THE CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMEDSenna production set the ball rolling, moving Formula One onto the silver screen after years of neglect by Hollywood, and winning award after award. It was the first pukka F1 movie produced in over 50 years – since Grand Prix hit the circuit in the Sixties, although others such as Bobby Deerfield did have an F1 setting – and many feared it would be the last for another five decades, so tightly does Bernard Ecclestone control F1’s intellectual property. The sport has all identified block-buster ingredients: the four Ds (drama, danger, death and destruction), human interest, scandal, high octane and even higher finance, exotic locations plus a fan base measured in hundreds of millions. Invictus did wonders for rugby, so surely F1 on celluloid is a safe bet – yet F1 productions are rarer than a Kimi Räikkönen smile.
Sure, the sport has only itself to blame for this peculiarity, for every time producers arrive in the paddock – Sylvester Stallone and George Lucas (Star Wars) are regulars, particularly in Monaco, which neatly coincides with the Cannes Film Festival that takes place 50 clicks to the west of the principality – they are greeted with suspicion and their overtures stymied. For proof, look no further than Stallone: in the early Nineties Rambo invested heavily in F1 movie rights only to discover he held little artistic freedom. He hurriedly switched his focus to Indycar to keep investors sweet, producing the lamentable Driven – its laughable script retrospectively advanced as reason for F1 going cold on Hollywood in the first place. Yet, those involved in the project vow the story line had legs, and that Stallone’s treatment by the paddock simply knocked the creative stuffing out of him.
Recently, though, it was emerged that Ron Howard (Da Vinci Code, Apollo 13) had commenced filming Rush, a feature film based on the 1976 rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Like all Howard’s productions, the attention to detail is said to be stunning, with recreations of Seventies F1 cars said to be so close to the real thing they have been pre-sold to museums. Location shots indicate Howard has not only captured the essence of that dramatic season – which saw Lauda suffer life-threatening burns at the Nürburgring before racing back into title contention, only to be pipped by the Briton in a washed-out finale – but the spirit of those gladiatorial times that claimed an average of one in five exponents every season.
Then came news that Bill Pohlad (Brokeback Mountain, Into the Wild) had agreed with Sir Jackie Stewart to produce a movie based on the triple champion’s relationship with Tyrrell team-mate Francois Cevert, who died on the eve of Stewart’s final race in 1973. Jackie had not only groomed the Frenchman as his successor, but viewed him as a little brother. ‘The relationship Francois and I had was probably unique in that we were such good friends while, at the same time, racing against each other, even though we were in the same team. This has been picked up by a very good film maker in Bill. He has worked with some big stars and is a friend of mine. I’ve known him since about 1971. He wants to do it, and we have agreed,’ Sir Jackie told topCar in Malaysia earlier this year.
The Scot is also involved in a remake of Weekend of a Champion, originally shot by Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Chinatown) during JYS’s victorious 1971 Monaco weekend. The remake will be co-produced by Polanski, with Jackie’s film-making son Mark working alongside the Franco-Pole. Footage of the original is available on Youtube.
During the Canadian Grand Prix weekend it was revealed that Michael Taylor (The Tudors) was planning a docu-drama series on the life of the legendary Gilles Villeneuve, who was living in a dilapidated motorhome parked on the back of his parents’ property with wife Joann and son Jacques (1997 world champion) when the call came offering him a Ferrari contract. In the words of Taylor, the life of the Villeneuves has all the ingredients – rag-to-riches, from poor boy to Ferrari legend, moving from a Canadian rural village to Monaco, betrayal by a team-mate (Didier Pironi), death and cult status – all while being a superb father who travelled the world with his family. Plus Jacques carried the family flame, achieving what was denied Gilles through fate – the world championship.
Although Rush and the Stewart/Cevert movies are very much aimed at the big screen and the Weekend remake and Villeneuve story are tailored more to television, DVD/BluRay versions of all four productions will surely soon be available – a perfect way for F1 fans to mainline during the off-season. Why, though, this extraordinary situation when the last 50 years saw just one F1 movie worth watching? It cannot be coincidental that all four were announced within months of Senna taking seven awards, including BAFTAs and the Sundance Festival, nor can it be coincidental that the quartet is set in the Seventies and early Eighties – the period prior to Ecclestone getting his paws on F1’s copyright.
Yes, Senna comprises purely Formula One management footage – at the première, producer Manesh Panday spoke of protracted negotiations before Ecclestone opened the vaults – but Howard, Pohlad, Polanski/Stewart and Taylor have no need to advise F1’s tsar of their intentions, nor even to part with rights’ fees. There’s a moral lurking in there somewhere, Bernie…