Netflix doco revs up the F1 Australian Grand Prix crowd

TND reporter Sezen Bakan gives her account of the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix on Friday, attending as a first-timer. 

Melbourne is known as the country’s sporting capital, and if this year’s Formula One Australian Grand Prix is anything to go by, the city won’t be giving up the title any time soon.

As former world tennis No. 4 Jelena Dokic reminds me on Friday at Albert Park, Melbourne is the only city in the world that is home to both a tennis Grand Slam and an F1 Grand Prix.

“It’s amazing to be a part of it because you can really feel like everyone comes together, everyone loves the sport, just like the tennis,” she tells me from the Mercedes-AMG Lounge.

“From a physicality aspect and a psychological as well, [tennis and F1] are absolutely two different sports, but you still have to be at the top of your game.

“[F1 is] a sport where … [the drivers] put their lives on the line every single time they go into the car, which is absolutely amazing.”

Jelena Dokic says she is a long-time F1 fan. Photo: TND

Mixed signals

For an F1 first-timer, the scale of the event was a bit intimidating, and different to what I imagined.

Rather than solely a sporting event, it feels like a mix between a race, a convention and a family-friendly festival.

There’s the ‘Innovation Hub’, a large area hosting educational presentations and awash with tents promoting everything from environmentally-friendly technology to STEM education for Indigenous people.

On the other side of Albert Park Lake, a Ferris Wheel and a bunch of activities targeted at wearing out kids provides some relief for parents.

But in the background, the near-constant sound of revving engines reminds you what’s really the star of the show.

The Netflix effect

Following the noise towards the track to see what all the fuss is about, it’s impossible not to notice the sheer number of people there to do the same – along with the diversity of the crowds.

From what several attendees tell me, this is thanks to Netflix and its ongoing documentary series Formula 1: Drive to Survive.

Melbourne-based Natalie’s introduction to F1 came when she attended her first Australian Grand Prix in 2012 with her father; but her friend Sarah admits she’s a “Drive to Survive girlie”.

Natalie says since the documentary began airing, there has been a noticeable rise in female fans.

“It’s actually a lot crazier than the past couple of years,” Natalie says.

“Yesterday was full-on packed, and I’ve never seen a Thursday like that because there’s no F1 here.

“Today is hectic, so I’m assuming Drive to Survive has a lot to do with it, but it’s cool. I like that people are getting into [F1] … it’s more people I can talk to about it.”

Thousands of fans descended on Albert Park to catch a glimpse of their favourite drivers on Friday. Photo Getty

For Dean, this is his first grand prix in a few years; a significant break for a former regular attendee.

He attributes his years’-long absence from Albert Park to dissatisfaction with a lack of entertainment options, but says this year appears to be looking up.

“[The scale of the event] just increased dramatically,” he says.

“There’s more to do, more to see. It’s definitely better.

“It sort of lost its way a little bit, the crowds were going down and it wasn’t promoted enough. Now this whole Netflix thing has changed it virtually overnight, and a lot of people [are] coming who never came before.”

But there is a bit of a downside to the popularity boost provided by Drive to Survive.

Last year the FI Australian Grand Prix had a record-breaking attendance of about 444,631 people; this year seems to be shaping up to attract similar crowds.

This means tickets are a lot harder to come by.

Chris, lounging on the grass by the track on Friday during the practice rounds with his wife and young children, says he used to be able to turn up on the morning of race day and get a ticket at the gate.

But since the documentary series began airing, that’s all changed.

“I wanted to come to the race this year, but missed out on tickets unfortunately, because it’s so popular.”

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