Theatrical Trailer (c) 2013 Universal Pictures via YouTube
Who remembers 1976 – aside from the Bicentennial celebration?
A lot happened that year. Queen Elizabeth II visited the USA in time to see her former colony reach a historic marker in its history. However, President Gerald Ford found himself out of a job in November, losing to Governor Jimmy Carter of the state of Georgia. Outside of this country, riots began in Soweto in protest of the Bantu Education Act.
In the world of sports, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Reds were at the top of their respective games. The Olympic movement continued with games in Innsbruck and Montreal. However, motorsport experienced one of the greatest rivalries of the decade on the Formula One circuit.
In 1976, Ron Howard was starring in "Happy Days." Who knew that Howard would take that same year and transform one of its storylines into one of his films? Not to mention, crafting a film that would expand the microcosm of motorsport's greatest rivalries through the triumphs and tragedies they encountered.
This is what draws us to "Rush." Howard took the tail end of the 1976 Formula One season by focusing on two men – Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
For those of us who are familiar with the story, let me explain one thing. This piece is for those who either were too young to remember this rivalry, or are somewhat interested in seeing the movie. But, hey, everyone can join in the fun…
What was so significant about 1976 in the world of Formula One? Consider what it has turned into. I often deride F1 as a circus that has gotten too expensive, too expansive and too big for its own devices. While it tries to regain traction in the USA, it has grown to far flung locales, such as China, Abu Dhabi, India, Brazil, Australia, etc.
If you have followed everything since the 1976 season, you could pick out similar rivalries to Lauda and Hunt. Ayrton Senna had Alain Prost to contend with in the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, it is reigning World Driver's Champion Sebastian Vettel against…everyone else, including his own teammate Mark Webber.
In 1976, the racing cars were much simpler. No one ever envisioned the advanced aerodynamics, the changing engine formulas, turbocharging and KERS. They were all about power, some safety and no holds barred. Racers actually used a clutch in 1976.
Lauda came off of a World Championship season in 1975. His Ferrari team and car were unmatched that year. Coming into 1976, no one thought for a moment how close the driver’s championship was going to be. Lauda remained determined to extend his championship run well into the 1970s.
The Austrian was a stable person who was very competitive. Enzo Ferrari believed in the fearless Lauda to match him up with Clay Regazzoni of Switzerland. Their car was as superb as the drivers, the 312T and 312T2.
Enter Hunt. In 1975, the Brit felt that he languished with Hesketh-Ford. This was despite being fourth amongst drivers that year. For 1976, Hunt jumped to McLaren, again powered by a Ford-Cosworth V8 engine. This was a McLaren team before Ron Dennis made it into his vision of perfection. This was also a McLaren organization that were light years away from making the supercars we all love these days.
Along with Jochen Mass, McLaren, boss Teddy Meyer and the venerable M23 enjoyed a great season with Hunt battling with the current World Champion Lauda. They both into fell the political games F1 were embroiled in with rules that were seen as too controlling by all teams.
The 1976 season introduced us to two United States Grands Prix – the third round was the first Long Beach Grand Prix ever. It also introduced Mario Andretti as a regular face on the circuit. He joined Colin Chapman at Lotus for a run that would include a World Championship for the Italian-born American racer.
The focus on the year was the Lauda-Hunt rivalry. They were a study of polar opposites with glaring similarities. The stable Lauda was reserved, except when pushed to show his might. Hunt was a party animal with enough cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and women to almost distract him from the job at hand.
If a member of the media approached Lauda, they would get a very inward, but determined response to their questions. Some may recall a bit of Lauda in Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen. Once they approached Hunt, then the media might even believe the stories about his off-track activities. Hunt was approachable, but his ego and party attitude may take over during the questioning. Some might say that there is a tiny bit of Hunt in Lewis Hamilton and Vettel.
Though, Raikkonen freely admits admiring the drivers of the 1970s – in particular, Hunt. He sports a newer version of Hunt’s helmet for the past two Monaco Grands Prix.
To this point, you are probably thinking what transpires in the movie. Who won the 1976 Driver’s Championship? Which constructor won? What was the big event that happened that was depicted in Howard's film? Where was this – and why?
Instead of telling all, the point is to see the movie to have all of your questions answered. If you have seen a Ron Howard film, he is one to never leave any detail behind. I will trust you to purchase a ticket to see everything to feed your curiosity.
However, do come into the movie without any preconceived notions of what happened. Or, about either men depicted in the film. And, if you are a fan of the sport – yes, you know who won already. Make sure the rest of your fellow audience members are not clued into what you know. Let them discover the drama that was 1976.
The phrase "you could not make this stuff up" is very apt for this film. All of this really happened. It changed F1 forever – same say, like yours truly, for perhaps not the better. Just my own opinion.
Please see the film for yourself.