Rush – James Hunt and Niki Lauda
“My name is Niki Lauda, and racing people know me for two things. The first is my rivalry with him [James Hunt]. I don’t know why it became such a big thing. We were just drivers busting each other’s balls. To me this is perfectly normal, but other people saw it differently. That whatever it was between us went deeper. The other thing I’m remembered for is what happened on 1st August 1976, when I was chasing him like an asshole…”
– Niki Lauda
Rush (2013) recounts the rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s, culminating with the 1976 season in which both highly skilled drivers risk it all to win the Formula One World Title. The movie contrasts the distinctly different styles of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), both personally and professionally.
Hunt was a brash, handsome English playboy that approached race driving with recklessness, while the methodical Austrian Lauda raced with calculated precision. The two racers developed a rivalry during a 1970 Formula Three race at the Crystal Palace circuit in Britain. In their first encounter, both racers’ cars spin out and Hunt eventually wins the race.
Over the next few years, both men make their way into Formula One racing with Hunt driving for Hesketh Racing and Lauda for Scuderia Ferrari. Hesketh Racing eventually goes under when they cannot secure a sponsor, but Hunt is able to join the McLaren team. Meanwhile, Lauda wins his first championship in 1975 with Scuderia Ferrari. Both men also enter personal relationships; Hunt marries supermodel Suzy Miller, and Lauda develops a relationship with Marlene Knaus.
Rush – Real Life, Reel Differences
- The film portrays both men as fierce rivals who generally don’t like each other but develop a strong mutual respect over the 1976 season of Formula One. However, Hunt and Lauda were friends before the season began. Lauda was quoted as saying, “I knew him before we met at Formula One [at Formula Three]. We always crossed each other’s lines. He was a very competitive guy and he was very quick. In many ways we were the same. I had a lot of respect for him on the circuit… He was a very solid driver.”
- The film suggests that it was a rear suspension failure which caused Lauda’s crash at Nurburgring. In reality, Lauda does not have any memory of the crash so he can’t really explain what happened. What is known, however, was that the rain had stopped before the race started and there were parts of the track which were still wet. After the first lap, Lauda and several other drivers changed to slick tires that are designed to go faster on a dry track. Actual footage of the crash (approximately 2:08 mark) shows Lauda’s car fishtail as he enters the bend and crashes into the wall; it’s possible that he hit one of the remaining wet spots on the track and lost control. In the movie, director Ron Howard films the crash at the exact same bend as when it occured in real life:
- Although Lauda did quit during the Japanese Grand Prix, it was not only because of the rain. It was also because he had damage to his tear ducts that made it very difficult for him to blink naturally and during the race, his eyes started to water excessively. It’s worth mentioning that Hunt had argued against racing that day, which irked McLaren because he couldn’t win the world championship without the race. The organizers decided to move forward because of the money from TV contracts.
Where Are They Now?
James Hunt would race for another three years after the 1976 season, but was not able to contender for a Formula One championship again. He went on to become a motorsports broadcast commentator after retiring in 1979. Hunt attempted a comeback but he was unable to get the support to get back behind the wheel.
In 1993, James Hunt died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of only forty-five. He passed away only a few hours after proposing to his girlfriend Helen Dyson over the phone. Hunt had been living a cleaner living and had was survived by his two sons.
Niki Lauda won the Formula One championship a total of three times – 1975, 1977, and 1984, after a brief retirement between 1979 and 1982. Niki first retired after the 1979 season to focus running a charter airline which he called Lauda Air, and he focused on that enterprise until 1982. He returned to racing in order to secure money for the business and retired for good in 1985.
In 1991, he and Marlene divorced; at the same time, he sold Lauda Air to Austrian Airlines. He began another airline that eventually became a subsidiary of Air Berlin. He also managed the Jaguar Formula One racing team from 2001 to 2002 and as of 2013, Lauda has taken on the role of chairman of the Mercedes Formula One team.
He was approached by many to tell his story, but declined to do so until Peter Morgan asked him to help write the script specifically about the 1976 season. During the filming of Rush, Niki Lauda gave input into the script, shared memories, and advised a lot of the technical aspects of the sport to make it as realistic as possible. He also spent a lot of time with actor Daniel Brühl who portrayed him. Here is an interview where Niki talks about how it all came together:
1976 Formula One World Championship was the first feature in BBC TV’s “Clash of the Titans” series. It was originally released on 10/06/1996, approximately 20 years (10/24/1976) after that historic 1976 Japanese Grand Prix was held, and documents the relationship between James Hunt and Niki Lauda: