Maybe you have heard about this, too. Peter Morgan, an Englishman who wrote the screenplays for big movies like The Last King of Scotland, The Queen and Frost/Nixon, is said to be interested in making a movie about the 1976 Formula One season. In fact, it seems the script is done already.
Now, for those of you who were not watching F1 back then (be it because of lack of interest or because you were not born yet), that was the season in which Niki Lauda had his life-threatening accident, and in which the last real F1 playboy, James Hunt, won the championship. Major factors in that win were the two races Lauda missed after his accident, as well as the Austrian’s retirement at the last race of the year in Japan, due to catastrophic weather conditions.
So this is my first question mark about the movie. In every major Hollywood motion picture, the public wants to see the underdog win, the guy who had to fight to even be there. In this case, it’s pretty clear the guy who comes from behind is Lauda, even if he was the reigning World Champion, driving a Ferrari, and his rival looks more the part of the young lead. And had the Nürburgring accident not happened, Hunt would certainly have been cast in the role of the young hopeful (although he was older then Lauda by 2 years). But then he wouldn’t have won the championship, being 25 points behind Lauda at that point of the championship.
Nevertheless, nothing makes an impression in the hearts of the public as having a horrific accident, being in a coma and given extreme unction, and then coming back after only 6 weeks to race Formula One again, despite many injuries being far from healed. Now we would have had the perfect scenario had Lauda managed to keep his lead by heroically winning the last race, or at least being in front of his competitor. Unfortunately (for Hollywood) that didn’t happen, Lauda realized that his life was worth more to him than another title and retired from the race on Fuji circuit, effectively handing over the championship to Hunt. Just as an aside here, it has to be noted that Lauda was not lacking courage, and that other drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi and Carlos Pace took the same decision.
So what can the movie makers do? Alter history (probably calling it romanticizing) to have Lauda win the title would anger the millions of racing fans around the world and lessen the value of the movie to the same level as Sylvester Stallone’s Driven. The option being to stay with the real story and not having the public’s favorite win in the end, thereby risking a failure at the box office. I fear that the movie will never be made for that reason.
Still, if it does get made, the next question is raised, namely which actors could be casted to fill the two main roles? 20 years ago, Gary Oldman would have been a strong contender for the Lauda part, but none of the current younger actors fit the part. Can you imagine Robert “Twilight Vampire” Pattinson or Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe racing through the Green Hell? There might be more hope to find a Hunt-lookalike (my personal favorite would be Brendon Hartley, don’t know if he has any desire to go into acting). Of course it would have to be actors from Europe or Australia, since we couldn’t count on American youngsters to understand F1 racing.
Well, I don’t think it is going to happen, so I’ll go and find comfort by watching the 1966 cult movie “Grand Prix”. Meanwhile, feel free to comment and tell me what young actors you see fitting the roles of two of F1’s most charismatic champions.