Why F1 is a perfect sport for cinema

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Rush, Senna and upcoming documentary 1 show Formula One to be one of the few sports perfectly suited for film.

A new era of Formula One movies began in 2010 with the internationally acclaimed Senna. Asif Kapadia’s documentary reminded the world of a racing genius, but also highlighted the former realities of the sport. Those used to watching drivers walk away from enormous accidents were in for a shock: Senna and Roland Ratzenberger’s fatal crashes at Imola 1994 were beamed onto the big screen, as was Martin Donnelly’s bone shattering accident at Jerez in 1990. After its success, Hollywood got in on the act, the end result being Ron Howard’s Rush.

Formula One is inherently cinematic – its rich and dramatic history provides potential for riveting cinema

Currently showing in cinemas, Rush centres on the 1976 World Championship battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, during which the latter suffered an appalling accident at the Nurburgring. Essentially, the film acts as a portrait of a sport much removed from the safety obsessed F1 of 2013. The two films have been big hits, indicating filmgoers have a new lust for motorsport and/or danger. This is being catered for further by Paul Crowder’s upcoming documentary 1, which actively highlights the horrors once faced by drivers. Is it this reminder of former dangers which has captivated the viewers? At the very least, 1 will bring home the harsh reality of the era. It will also likely build on F1’s cinema success.

F1 does have a history in film: 1966’s Grand Prix, Roman Polanski’s Weekend of a Champion (1971), and 1977’s The Quick and The Dead represent an era of danger and risk taking. What is also obvious is the sport is inherently cinematic. Just one visit to a racetrack to experience the sound, atmosphere, and speed of Grand Prix racing is enough to confirm it. Modern production values mean the spectacle can be portrayed vividly on the big screen, but add to this the rich and dramatic history of Formula One, and you have the potential for riveting cinema.

senna doc

Those unfamiliar with the sport may wonder if the dangers are being exaggerated. Here are the unfortunate facts: The 60s saw 15 deaths (in championship and non-championship races), as well as the loss of Jim Clark in an F2 event. The 1970s began with the sport’s only posthumous World Champion, Austrian Jochen Rindt, whilst British hopeful Piers Courage also died in a terrible fiery crash. Over the following seasons, the fatalities only continued. As legendary commentator Murray Walker put it, “Safety was a sick joke, there wasn’t any safety. The drivers were driving what were essentially mobile petrol bombs”.

Morbid curiosity plays its part, but F1 can also gift film with copious great heroes

Why would anyone want to watch this tumultuous mayhem at cinemas? Morbid curiosity plays its part, but the 60s and 70s were also a spectacular time in F1 history. The circuits were extraordinary (the old Nurburgring was 14 miles long), the drivers were daring, and the sport was less corporate. As many of the men featured in 1 are sadly no longer with us, the documentary offers the chance for those who did survive to explain their mindset. It will be a chance for viewers to step into this strange world where danger lurked around every corner, and where triumph and tragedy went hand in hand.

Films also need great heroes, and Formula One has gifted the world copious amounts of them. Their commitment and bravery endears them past the sporting arena and into the world of movie fans, where their on-track exploits can be enjoyed through the cinema screen. The viewer can sit and enjoy the drama. They can be amazed by it. Then they can move on, safe in the knowledge Formula One has too.


Featured image: StudioCanal

Inset image: Universal

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