deeply petty shit, and it launched a million memes.

5. Related to this, Break Point’s producers and editors didn’t set up any cataclysmic on-the-court stakes. The worst we get in these five episodes is “bad boy of tennis” (according to the show) Nick Kyrgios smashing his equipment and being rude — and then he just walks over to his lil’ tennis bag to grab a new racquet and calm down. In contrast, what happens in F1 if a driver gets angry and smashes his car into another car or a wall in retribution? Well, that’s millions of dollars down the drain and an absolutely irate number of team members, sponsors, and race officials. I’m not arguing that these tennis players don’t have money, reputation, and commitments on the line, but those stakes were, at the very least, not well-portrayed in Break Point. That shit just wasn't life-or-death stuff.

6. All of the players in this series seem like nice enough people in front of the camera. Even Nick Kyrgios has some compelling moments in his background. But I’ve now watched the series twice all the way through and still can’t remember most of these folks; this show made them relatively one-dimensional and boring. Yes, there are glimpses of some lovely moments, like Ons Jabeur talking about what’s on the line for her. But not a single interesting meme, GIF or TikTok clip has been produced from this show, and that’s telling in this day and age as far as building a new fandom.

Also, even among the players who were featured, producers really didn’t get into some of the most interesting tidbits. For example, American Taylor Fritz, who was highlighted in the third episode, got married to (and later divorced from) a fellow pro tennis player in his teens and has a kid with her; he’s a 24-year-old with a five-year-old! While I’m certainly not advocating for him to put his child on a TV show, the fact that this idea of parenting sacrifices while on tour is never touched during part one of the series in any way, shape, or form feels a little strange once you have that context. (Also, Fritz and his family were featured in a video by the ATP Tour back in 2017, so it’s not like he hasn’t addressed this publicly within the sport. That said, maybe his feelings have changed post-divorce and as his son has gotten older; plus, Netflix is a much bigger platform than the ATP Tour’s YouTube page.)

And then, of course, there’s Kyrgios’ assault charge, which wasn't resolved until literally last week. He pleaded guilty to shoving an ex-girlfriend outside of her apartment in 2019 before the charge was dismissed by a judge due to the “low level” seriousness of the matter. Whew! (And speaking of Kyrgios, did you know he dated Ajla Tomljanović, who was featured in the second episode, on and off several years ago? Oh, and Ajla and Matteo Berrettini broke up after filming for part one of Break Point ended! Again, so much to discuss!!!!!!)

7. One aspect of this series that was infinitely better than Drive to Survive: The integration of players' significant others. It always struck me as odd that DTS basically ignored the WAGs for the first three seasons (save for Ginger Spice and then Marion Grosjean's post-Bahrain crash confessional at the end of season three) and suddenly brought them into the fold in season four. Meanwhile, Break Point was smart from the get-go and used Nick Kyrgios’ then-new girlfriend Costeen Hatzi, who admitted she knew nothing about tennis, to act as a stand-in for newbies. 

Moreover, if one person deserves a bazillion dollars for hyping up Break Point long before it even had a name, it’s Taylor Fritz’s delightful GF Morgan Riddle. She first really rose to prominence after posting a now-viral TikTok during a tournament weekend and mentioned that the Netflix crew was following her and Fritz around. Since then, she’s followed it up with compelling TikTok content (including documenting her OOTDs, which we all know I care about deeply), relatable Instagram Stories about Hot Girl Walks and podcasting, and a newly launched YouTube channel with more in-depth vlogs. 

Three things I appreciate about what she does: 1) She never pretends to be something she’s not, 2) she’s made a point of trying to actually see the places she travels to on tour, and 3) Taylor is almost like a fun recurring side character in her online presence but never feels exploited for content. And a fun fact that she first revealed on TikTok months ago: They met on a dating app where she ghosted him at first!

8. This isn’t really an observation so much as a tidbit: My mother is a big tennis fan and day-one Maria Sharapova hater, so seeing Sharapova so much in this series made me personally irked on Mama K's behalf.

Can Anything Come Close to Drive to Survive?

I’ve spent most of this month racking my brain around if another series made me feel the way DTS has but about another sport, and to be honest, I actually think the best comparison I could come up with is how CrossFit’s 2015 Fittest on Earth documentary on the CrossFit Games made me follow the sport for a few years in the late 2010s. (Tbh, I can’t really endorse the sport politically at this point and haven’t watched it since before the pandemic; it’s even worse than F1 in some ways, which is really saying something. At least I don’t see the FIA awarding Glocks to winners, which is…the lowest of bars.)

Similar to Drive to Survive, this first film (there’ve been many follow-ups since then) documenting the CrossFit Games back in 2015 caught a couple of lucky breaks. It was a funky year since sports icon Rich Froning had just retired from individual competition, so the men’s field was wide open. As such, it got to focus on a battle between two very different competitors — Ben Smith and Mat Fraser (the latter of whom would later go on to dominate the sport until his retirement in 2020). The women’s field was also going through a gargantuan shift with many talented newbies, and the podium literally ended up featuring two rookies and a woman who’d missed out on qualifying for the Games the year before. Because of that, there’s a lot more focus on a number of funky personalities around the event and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Plus, these competitions within the Games are so batshit (and participants always seem right on the cusp of injury) that you can’t help but watch. (I still remember Sara Sigmundsdóttir fucking up her chance to win the whole shebang because she couldn’t master the pegboard in the final event of the weekend. Wild!)

Something else that’s funny in retrospect and that CrossFit had to address in its next documentary the following year: Tia-Clair Toomey, who’s now the winningest CrossFit Games competitor in history, wasn’t featured at all in that first film. She was a rookie; no one could’ve predicted she would come in second place on her first trip to the Games since that’s often unheard of.

While these CrossFit documentaries didn’t completely explode the sport's fandom to the same extent as Drive to Survive did for F1, I believe it had a similar effect on myself and others for one key reason: It made it easy to want to join that fandom; the rules were simple at the time, and there was plenty of content waiting for me online once I was in. I’ve never sat in an F1 car, and likewise, I’ve never been to a CrossFit box, but I've had a lot of passion for both. And unlike Formula 1, if I actually wanted to get into CrossFit, there are plenty of ways for me — a normie — to do that.

So, Should We Watch All of These Series?

Well, not necessarily. Netflix’s DTS-inspired golf series called Full Swing premieres next week on February 15th. To be frank, I’m watching it largely for reporting purposes and not out of extreme curiosity to learn about golf. That said, because my full-time work has required me to keep up with a little bit of the PGA/LIV Tour drama, I’m curious to see if Netflix takes full advantage of what a shit show that sport is right now. (I mean, Patrick Reed subpoenaed Rory McIlroy on Christmas Eve and then McIlroy purposely ignored him — and then beat him — at a recent tournament. These men are ridiculous!) All this to say...if y'all are watching these various shows, I'm (begrudgingly) right there with you.

Oh, and the First Drive to Survive Season 5 Teaser Is Out

*gasps for air* Jesus, so much shit went down in a matter of weeks. Onto the next order of business: The season five teaser of Drive to Survive is out, and this chaotic show will hit our screens (and make F1 Twitter lose its fucking mind yet again) on February 24th.

The teaser is only 40 seconds long, so there’s not much to go on. There was one part I was intrigued by, and I stand by this assessment: The addition of Max in the trailer isn’t just there to tease his return to participating in the series; it’s a liiiiiittle bit petty. As a refresher: Max has spent a lot of time complaining about Drive to Survive over the years, pretty much more than any other current driver on the grid; in fact, he continued to complain even after he left the series before the 2021 season while other drivers were defending it.

As longtime readers may recall, I had a lot of thoughts in October 2021 when Max announced that he wouldn’t return to the show for season four; I then had even more to say when that season aired in March of last year. The tl;dr of my diatribes: I had a feeling that Max, who loves to be in control of his fate and is used to being the center of attention (I don’t say that as a barb but merely a fact and product of him being a Golden Boy of Racing™ his entire life), would hate having to sit on the sidelines and have someone else tell his story. When season four came out, I think he saw what all of us did: A little Christian Horner goes a long way, and there was way too much of him last year as a result of Max not being present in confessionals or with the Netflix crew. Even if you’re Max, who sees Christian as an ally, it was A Lot™.

Personally, I’d love to know what sort of deal Max and his team struck with Netflix and Box to Box Films. I don’t think anyone — neither Max's superfans nor haters — believes that he came back solely out of selflessness and the goodness of his heart; I’m sure some negotiation was involved here. There has to be something in it for him in return, or else he simply wouldn’t do it.

It might end up paying off for Max and his team in the long run too: The moment I’m most interested in is how (or if) Netflix handles Max’s Radio Message Heard ‘Round the World from the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. It can’t be overstated how Bad™ that moment was for Max no matter the context, and perhaps his entourage — and Red Bull’s — feel a little better knowing they established some line of communication with producers. After all, it’s harder to make anyone a villain when they’re sitting across the table from you.

Of course, I remain curious about how long this tenuous reunion will last. This could become a recurring battle every year for as long as the show is churning out new seasons and episodes.

Podium Life Is…a Mess

You might’ve missed it if you’re not as connected to IndyCar stuff, but two-time IndyCar champ and one-half of Bus Bros Josef Newgarden spent most of January teasing a new editorial product called Podium Life. Josef promised a lot, saying that it would be a motorsport lifestyle magazine that “celebrates the unique world of speed.”

Seeing as I’ve been part of (and observed) plenty of media startups, I immediately perused the internet prior to Podium Life’s launch to see who was involved with the endeavor. At this point, I can tell if a media venture has any shot of making it based on how many leaders with actual experience in the space are on board. The name that immediately came up as a co-founder alongside Josef was…an Indianapolis-based marketing executive named Daniel Incandela, who has no direct editorial or similar media experience.

Podium Life ended up launching in late January, and while I try not to be too needlessly negative in EF, it’s unfortunate that it’s put me in a place where I have to be: This isn’t an all-encompassing “motorsport lifestyle magazine” but rather a Wordpress-looking blog that seems like something I created in the late aughts. With the exception of a few interviews, it’s entirely just posts naming motorsports-adjacent products and linking to places to buy them. (And PL doesn't even appear to use affiliate links?!?!?! That's Digital Marketing 101?!?!?!) I’m all for spotlighting some of the incredible motorsports-related businesses (especially indie ones!) and individuals who make this the vroom-vroom world great, but this is just…Not It™.

Much of the About page touts that the team are leaders with decades of marketing experience, but I know from having straddled both the media and marketing worlds professionally that these two are not synonymous. I don’t think it’s a bad or wrong thing that Josef & co. decided to make an e-commerce-focused marketing play, but I don’t really get what The Point™ is.

George Wants You to Be Aware of His Mental Health

It’s been an interesting off-season for the duo of George Russell and Carmen Montero Mundt. The pair have been galavanting around Europe on and off for the past few weeks, including randomly going to Sweden to drive Mercedes cars in the snow.

Carmen continues to be a goddess, but I want to focus on the other half of this equation: George. And more specifically, I’m ready to discuss George’s incredibly amorphous mental health initiative. 

At the end of the 2022 season, George announced that he wanted to create more open dialogue around mental health and teased that he’d take fans on a journey to show what he’s learned on the subject. He followed it up this month with a short interview and video for Men’s Health UK, where he said it was important for men to be open about their mental health and go to therapy.

I certainly don’t think more discussions about the intersections of mental health and masculinity are a bad thing, and I continue to admire that more Formula 1 drivers (and motorsports participants in general) are being open about the psychological and emotional tolls these lifestyles can take. However, similar to Josef Newgarden creating this disappointing Podium Life biz out of nowhere, George’s initiative feels half-baked and concocted among a bunch of Yes-People. He’s sporadically spreading awareness via occasional high-production videos…and nothing else so far?

For both his sake and all of ours, I hope that maybe there’s more to come once the 2023 season ramps up. I’m definitely rooting for him to turn this into something bigger, because this is such an important topic.

Formula 1 Is Doing Woman Things™ Again

All right, we’re back to discussing Woman Things™, because this sport is always trying to give me endless agita. All of these events transpired within the span of about two weeks, because no one in Formula 1 has any goddamn chill:

1. I don’t have too much to write about FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem since the man is no longer involved in day-to-day F1 operations as of this week. But for those who missed it, some interesting tidbits surfaced from an archived 2001 interview where he said that he did “not like women who think they are smarter than men.”

Of course, some people are arguing that the interview is over two decades old and that we’re all capable of evolving during that time; I think that’s true. Maybe he’s a little different now. I also think it’s true that it’s a little embarrassing to be a then-40-year-old man making those kinds of statements. Those two beliefs aren’t mutually exclusive!

2. More Than Equal, David Coulthard’s latest vanity initiative attempting to get more women into F1, finally did something seven months after launching: It put out a survey for two seconds about women in motorsports.

As a refresher, DC was part of the mess that was the W Series' management (plus he refused to entertain discourse about flawed aspects of the org) and also hasn’t publicly reckoned with his own history of sexist comments. So no, I’m not particularly interested in what he has to say on this matter, nor am I optimistic that he’s gonna magically solve the misogyny problem in Formula 1, motorsports, or society at large.

As I say with any initiative, I hope it works out so that everyone else gets to partake in a better world. But that doesn’t mean I’m waiting for this specific man to be our savior. Pass!

3. F1 began announcing the participants in its inaugural F1 Academy season via Instagram earlier this month, the first two being drivers Léna Bühler and Bianca Bustamante. I already wrote out all of the larger questions I’m asking myself as this series unfolds over the next few months, so I don’t have too much to add at this time. We’ll see what happens when the racing actually gets going and what all of this ~mentorship~ stuff looks like. Once again, say it with me: I’m skeptical but hopeful!

Let’s Talk About Livery Drops and Season Preview

It’s that time of year when I have to pretend to care deeply about ~what the cars look like~. (I don’t know? They’re…colorful capitalist mobiles? Or in the case of this year, everything has a whole lot of black?) I don’t really feel like recapping every single team’s pre-season livery and preview fuckery, but let’s discuss the three that fascinate me the most so far for different reasons: Red Bull, Mercedes and Williams.

“America, Why Are You So Obsessed With Me?” - Christian Horner

In a first for any F1 team (according to Christian Horner, a man known to love more than his share of hyperbole and who told A+ reporter Emily Selleck that he supported the F1 driver political statements ban...hmmmm), Red Bull launched its livery in the U.S., specifically in New York City. In keeping with what we were promised late last year, newly minted RBR reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo did the heavy lifting by going on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and doing a bunch of other press. Good for him earning that dough and RBR for getting use out of their main marketing personality on the team now.

Not to be outdone, Checo had a racing outing with comedian and late-night host Jimmy Fallon, a man who I’m pretty sure thought NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula 1 were all the same thing until this week. (Listen up, folks: I’m an unapologetic Jimmy Fallon hater. This man is a terrible interviewer!)

Also, in another interesting tidbit brought on by this tweet, it appears that Christian Horner said in an interview that there are 50 million F1 fans in America and 72% of them follow RBR. As we’ve already established, numbers have never been my strong suit, but this Horner quote makes me feel like the Math Lady meme.

Mercedes Hasn't Unveiled Its Car, But It Did Unveil…Mick

Danny Ric isn’t the only reserve driver getting star billing this season: Mick Schumacher is already a burgeoning Mercedes TikTok star (replacing Valtteri Bottas a year later) and general social media staple.

Mercedes realizes what Haas didn’t (or at least, couldn’t quite capitalize on): Mick is our lil’ nepo baby It Girl. He’s nice! He’s smart! He’s soft-spoken! He’s cute! If you brought him home to meet your family, he could play the role of sous chef, Dallas Cowboys hater, and beer pong buddy, whatever your parents, siblings, and extended family want! (To be clear: In addition to forever booing Maria Sharapova, my mom will also take any opportunity to shit on the Cowboys.) He’s the type of guy who’d watch The Bachelor with you and your roommate (he’d bring a bottle of red wine, of course) and follow the franchise’s subreddit even though the show went completely downhill three years ago and is a heaping pile of Sugar Bear Hair-infused beetle dung!

All this to say, Mick is Aware™ of the game in a similar way that Daniel Ricciardo is. He’s not here to sit on the sidelines as a reserve driver while he blends into the wallpaper. (His name isn’t Antonio Giovinazzi, after all!) No, he wants to capitalize on the current celebritization and celebrification of the larger F1 ecosystem. In a social media-driven, post-Drive to Survive era, Formula 1 people other than the drivers (like team principals, race engineers, and driver academy participants) can become recognizable and bankable stars in it of themselves.

Of course, this hasn’t always been the case with people like reserve drivers. Since I obviously haven’t been an F1 watcher forever and wanting to confirm my suspicion, I checked in with about 30 F1 fans who’ve followed the sport for anywhere between five and 40 years; the overwhelming consensus was that this celebritization/celebrification thing is a new-fangled phenomenon — and even within that, this 2023 season may be a big outlier. Time will tell, but I'm excited!

Williams Is Team Bisexual™

As longtime Engine Failure readers will recall, back in June I wrote about lovable bisexual rugby lad Nick Nelson from Alice Oseman’s beloved Heartstopper series. In Oseman’s follow-up novella Nick and Charlie, they casually mentioned that Nick loves Formula 1, which of course led to me writing a bazillion words surmising on this fictional character’s favorite F1 teams and drivers. In the end, I said Williams would be Nick’s team, and my hypothesis was simple: The current iteration of Williams gives off Bi Wife Energy™.

So of course, y’all know I was utterly tickled to see Williams debut its livery and its two 2023 drivers in low-grade bisexual lighting. Alex is really pulling off this “I look like a fuccboi but instead I’m a softy who loves his girlf and definitely thinks sitting at home with my family’s kittens is the definition of a good time” vibe.. Logan looked…well, Logan-y. But not bad! He didn’t try to fight the lighting, which I consider a win!

While we’re on the topic of Logan, I’d like us to collectively L-M-A-O at this graphic F1 posted on Instagram. One of my favorite things about Formula 1 is seeing how different countries stereotype one another, and I must say: It’s indeed very hilarious that Europeans think America can be summed up by the flag, the Statue of Liberty, and a bald eagle. But honestly, are they wrong? Like, how many U.S. postage stamps exist with this exact backdrop? I detect no lies! (Oh, and to go on an unnecessary aside about bald eagles: Did y’all know that those fuckers are two-and-a-half to three feet tall???? I didn’t find this out until adulthood! The American school system focused on teaching all of the wrong things, like parabolas and DBQs! What a scam!)

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As if all of those missives weren’t unhinged enough, I wanted to up the ante by intersecting Formula 1 with one of my all-time favorite pastimes: The Sims

I’ve played The Sims for almost 20 years and even got paid an outrageously large sum of money to write about adults reverting to playing it as self-care in the pandemic back in 2021. But of course, that doesn’t compare to bringing this ~content~ to all you in EF.

For those who didn’t know: On top of players getting to build their own Sims, the game comes with plenty of pre-made Sims to interact with. However, while any given game has dozens — if not hundreds — of these, a few have the distinction of appearing in multiple generations of Sims games. Some folks like the Goths are in all four current interactions of the game, while others appear in newer editions. (Also, if you want to really go down a bizarre rabbit hole, enjoy diving into this theory on Sims lore, including the alternate universe.)

Anyway, this may seem niche but let’s go through which Formula 1 drivers (past and present) I believe match up with the major Sims townies we’ve seen throughout iterations of the game: 

Don Lothario: I talked to five avid Sims-playing Formula 1 fans, and every single one (without any prompting) said something to the effect of, “Well, Fernando Alonso HAS to be Don Lothario.” I refuse to add a lick of zero commentary.

Bella Goth: Hot and mysterious with constant disappearances and lots of lore surrounding her? Forget the current grid, Bella Goth has to be none other than Kimi Räikkönen.

Mortimer Goth: Mortimer Goth has been around since day one of The Sims and is operating on a whole other frequency from the rest of the game. He is Father™. So, uh, Lewis.

Cassandra Goth: Cass is a doom ‘n’ gloom girly who aspires to be a musical genius, and in a weird way, I kinda have to go with Lando Norris for this one. I don’t know! He can seem a lil’ sad sometimes!

Alexander Goth: He’s a lil’ nerd during his iconic appearance in The Sims 2, so I’m gonna have to give this one to Nicholas Latifi even though he’s no longer on the grid.

Agnes Crumplebottom: Another OG Sim who deserves your respect despite her being kind of a hot-headed asshole sometimes!!!! She can also be a bit of a loner and loves books. Hear me out, because I mean this with respect: Max Verstappen.

Nancy Landgraab: An ambitious perfectionist who can be a biiiiit of a snob when left unchecked? George Russell.

Geoffrey Landgraab: Geoffrey is a bumbling rich guy who doesn’t actually have any control over what’s happening in his life. Hellooooooo, Lance Stroll.

Malcolm Landgraab: Is Maclolm evil or just misunderstood? Will he someday become more like his mom or his dad? The answer here is def Esteban Ocon.

Johnny Zest: Johnny is actually a member of the Landgraab family, but according to extremely complicated and super insider-y family lore, he was disowned for dropping out of school to become an entertainer. Tbh, I wouldn’t mind if Logan Sargeant brought some Johnny Zest energy to his 2023 season.

Katrina Caliente: The Caliente storylines throughout all of the different Sims games are fucking batshit, and I feel like Yuki Tsunoda would vibe well as the chaotic matriarch of the fam

Nina Caliente: Nina and Dina (below) are twins, though Nina’s traits when first introduced in The Sims 2 are more serious and shy. Charles Leclerc is a perfect Nina if you consider who his Dina is.

Dina Caliente: Dina is considered the more playful and outgoing of the twins, so this obviously has to be Pierre Gasly.

Liza Pancakes: Liza is a neat ‘n’ tidy perfectionist who often just sort of blends into the game, though I love the conspiracies that she’s secretly a mastermind underneath it all. Give it up for Mick Schumacher, my friends.

Bob Pancakes: A low-key L but thinks he’s still relevant. Sorry to Nico Hulkenberg.

Once again, Max Verstappen is taking over the PR deep dives section named for our favorite French string bean Esteban Ocon.

As y’all will recall from last season, I dove into how Max’s 10-second radio message in Brazil undid half a year’s worth of work that his team and RBR spent trying to build back up his reputation after the 2021 championship season wreaked havoc on it. I’ve wondered how the hell Max’s PR folks were going to start the long journey to getting him back on track again in 2023; surely they’d have to try something new.

So you can imagine my confusion, surprise, and then delight when all of a sudden I woke up to about a dozen DMs sneding me to a single TikTok video featuring sim racing streamer (and Formula 1 commentator) F1 Elly and Max Verstappen lip-syncing at the team’s livery launch.

To add more context: Elly is Red Bull Esports’ first-ever dedicated content creator, so part of her job is to make the brand look good. (Get that bread! Secure the bag! Etc.!) That’s honestly what makes this whole thing pretty genius from a PR perspective: Whoever at RBR greenlit this obviously understands the power that TikTok can have with fans and how it can be used as a tool to slowly tweak a driver’s image over time. In this short clip, Max looks fun and approachable — and he didn’t have to open his mouth to do it.

Plus, Ellie and Max had a fun exchange during an interview, and this is a smart extension of that canon. This also makes me curious if we’ll see Ellie and Max pairing up more throughout the season.

Huge news on the F1 fashion front: Zhou Guanyu, the grid’s resident Prada Prince, announced that he’s now a Dior ambassador. WHEW. So much power!!!! What does this mean for his work with Prada and other fashion houses? We don’t have a clear idea yet, but we’ll find that out when the fits ramp back up in early March, especially because we’ll be post-Fashion Week.

And you know who else is a massive Dior supporter? Lewis Hamilton, who went to Egypt for the first time in early December to attend the brand’s pre-fall collection show (where he partied with…bestie Naomi Campbell?). If a Zhou Guanyu x Lewis Hamilton Dior collab doesn’t come from this, I’ll be Very Upset™.

But that’s not all! There’s also word in the ether that Zhou inked an ambassador deal with Lululemon. Deets on this one are a bit harder to parse since it wasn’t widely reported in English-language media, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he wears this season.

Honestly, Zhou’s team must’ve been working overtime at the end of 2022, because he also announced a partnership with Hennessy, did an event with HSBC, and appeared in the Chinese edition of InStyle. (The fits all around continued to be immaculate as fuck.) I’m deeply invested — sartorially and emotionally — in Zhou this year, so let’s hope my love isn’t misplaced.
Oh, and let’s go back to Dior for a second, because I’ve previously explained how I feel about the Rule of Threes: You know who also might have some sort of partnership with the fashion house up her sleeve? None other than top-tier F1 WAG Carmen Montero Mundt. She’s still rockin’ her usual Tommy Hilfiger looks, but I’m not surprised that the Big D started paying attention. Are they the brand that’ll make the biggest fashion moves in 2023? I kind of hope so.
Lewis Hamilton had a chat with Jay Shetty. Former child actor Frankie Muniz is now a NASCAR driver. Let Andretti into Formula 1, damnit!!!! The best fictional racing tracks. A lil’ profile for Charles (in Italian). No petroleum, bitches! Saudi Arabia wants to become the center of the F1 universe. Enjoy this Q&A with Mr. Clean himself. Jamie Chadwick got the Vogue Mexico treatment. Nyck de Vries was taken to court??? Oh hey, look, Alex Albon is on GQ’s YouTube channel! And Pierre is on Vanity Fair France’s YouTube channel! And Lando Norris is on The Strategist and in GQ UK! IndyCar driver Rinus Veekay’s documentary is out tomorrow. Love some F1 embroidery. A helpful beginner’s guide to IndyCar. The Formula 1 teams that never quite made it. Lewis and Bono are besties forever. What happened when social media and F1 collided? GQ wants you to like the stars of Break Point.

Thank you to everyone who wrote into last issue’s Conspiracy Corner question: Charles Leclerc wants to spice up his dating life in 2023 and decides to become a contestant on The Bachelorette. Which week of the show does he make it to, why, and what leads to his elimination?

What delightful responses:

  • Erin: He would make it to hometowns but would be eliminated after that because we all know he chokes in front of the home crowd.

  • Manvi: Ferrari would probably fuck up his strategy again and make him enter the house in his banana suit, in which case he'd be out on day one.

  • Amy: He makes it to hometowns after dazzling the Bachelorette with his multilingual skills as they meander across Europe. In Monaco, they go on an ill-fated racing-themed day date — where the producers’ strategy goes awry when they accidentally bump into Lando Norris. The Bachelorette falls hard for Lando and breaks it off with all of her remaining men to pursue him. (It doesn’t last long, as she reveals on AtFR, her voice tinged with regret.) After the show airs, Charles invites his new besties from the show to the Monaco GP, while the Bachelorette “mysteriously” starts posting content from a ladies’ getaway in Nice — perhaps trying to win back Charles’ heart? Or to scoop up another driver? Tune in to the next season of Bachelor in Paradise, where Charles finally spills the tea…

  • Karen: Charles makes it to the first or second week after leaving the mansion. He gets a small but mighty amount of screen time during his run. He’s a massive fan favorite because…well, look at him. And the accent. He’s America’s sweetheart. They bring him back next summer for Bachelor in Paradise and he destroys his reputation immediately by being a nuclear grade fuckboy. [Editor's note: Ah, so he gets the Blake Horstmann edit.]

  • Leah: Instead of a traditional limo exit, Charles, of course, arrives in a race car. He further impresses the Bachelorette by serenading her with a Coldplay song on piano. The Bachelorette producers see an excellent opportunity to bring more "diversity" to the show by making Charles the next Bachelor (he's ~foreign~, he has ~an accent~), so they force the Bachelorette to send him home after hometowns. I'm sure Charles' Bachelor reign will end just as well as the last racing driver Bachelor, Arie Luyendyk!

  • Lilia: My guess is he makes it to the final four but is the crowd favorite. He makes it far because he is charming and the lead likes that he is ~different~. In the end, he sends himself home because he “needs to focus on his career and she deserves better.” The real reason? He realized that he didn’t like the lead all that much. Why the self reflection answer you may ask? Because that’s how all of his relationships end and he has to stay on brand.

  • Erin: Charles Leclerc does not know he is going on the Bachelorette; he thinks he’s making a weird media appearance. This is clearly a marketing ploy by Ferrari to further win over the American fan base by wielding their golden boy’s bumbling charm and good looks for ratings. Also, they want to distract Leclerc from the absolute dumpster fire that is their 2023 strategy. (Sainz would have been a much better Bachelorette contestant, but alas, he knows about the show and declined to participate, citing his girlfriend, self-respect, and the ever-iconic “stop inventing.”)

    That said, Leclerc only makes it to week two. After EASILY winning the first impression rose (HELLO, professional racing driver going up against “aspiring entrepreneur” and “works in real estate,” not even a competition) all of the other men, realizing the season is about to take a very Clare Crawley-esque turn, stage a coup. Committing a brutal character assassination on Leclerc, the other guys convince our leading lady that Leclerc is only on the show for the publicity (he is, he just doesn’t know it) and she tearfully sends him home mid-episode before the rose ceremony even starts. (This decision will haunt her for much of the season and lead to one of her frontrunners being sent home the week before hometowns once this plot comes to light, but Leclerc won’t be around to see it, sad.)

    This is ultimately a win for Ferrari, who quickly realized that the filming schedule for the show was going to have some major conflicts with the race schedule, and after failing to get the show to align all their international travel with the F1 calendar, they were trying to find ways to pull him out anyway. Leclerc is still very confused and very single.

  • Shannon: Well, assuming he is joining the cast of the U.S. Bachelorette,  his accent and overall looks will let him coast through the first night and probably the first full week with a small amount of tittering and at least one guy who watched DTS recognizing him even if the Bachelorette doesn't. But his charm and willingness to play nice with the producers makes him a solid candidate for a one-on-one date in week two or three and he has a great PTC (Personal Tragedy Card) to keep him in the game at least until the travel rounds where either he will struggle in somewhere like Cleveland or thrive somewhere like the Alps. But overall, we know Charles can put up with a fair amount of organizational BS, knows how to handle a lot of travel, isn't afraid of being goofy on camera, and is objectively nice to look at, so the ring is pretty much his for the taking.

  • Sarah: I've spent all week thinking of this. Charles makes it pretty far, enough to get a 1-on-1 date and reveal part of his emotional backstory. The Bachelorette falls for him, of course; he's a front runner. But due to his competitive nature, he gets injured in a sporty group date challenge. Because it may interfere with his career, he has to leave the season early (like Clay Harbor). The Bachelorette is heartbroken and she spends the rest of the season wondering what COULD have happened with Charles, the one who got away…

Today’s question: You suddenly find yourself in a post-apocalyptic world a la The Last of Us and have to go on a cross-country quest with a 2023 F1 driver to save humanity. Who would you least (LEAST!!!!) want to be stuck with on this journey and why?

Submit your answer here.

This issue was published on February 9, 2023. Photo credits: Shaun White, Lewis Hamilton, Nina Dobrev, WTF1, Netflix, CrossFit, Josef Newgarden, Podium Life, George Russell, Men's Health UK, F1 Academy, Alfa Romeo, Haas, Red Bull, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Mercedes, Williams, The Sims, F1Elly, Zhou Guanyu, and Carmen Montero Mundt.

Copyright © 2023 Engine Failure, All rights reserved.

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