Saturday 16 July 2022

Formula One Stories That Should Grace the Silver Screen


Formula One's soaring popularity in the States is seeing Hollywood sit up and take notice. Everyone from Apple to Disney is looking to cash in on Formula One's newfound mainstream appeal, with a string of expensive and starry screen projects in the pipeline. 

As a lifelong F1 fan, it's music to my ears. We've seen a smattering of Formula One films in the past – from 1966's Grand Prix to 2013's Rush – but nowadays it seems like a new project or series is being greenlit every other week.

Apple are working on two Formula One projects in tandem; a Lewis Hamilton documentary, about the seven-time world champion's meteoric rise from rags to riches, and another film in which Hamilton will serve as producer, starring Brad Pitt and directed by Top Gun: Maverick's Joseph Kosinski. 

Michael Mann is currently in production on an Enzo Ferrari biopic, starring Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz and Shailene Woodley. Meanwhile, Hulu have optioned a series centred on Australian ace Daniel Ricciardo, and just the other day, Disney+ confirmed they are partnering with Keanu Reeves to shape a documentary series all about Brawn GP's fairytale 2009 season. 

With 70+ years of motorsport heritage to pull from, there's no shortage of stories that Hollywood can adapt. So I dipped into the databanks, to detail some stories from Formula One's past that I think would make a great films or series.

Senna vs Prost

Let's get the obvious one out of the way. Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost is the quintessential Formula One rivalry, with the two champions tearing chunks out of one another first as feuding teammates at McLaren, then as bitter rivals after Prost moved to Ferrari.

The 1988, 1989 and 1990 seasons were defined by the intense rivalry, culminating in not one but two dramatic clashes at consecutive Japanese Grand Prix finales in '89 and '90. 

It's territory that was covered in Asif Kapadia's terrific documentary Senna, but there's scope here to focuses in on the feud between the two in more detail, with the clincher being that the two came to develop a healthy mutual respect for one another before Prost retired in 1993 and Senna passed away in 1994. 

If it's a full-throated, fuel-soaked blockbuster Hollywood is searching for, there's few Formula One eras that match the Prost/Senna era for sheer intensity and drama. 

Hill vs Schumacher

The 1994 season is one of Formula One's trickiest, with the death of the legendary Brazilian champion Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix marking as a turning point in the sport's trajectory towards improved driver safety. 

For this story, Senna's passing would serve as the starting point. As the sport's biggest star, his death leaves behind a vacuum that younger drivers look to fill. 

His teammate, Briton Damon Hill, steps into the spotlight to lead reigning championship team Williams through their darkest hour. He's the quote/unquote hero of this story. Meanwhile, the next 'big thing', young German ace Michael Schumacher, is thrust to the front of the pack and serves as Hill's rival in a bitter and emotional season. 

Across the rest of the story, Hill and Schumacher lock horns and snipe at one another, not unlike James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Rush. The film culminates in their infamous crash on the streets of Adelaide, where Schumacher puts Hill in the wall to clinch victory, but not the moral high ground.

Drama aplenty in this season-long story, with all the ingredients to be something of a spiritual successor to Rush

The Red Baron

Michael Schumacher was the subject of a Netflix documentary last year, which came with the Schumacher family's seal of approval. But the film raced through (pun intended) the German's glittering Formula One career, and didn't pause to reflect on some of his more...problematic qualities.

Suffice to say, there are no shortage of controversies to choose from. But if I was going to make a Schumacher biopic, I think there's something to be said for Jerez 1997 being his lowest ebb, a pivotal moment around which the rest of his career orbits.

Perhaps there's dramatic tension to be found in contrasting the depravity of Jerez 1997 – where Schumacher once again tries to clinch the title by deliberately punting into his rival Jacques Villeneuve in the final race of the year – with the elation and celebration of Suzuka 2000, where Schumacher finally seals the deal and becomes Ferrari's first world champion in two decades. 

A retelling of the 2000 season, itself a classic slugfest between Schumacher and Finnish rival Mika Hakkinen, with flashbacks to Jerez 1997 is the best way to frame this story, as through that lens we can see both sides of Schumacher's complex and nuanced character.

Rise of the rookie

So it sounds like the Apple documentary will already cover this; but Hamilton's story would make for a compelling biopic too.

I'm picturing a film like King Richard, where Hamilton's journey is framed through the trials and tribulations of his father, Anthony, who famously worked three or four jobs to pay for Lewis' early karting career, before he was scouted by McLaren. 

A dual timeline tale, flitting back and forth between Lewis' groundbreaking rookie season and Anthony's efforts to cobble together enough coin, would be uplifting and compelling, as it contrasts the glamorous world of Formula One and finding fame, with the Hamilton's working class life on a council estate in Stevenage, as well as their strife at the karting track, as they face classism and racism from the establishment. 

Not only that, but there's oodles of drama to be found in Hamilton's bitter rivalry with teammate Fernando Alonso. In fact, if you go down this route, there's probably enough story for a miniseries, rather than a movie.

Of course, the tale has a bittersweet ending, as Hamilton misses out on the 2007 world championship at the final hurdle. But much like King Richard, the Hamilton family had announced their arrival on the world stage – and those initial struggles would lay the foundation for unprecedented success.


The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix should be best known as the first night race in Formula One history. Instead, it's infamous for all the wrong reasons. 

The story goes that the Renault works team, on a downward trajectory and struggling to keep up with the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and BMW, orchestrate a victory on the streets on Singapore, by ordering their driver Nelson Piquet Jnr to crash on purpose, handing a lasting advantage to his teammate Fernando Alonso during the subsequent yellow flag period. 

It's a story filled with subterfuge and suspicion, as well as larger-than-life characters like the ostentatious Renault team principal Flavio Briatore, dastardly FIA head honchos Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, and the cunning Alonso. 

I'm imagining another dual narrative story, which darts between the present day courtroom drama of Nelson Piquet Jnr's testimony before the World Motorsport Council and the fateful events of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, which led to Renault's decision to fix the race, reap the reward and then fire Piquet, setting him on a trajectory towards acting as whistleblower just under a year later.

While the on-track drama would be sparse, there's plenty of compelling courtroom chatter to chart in a retelling of what would come to be known as 'Crashgate'. If Formula One wanted to regurgitate one of its most curious controversies, this would be a great place to start.

Friends to enemies

Another chapter in Lewis Hamilton's storied career is the unravelling of his friendship with Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg. 

When they were first paired together in 2013, the mood was positively chummy – and they often spoke of their childhoods spent together on the kart track.

But by the midpoint of the 2014 season, the former friends were at each other's throats, with the prospect of winning a world title – a first for Rosberg, a second for Hamilton – tearing the two apart. 

While the Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry doesn't pack the same punch as Senna/Prost, since they never intentionally crashed in a season finale, the dissolution of their friendship does add to the drama. A miniseries that charts the '13, '14, '15 and '16 seasons, the entire tenure of their partnership, would give ample time to unpack both sides of the story, rather than painting one as the out and out hero and the other as the definitive villain. 

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