Hollywood director Ron Howard has promised F1 fans that the forthcoming movie about the thrilling 1976 title duel between Niki Lauda and James Hunt will be 'fascinating, sizzling, sexy and entertaining in the mould of Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind'.
Those, of course, are three of the films Howard has directed – along with The Da Vinci Code – but for his next project, the former star of cult American TV show Happy Days is turning his attentions to motor racing, and more specifically, to one of the most incredible stories F1 has ever witnessed. It is time, Howard believes, for that story to be re-told.
“It's going to be a motion picture,” he told the official F1 website, when asked if it would be a documentary along similar lines to the hugely popular recent movie Senna. “It will be fascinating, sizzling, sexy and entertaining in the mould of Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind.
“There are stories that, if you tell them, people struggle to believe they are really real. That's the stuff that makes incredible movies. A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon and Apollo 13 were all real – and the 1976 F1 championship is also real.
“I am a huge fan of sports – almost any kind of sport, not just motor racing – and I am always in search of a good story with great characters. Peter Morgan, who did the script for Frost/Nixon, has known Niki Lauda for quite some time and started digging for information about 1976, when Niki had his accident and then literally rose again like a phoenix to fight James Hunt for the title. Peter has written a mesmerising script – not only for F1 fans, but also for everybody hooked on sports and drawn to extraordinary characters.
“[Lauda and I] have had some very good conversations, and I really found Peter Morgan's script character in the real-life Niki. He's a fascinating character who stands for what he's done in life and who is proud of what he has achieved.”
Indeed, after coming perilously close to being burned alive in a horrific fireball around the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife on 1 August, 1976, Lauda defied his doctors and stunned his rivals by rejoining the grid a mere six weeks later for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and going on to tussle it out tooth-and-nail with McLaren adversary Hunt for the laurels. The Englishman ultimately prevailed after the Austrian withdrew from the season-closing Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji on safety grounds in the torrential conditions.
Conceding that 'of course when you start such a project, you have some ideas about the cast', Howard refuses to be drawn on any potential actors – and also on whether any filming will take place at the scene of Lauda's accident – but he does recognise that the source material makes the story ripe for conversion into a celluloid big-screen blockbuster.
“F1 racing has made a huge leap forward since 1976, and in some ways you have to acknowledge this fact,” he opined, revealing that he 'was at Silverstone last month for my first field study' and is 'planning to visit some more races over the course of this season...to boost my knowledge of F1'. “From all I have been told, it seems to me that the protagonists of the past were adventurers with a kind of carefree innocence.
“If we do our job well, and concentrate on the story and the characters involved, it will be a motion picture fit for the whole world. The story has so many elements that everybody can be interested in. Take, for example, James Hunt's personal environment. While he was fighting for the championship, Richard Burton pinches his wife. That made headlines in the press for weeks!”