Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: Brawn GP Docuseries, Keanu Reeves Deliver

Been a while since we’ve had a racing miniseries!

Admittedly, I failed in my task of checking out Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story late last year upon its release. The four-episode documentary event premiered in conjunction with the Disney+/ESPN+/Hulu conglomerate last year (on Hulu for me, if anyone cares), and I got about halfway through. The end of November was chaotic with catching up with movies like Napoleon and Godzilla Minus One, and I (for some reason) stopped.

So I finally picked it back up a couple weeks back and watched it over the course of NASCAR’s Talladega Superspeedway race weekend (but of course was locked into the ‘Dega spectacle while that was going on). Brawn covers Brawn GP, a small Formula 1 team that shocked the world by winning championships for driver and constructor in 2009.

See also
F1 Midweek: 30 Years Later, Ayrton Senna Continues to Transcend F1

This ties into Reel Racing twofold: On one level, it’s obviously a docuseries about racing; on another, Terminator Salvation graced the rear wing of the cars at one point that season due to the varied sponsorships they brought on board to help keep the team afloat.

I think one of the things that make this series work, but could easily go either way, is Keanu Reeves’ enthusiasm. The John Wick and Speed star serves as host and somewhat of a narrator, interviewing all of the guests and personalities while exuding nothing but enthusiasm for the subject at hand. He’s gesticulating wildly, cussing left and right, putting himself in the scenarios they’re talking about … that man is a national treasure and needs to be protected at all costs.

That’s easily an element that could turn a viewer on or off, but I think it really works. Equally enthralling is the actual subject of the documentary, Brawn GP. After Honda’s team pulled its wares from the F1 grid thanks to the stock market crash and other issues, former Ferrari shot-caller and Honda team principal Ross Brawn fronted a buyout that formed what became the team that bore his name.

The most important thing is just how many players of the sport are interviewed here:

  • Brawn GP drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello
  • Brawn GP staffers, from its team principal down to the fueling pit crew member
  • Rival team principals, including Christian Horner
  • Other drivers on the grid, including Felipe Massa and Mark Webber
  • Personalities of the sport, among them Martin Brundle

Via the amount of interviews and the sheer content within them, we pretty much get an entire picture painted of just how unlikely Brawn’s run to the title was. We viewers at home see the garbage-quality cell phone video from late 2008 or early 2009, when the team tested for the first time. It looks like it was shot on a potato, but once we cut to Button’s reactions and a big, s–t-eating grin on his face, we understand exactly how much the car’s initial speed blew them away.

The documentary does a phenomenal job of balancing both Button and Barrichello, too. Button had had a couple up-and-down seasons and doubt surrounded him, to some degree, while Barrichello had previously been at Ferrari and played constant second fiddle to Michael Schumacher. We find ourselves rooting for one or the other, or both, constantly. Button’s connection with his dad is highlighted, while Barrichello finally had an opportunity at a title thanks to finally getting out of Schumacher’s shadow — and damn near did it.

There are even conversations with people like Richard Branson, whose Virgin Group branding graced the Brawn cars for a time in 2009. We get some time with Massa, too: Barrichello, his fellow Brazilian, lost a spring at the Hungaroring that hit Massa. It nearly killed him, smashing into his helmet and knocking him unconscious en route to a high-speed collision into a barrier. There’s no ill will there, of course, but the impact that inadvertently injuring a fellow countryman had on Barrichello was evident.

Honestly, my favorite line comes from Barrichello, when he says he’d rather win his home Grand Prix than a championship. Sure, a season’s-end title is always an insanely huge accomplishment no matter the sport, but for a single race to hold so much weight for these guys is fascinating to hear.

And, obviously, we know the end result: Brawn GP won both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in an insanely unlikely run that season. But the journey there is worth the payoff we know is coming.

I won’t lie, I kind of hope this somehow happens again soon. The domination of Mercedes and Red Bull over the past 15 years or so is nothing short of impressive, but let’s get an underdog in there.

And have Keanu narrate the documentary 15 years down the road.

Follow @adamncheek

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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