Netflix's clout when it comes to sports documentaries is such that the producers of the hit original Formula 1 series Drive to Survive were recently forced to deny that last year's nail-biting Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Championship fallout and of course the infamous line "Toto, its called a motor race", had not, in fact, been deliberately engineered by the show to maximise entertainment.
Despite the criticism levelled at Drive to Survive by the likes of Red Bull driver and current champion Max Verstappen (who doesn't give any interviews in the new series) as well as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, the unprecedented behind the scenes access and thrilling race footage makes the show a must-see for longtime F1 fans and newcomers alike.
Season 4 of Drive to Survive is available to stream in its entirety from today, but whether you're reeling from bingeing it all in one go or are rationing episodes until the first race meet next week, Netflix has plenty more high calibre sports documentaries to take your mind off pre-season testing and sidepods (or lack thereof). No matter what you're in the mood for, be it an against-all-odds underdog story or a biography of a sporting legend, Netflix has you covered.
These selections are based on Netflix's UK and US offerings, but if you're stuck in a different territory and need to unlock your own country's streaming selection, remember you can use a VPN (many of which offer a free trial). Now let's get into those Netflix recommendations...
Want more? Check out our round-up of the best music-related documentaries, films and TV shows on Netflix.
Locker room pep talks litter many a Netflix drama and sports documentary, but you’ve never heard one quite like the opening scene of Audible. The Orioles are two touchdowns behind the opposition and facing losing their 42-game winning streak. Some players try to hide their frustration, while others are openly despondent. But collectively they urge each other to keep pushing, it’s many of the players' final semester, and they don’t want their time on the team to be defined by failure.
Hailing from Frederick, Maryland, the Orioles are part of America’s championship high school football league, playing teams from across the country and representing their school, Maryland School for the Deaf. Everyone on the pitch – the players, cheerleaders and coaches – communicates only through American Sign Language, the referee's whistle replaced with a bass drum.
Audible is bookended by two crucial games and includes evocative sequences of sunrise drills and twilight practices. However, the film also concentrates on the lives and struggles of these young athletes as they boldly navigate high school, familial tensions, relationships and tragedy.
An Oscar nominee for best documentary short, Audible runs at only 38 minutes, and you get the feeling that there is a compelling story here that could easily fill a full-length feature or docu-series. But distilled as it is, it offers a striking and immersive introduction to a sporting world unknown to most people.
Also try: Another of Netflix’s own productions, Last Chance U is a story of young athletes taking their shot at redemption after personal struggles have led to them dropping out of top division college football. You'll find yourself equally rooting for the athletes attempting to realise their dreams and teachers and coaches who have given their lives to help provide this last chance.
Sunderland 'Til I Die
Two seasons of a behind-the-scenes football club underdog story docudrama that inspired Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney to buy Wrexham A.F.C.? Don't mind if we do!
A real-life Ted Lasso, Sunderland 'til I Die is a compelling insight into the pitfalls of the football business if you happen not to be one of the top clubs. The series follows Sunderland A.F.C, newly relegated from the top division, in what was intended to be a triumphant return to the Premier League.
But – spoiler alert – who could have guessed that, in fact, our hapless heroes would end up going the other way, and into third-tier ignominy? Well, pretty much no one – which only adds to the drama.
It's a glossy production with graphics that provide context for each match, tightly edited game footage and a slick sound design. However, the show never loses its focus that this is a very human story, with back-room staff, fans and players all hugely affected by what happens on the pitch. With euphoric highs and gut-punching lows, you don't need to be a fan or oblivious to the show's outcome to get swept along in the tension and emotion.
Also try: An old fashioned story of a sporting individual battling against the odds – except that the individual in question is a horse – Dark Horse has plenty of guts and glory to delight viewers. This irresistible documentary follows a barmaid in a Welsh mining village as she convinces some of her fellow residents to pool their resources to buy and breed racehorses.
While Formula 1 might be experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to Drive to Survive, this Netflix original documentary celebrating the career of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher provides valuable context to the sport for its new generation of fans as well as plenty of racing nostalgia for those who were there first.
Schumacher charts the career of, arguably, F1’s biggest star, from his first race for the Jordan team in 1991 to Benetton, where he won two world titles, through to his not always easy tenure at Ferrari, which gave the Tifosi their first world championship in 21 years.
Despite withdrawing from public view since sustaining life-changing injuries in a 2013 ski accident, Michael’s presence is still felt throughout this often moving documentary, with archive footage sitting alongside contemporary interviews with friends, family, rivals and mentees building an honest, if not wholly revealing, portrait of this singularly competitive driver.
Made with the cooperation of Michael’s family, Schumacher offers fans an intimate, unflinching glimpse of the man behind the legend.
Also try: It's not a documentary but Rush, which focuses on the 1970s Formula 1 rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, does not require you to be remotely interested in cars to entertain. Racing does, of course, feature heavily and forms many of the film’s most exhilarating scenes, but the juxtaposition of the drivers’ characters and lifestyles – portrayed brilliantly and comically by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brül – is as captivating as their actions on the track, if not more so.
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