Hands up if you don’t really care about motorsports. The fact that even you will like Le Mans: Racing Is Everything is a sign of how good it is.
Amazon Studios has found strong success with its niche documentaries, following the Emmy win for its NFL series, All or Nothing. Now, hot on the heels of buying a docu-series about The Grateful Dead (Long Strange Trip – available now), Amazon Prime Video is entering the world of racing for more non-fiction telly. The race in question? Le Mans.
It’s a smart choice: the race is one of a kind: a 24-hour non-stop rush to the finishing line in its eponymous French city. A test of endurance and focus that makes even the long-winded races of regular Formula 1 look short, it’s called the “Mount Everest of motorsports” for good reason.
Dating all the way back to the 1920s, there’s a whole heap of history to be explored over almost a century of intense driving – indeed, a highlight of The Grand Tour’s first season was James May delving into the archives to chart Ferrari and Ford’s battle to dominate the contest in the 1960s. Amazon’s new series manages to capture some of that legacy, including the occasional tragic loss of lives, but it mostly focuses on the 2015 race, which saw Mark Webber making one of his many attempts to cross the line first.
The result is a six-episode tour through the event, breaking it down into the dramatic twists and turns that unfold along the way. Director James Erskine cuts that footage with fresh commentary and vox pops (including from the now-retired Webber), while also inserting relevant historical tangents to match the contemporary action. That largely chronological retelling fuels a momentum that becomes more compelling the more you stick with the series, largely because the documentary does such a good job of communicating the frustration and efforts of each driver just to keep going.
“Winning is so sweet,” observes one, “because you spend most of your time losing.” And what soon becomes apparent is that there are many ways to lose, from brutal crashes and technical failures to unfair refereeing decisions – Webber has to sit out a stretch of the race as a penalty for something done to his teammate, while we get a glimpse of Sebastien Buemi’s cruel near-victory in 2016, which saw him lead the race all the way through until the very final stretch… when his Toyota broke down metres from the finish.
The latter deserves a full series in its own right, but Racing Is Everything’s first season makes up for any lack of depth elsewhere with its sheer access to every aspect of the race. From the people in the pit to those watching endless streams of numbers on the screen, there’s a tangible sense of the stakes involved for each member of each team – and a gripping immediacy to the way that, for example, Episode 4 captures the opportunities and risks of the race’s pitch-black nighttime segment. There’s an interesting subplot about the future of Le Mans and motorsports, as Nissan bank their money on Jann Mardenborough, a young British driver whose experience comes solely from playing video games, but again, for every avenue you Le Mans drove drown, the series benefits by stripping out any spare parts to keep things streamlined and speedy. At its heart, this is all about simply watching an epic, insane race unfold. With 4K visuals and a runtime of only 23 minutes per episode, the result is an easy, satisfying watch for petrolheads, and an accessible, engaging dip into the world of motorsports for those who don’t know their spoilers from their spanners.
Le Mans: Racing Is Everything is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.