Tag Archives: niki lauda

Hollywood’s rush to the racetrack

Niki Lauda at Watkins Glen 1976

Can Ron Howard's Rush do the 1976 Grand Prix year justice? (Steve1828)

So motorsport is the current topic du jour in cinematic circles. Three documentaries are currently stoking tinsel town’s interest; Senna has been a global hit, TT Closer to the Edge was a stunning insight into the mortally dangerous side of racing and the Moto GP movie sequel Fastest is opening tonight in London. Meanwhile both Ron Howard and Michael Mann are dipping into the history of the sport for their latest projects. Good times.

Of course we with petrol in our veins have long known of the allure and inherent drama of racing. I distinctly remember sitting with my parents as Ayrton Senna delivered his monologue after the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix and declaring that it was as if we were watching a movie. Little did I know that it would become a part of one. Hollywood hasn’t always done the sport justice; Grand Prix looked and sounded the business but lacked the script it deserved while Sylvester Stallone’s Driven was pure drivel. The recent spate of racing documentaries, including a quartet on the small screen courtesy of the BBC, has quenched the thirst for racing stories but now it is time for the auteurs to fictionalise some of the greatest battles from the annuls of motorsport.

First up will be Rush, Ron Howard’s movie based on the 1976 Grand Prix season. As a topic I could barely imagine a better one. The set up? The first of many edgy championships contested between Mclaren and Ferrari, the battle was as much a clash of ideologies as it was a sporting contest. James Hunt the playboy taking on Niki Lauda the savvy professional, the earnest Brits taking on the passionate Italians. The confrontation? A championship that appeared to be going the way of the red team was shattered by Niki Lauda’s horror crash that signaled the end of Grand Prix around the Nordschleife. The resolution? Lauda’s heroic comeback, Hunt’s memorable championship. Sorry for the spoiler, but there is your three acts – and what a movie it will make.

Rush is due to be an independent film, albeit one with a healthy budget and a heavyweight director. Nonetheless it may mean that Ron Howard and company will be mooching around looking for distribution as the cameras roll which is not something he is used to. Howard has made the odd trip to a modern Formula One race for research which is about as useful as a fact-finding mission to a modern day Afghanistan when attempting to write a war movie set 50 years ago. It is more likely that this was a courtesy call on Bernie Ecclestone who is clearly backing the movie as the first in-depth interview with Ron Howard about Rush was a feature on the Formula One website. His stash of historic Grand Prix machines will come in handy too. This endorsement shouldn’t be taken lightly – Ecclestone not only rebuffed Stallone in the 1990s, he also rejected David Cronenberg’s Grand Prix movie that was due to film in the late 1980s after the director was inspired by the brilliant 1986 season.

Last week the first shots were filmed on Rush, although these were merely tests for the shoot proper. This involved the Nurburgring and some historic cars which will have been a fun day out for all, including British Touring Car’s rising star Rob Austin who tweeted that he was a part of the crew. Let’s hope Plato and Neal aren’t the other drivers, I don’t remember Hunt and Lauda giving each other the finger or moaning about turbos, although Hunt the Shunt was known to throw a punch in his early days…

On writing duty is Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan while the driving seats will be occupied by Thor star Chris Hemsworth and promising German actor Daniel Bruhl. Both exhibit a reasonable likeness for their characters, so that is reassuring. Ron Howard is adept at masculine emotion and has proven his salt by tackling real-life tales with no more embellishment than is needed.

I’m hoping that they look closely into James Hunt’s story, he fascinates me more than most racers. You often picture the hairy, lairy 1970s Formula One driver as being fearless but Hunt was not. While being the arch-party animal he was a man who would throw-up immediately before every race and quit the sport abruptly in the middle of the 1979 Monaco Grand Prix. Unlike the Mclaren drivers of today, Hunt was permitted to meet the great and the good in t-shirt, jeans and not-uncommonly barefoot. We are all unique, some of us just break out of the mould a little more than others. A movie about James Hunt was touted by Dreamworks earlier this year, but Rush has beaten them to the punch so it is doubtful we’ll ever see the English world champ’s very full life told in its entirety on celluloid.

Meanwhile there is Michael Mann’s Go Like Hell which was originally rumoured to be a movie for 20th Century Fox but could now appear as a drama series for TV. Sharing its name with AJ Baime’s book about Ford and Ferrari’s high-stakes duel at Le Mans in 1966, Go Like Hell could be quite a treat if and when it appears. Mann has long looked at filming a motorsport movie, his name has been linked with an Enzo Ferrari picture for years now. Let us hope that it gets the green light soon.


Filed under F1, Moto GP, Sports Cars

In the hot seat


Fancy a go at this? Hirvonen won in his Fiesta, but the star turn of Sweden came from a complete novice. (pic by Ford Europe)

On to happier matters. The new for 2011 World Rally Championship started its hopefully bright future on the gleaming white snow of Sweden last week. The big story was an incredibly tight final day that saw five drivers duking it out for the first victory of the new era, with Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen taking top spot, although the story that caught my eye was about a surprise interloper in this lead scrap – a chap called Chris Patterson.


The British interloper was thrust into the limelight at the end of the rally after Petter Solberg was caught speeding by the cops. A rally driver speeding, who’d have thunk it?


If you break the limit in Sweden you serve a driving ban that starts 48 hours after the offence, which seems like a pretty strong deterrent for the speedy. This fascinating forfeit for the fast left the former World Rally Champ and all-round nice guy with no choice but to hand the keys of his brand new Citroen over to his co-driver Chris Patterson. More used to looking into his lap than out of the windscreen, the raw rookie found himself needing to hold onto fifth over the final stage with non other than 7 million time champion Sebastian Loeb chasing them down. You can see Chris’ first experience of the driving seat here. It looks like a sterling job with only a little interference from his somewhat over-qualified driving instructor, just look how chuffed he is at the end of the stage!


This magic moment brings to mind Bernie Ecclestone in his Brabham days when he reputedly sent a message out on the PA system in Montreal back in 1980 asking if there was anybody in the stands who fancied being an F1 driver after Niki Lauda declared he was “tired of driving in circles”. Argentine driver Ricardo Zunino popped up and gladly took the seat, although it seems unlikely the reality of his appointment was quite so Hollywood. Zunino, a competent hand in F2, was already on Ecclestone’s radar and the ringmaster has always enjoyed a good story, but who are we to ruin such a charming tale?


A little more successful as an impromptu stand-in was John Boland. An Irish politician, he went to spectate at the Olympics revival in Athens in 1896 and came home with two gold medals. Unbeknownst to Boland his friend had entered him into the tennis competition where he excelled

by winning the gold in both the singles and doubles at the first modern Olympic Games. He never played competitive tennis again, it wasn’t going to get any better than that. Boland went back to politics, his Olympic golds becoming the world’s best ever holiday souvenirs.


The professionalism of sport today makes this about as likely to be repeated as the pilot on your Easyjet flight inviting you to land the plane yourself so he can take some time off and join the mile high club. The Solberg-Patterson car pool is about as close as we’ll see in motorsport to ‘one of us’ being thrust into the spotlight; Renault won’t even let its band of merry reserve drivers loose in its Grand Prix car, so we won’t be seeing Bernie asking the spectators to have a crack at driving any time soon.

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Filed under F1, Rally