On the edge of speed

Ron Howard's 'Rush' is a reminder that Formula 1 may have changed, but it hasn't lost its daring — or its heated politics.

For a film about, as one character puts it, two men "driving around and around in circles" extremely fast, Rush director Ron Howard succeeds in doing right by a world that has proved remarkably difficult to project on celluloid. Set in the high-drama citadel of the self-proclaimed pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1, Rush charts the career-defining rivalry between two real-life racing drivers, Brit-come-good James Hunt and icy Teutonic genius Niki Lauda. The film largely takes place over the course of the battle for the 1976 World Drivers' Championship, where Hunt and Lauda — and their different racing philosophies — clash on track and off. Hunt is the archetypal F1 driver — a charming and charismatic playboy — while Lauda is the brusque perfectionist everyone loves to hate.

Howard found a story tailormade for Hollywood in the Hunt and Lauda rivalry, but that was hardly an exception — there have been plenty of other scintillating and cinematic rivalries through F1's postwar existence, like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna's, or Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher's, to name but two of the more recent. Indeed, with the permanent reminder of mortality curling at the edges of every race, the combination of high technology and low politics, and the sport's glamorous and globetrotting image, F1 would appear to be an ideal hunting ground for future Hollywood blockbusters. Yet, perhaps as a result of never attracting an American audience, which evidently prefers the orchestrated delights of NASCAR and IndyCar, only a handful of films on F1 have ever been made. Even fewer have been any good.

Before Rush, the most recent big feature film in which F1 made an appearance was Iron Man 2, with a big showdown between hero and villain taking place at the Monaco GP. Obviously, the race played handmaiden to the confrontation between two men in metal suits, but the movie also mocked basic F1 rules and its uber-competitive nature when it put billionaire playboy Tony Stark in an F1 car, who surely had enough on his plate between superhero duties and running a company to not be able to keep a superlicence.

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