Home - The Official Formula 1 Website Skip to content

Bringing F1® history to life - Ron Howard Q&A 09 Aug 2013

Hollywood director Ron Howard Season long rivals (L to R): Niki Lauda (AUT) Ferrari, who won the race, and James Hunt (GBR) McLaren, who retired on lap 25 with a blown engine. Monaco Grand Prix, Rd6, Monte Carlo, 30 May 1976 Second placed Niki Lauda (AUT) Ferrari 312T2 leads James Hunt (GBR) McLaren M23, who won, was then disqualified for a technical infringement, only to be reinstated as the race winner three months later after an appeal. Spanish Grand Prix, Rd4, Jarama, 2 May 1976. Ron Howard (USA) Director of Rush.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 25 May 2013 Race winner James Hunt (GBR) McLaren M23 (later disqualified) leads second placed Niki Lauda (AUT) Ferrari 312T2. British Grand Prix, Rd9, Brands Hatch, England, 18 July 1976. The charred remains of Niki Lauda's Ferrari 312T after the Austrian's firey crash at the Nurburgring during the 1976 German Grand Prix Season long rivals (L to R): A visibly scarred Niki Lauda (AUT) talks to James Hunt (GBR) in 1976 James Hunt(GBR) Mclaren M23, 3rd place which clinched the World Championship Japanese Grand Prix, Fuji, 24th October 1976. World © PHIPPS/SUTTON (L to R): Niki Lauda (AUT) Ferrari, who bravely chose to withdraw from the wet race on the third lap; James Hunt (GBR) McLaren who took third place in the race to clinch the World Championship, and Barry Sheene (GBR) World 500cc Motorcycle Champion talk t 1976 Japanese Grand Prix. Fuji, Shizuoka, Japan. 22-24 October 1976. Niki Lauda (Ferrari 312T2) withdraws from the race due to the conditions handing the World Championship to James Hunt. Niki Lauda (AUT) Mercedes AMG F1 Non-Executive Chairman.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Hungaroring, Hungary. Saturday, 27 July 2013 Ron Howard (USA).
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 25 May 2013

The 1966 classic Grand Prix and the recent Senna documentary aside, there have been surprisingly few attempts to convey the essence of F1 racing to cinemagoers. That will be addressed this autumn with the release of Rush. Directed by Ron Howard, the man behind blockbusters such as Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, it tells the tale of the epic duel for the ‘76 drivers’ title between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. We spoke to Howard about bringing Formula One racing back to the big screen…

Q: Ron, after almost two years working on Rush, the movie based on the Niki Lauda/James Hunt rivalry of the mid-seventies, how do you see Formula One racing now?
Ron Howard:
Now I am a fan! (laughs) I am watching, I am very curious. Before I also watched Formula One, but I watch it differently now. Before I used to watch the start, then got occupied with something else, then checked back once in a while to see who is leading, and watched the finish. Otherwise my mind would wander somewhere else. Now, when I watch a race I can’t even get up to go to the toilet. Now I stay glued to the action - because now I understand it well enough.

Q: What’s your idea about racing drivers after getting so involved with the lives of Niki Lauda and James Hunt? Are they heroes or madmen?
Ha, I think it still takes a lot of courage to test yourself in that way. It is not only the risk of death or serious injury - although that still exists in their minds - but it is also the fear of failure that is sometimes more important to men than anything else. They are testing themselves constantly and they are willing to subject themselves in the most public way. You can say that about a lot of athletes, but it is a bit like golf and tennis: they are out there alone - even if they have a team behind them. So you could argue that they are half heroes and half madmen - but for sure one hundred percent world-class athletes.

Q: You, as a blockbuster Hollywood director, must now have some ideas on why Formula One racing has such difficulties breaking the domination of the traditional big sports in the US…
…well, I think it was really that there haven’t been a lot of races in the US. Sports - and the idea of a home team - are very important to America. With all sports there is the actual activity - the game that’s being played - but then there is also ‘your’ team. It’s a bit like the way Europeans feel about their football teams. And Formula One is this kind of roaming circus - it’s that kind of wild event. I think the time-zone difference also has a huge impact: it was somehow never convenient to watch the races.

Q: So more races would do the trick?
Yes, if you have Canada, then a couple of races in the US and Mexico - when you come to the continent and stay some time on the continent and in similar time zones - that would make a huge difference in how Americans would see Formula One.

Q: There is also the saying that Formula One racing is too complicated - technically and strategically…
…but they would catch up very quickly as it is actually very modern and fascinating - and soon they would understand it. But instead of coming for one big event and then going away, I think more races are the answer to all these questions. Austin will continue, it would be great if there is New Jersey, there is already Montreal, then find something on the West Coast, and then maybe Mexico - that would be a proper introduction of Formula One to the US.

Q: The last big Hollywood blockbuster about Formula One racing was John Frankenheimer’s film Grand Prix in 1966. Why did it take almost 50 years for another Hollywood director to get interested in the subject?
Well, John Frankenheimer was able to imbed himself in Formula One of that time and use the spectacle that was naturally occurring, captured it and put it into his movie. Nowadays it is much more difficult and no sport would allow that. There is too much at stake: there are too many sponsors, there are too many rights issues - it is too complicated. That means you have to create everything and that has been too expensive to do - until recently. Now digital technology allows you to use archive footage, create new footage, extend the set digitally, build up the number of cars… We used historical cars, we built some replicas and added digital cars - we used every conceivable imaginable tool. We even did kind of a Forrest Gump trick but instead of putting Tom Hanks next to Richard Nixon we put Niki Lauda’s car in a pack of cars at Monza so the shot that we’ve found was of good enough quality to use and with a tiny bit of manipulation we could make it apply to our story in a very exciting way.

Q: How helpful was the F1 community to your project?
They’ve been very welcoming, but they didn’t have anything to do with the movie. We didn’t ask very much of them. The historic Formula One people were fantastic. They gave us the cars, they supplied us with cars, the people who run historic races helped us as technical advisors - they really meant a lot and they wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t feel that Formula One is welcoming us.

Q: You altered the story a bit. Why did you do that?
Well, every time you take a story and try to compress it to two hours there are things that happen over three or four races that you have to make happen in one race. Things that happen over a whole season you have to show in 90 seconds of your movie - it’s like in real life: stories never occur in narrative bites that can be built into a movie, so it is always a concession that you have to make.

Q: Is Niki happy with the way you show his 1976 tragedy? Has he argued a lot with you?
He’s very happy. He also didn’t have any formal control over it, but Peter Morgan who wrote the script has known him a long time and certainly every time Niki had something to say Peter listened. But Niki also trusted us and handed it over to us. It was a very courageous thing to do, but then we know about Niki and courage. It is not that surprising that he would make a courageous decision.

Q: The film was shown in a VIP preview over the recent German Grand Prix weekend at the Nurburgring - the location that plays a major role in the movie. Of course Niki Lauda and Bernie Ecclestone were in the audience. What did they say after seeing the finished article for the first time?
For Niki it was the second time that he had seen it and he said that he enjoyed it even more - felt even better about it. He was sitting next to Lewis Hamilton watching and it gave him a lot of pride. Bernie afterwards said ‘Thank you for making this movie’. He was very emotional about it - and very gracious about it, as he has been to me all along.

Q: Bernie Ecclestone was very reluctant to have a Formula One film after John Frankenheimer’s, as he believed that it is very difficult to come close to that quality, so you must have met his criteria…
Oh, that means a great deal to me!

Q: How satisfied are you with the result? You’ve directed blockbusters like Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code, and then suddenly you find yourself occupied with a Formula One story - a sport that is not as popular as others in the US...
I am not so worried about the box office. I wanted to honour the story. My mantra was: if you know and love Formula One, I hope you feel that and see the sportsmen respected. And if you don’t know Formula One, you realize what you’ve been missing! I hope that’s what we have achieved.

For tickets and travel to 2013 FORMULA 1 races, click here.
For FORMULA 1 merchandise, click here.