In theory Formula One is a great sport. In theory. It’s one of the few that combines technology with the ability of the sportsperson. As such the best drivers are not just able to steer a car around the track but also have to work with their team to understand how to set it up and get the best from it.
However, for me at least, it can be quite a frustrating sport to watch. You have to memorise each car’s colours and numbers to remember who’s who. There’s also a frustration as television coverage cuts from driver to driver so that I never really feel as though I have a full handle on each race. I know it’s a sport that people who are really into find very rewarding. However, if you’re not willing to invest that time, it’s difficult to be merely a casual fan.
Of course another attraction of the sport is the personality of the drivers. It takes a certain arrogance to go round the track and hundreds of miles an hour every other week and believe you will come out unscathed. Humility is not often a trait associated with drivers in Formula One, and spats between them are as common in the sport as punctured tyres. (cf. Webber versus Vettel or Hamilton versus Alonso in recent years)
Rush, the latest film from Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon), tells the story of one of these rivalries. James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a man known for his wild behaviour on and off the track. He drinks, he smokes and he sleeps with as many ladies as possible. In 1976 he finally gets the chance to drive in a car capable of winning the championship. Standing in his way is reigning champion, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). He is chalk to Hunt’s cheese. Where as Hunt is instinctive and wild, Lauda is driven, methodical and mainly keeps to himself.
The film mainly deals with the story of the 1976 championship as both drivers push one another to the edge in a sport where the smallest of misjudgements can be fatal.
In some ways it is surprising Formula One has never had the Hollywood treatment before. The combination of brash personalities, high-speed chases and life-threatening scenarios seems like the bread-and-butter of any good blockbuster.
Also, unlike watching an actual Formula One race, when the sport is boiled down to a rivalry between two of the drivers it is much easier to follow and understand. The edited highlights of the season and the specific incidents that matter bring out the most entertaining features the sport has to offer.
Of course, watching stunt men drive round in formula one cars does not a great movie make; it’s what happens in between that really matters. So as the two drivers continue to battle one another on and off the track , we soon realise that their rivalry is what comes to define them.
This idea of rivals or enemies mattering more than our friends is the key theme of the film, and the following lyrics from the U2 track “Cedars of Lebanon” would have fitted in seamlessly as dialogue in the film:
Choose your enemies carefully, ’cause they will define you
Make them interesting ’cause in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friends
For better or worse the rivalry between Hunt and Lauder has defined them. Whether it made them better or worse as people and drivers is something it is left to the viewer to decide.
Overall Rush is a film that’s very easy to recommend to Formula One fans and non-fans alike. It’s got a great mix of entertainment, characters and themes, and carries if off with an effortlessness most other blockbusters can only dream of.