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After 'Rush', F1 safety hits screens

2013-12-28 11:36

WATKINS GLEN, 1973: Tyrell No.1 driver Jackie Stewart (left) gives young Francois Cevert instructions for the track but the young Frenchman was killed during qualifying. Inset: Francois Cevert. Image: YouTube


2013 Rush trailer

2013-04-09 12:54

Formula 1 fans rejoice as the heated 1970s rivalry between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda is retold in a Hollywood epic. Check out the movie trailer for Rush!


LONDON, England - Francois Cevert had the most piercing blue eyes, the presence of a movie star and a Gallic charm that melted hearts wherever he went.

Those eyes, that gaze glimpsed through the visor slit of a 1970's helmet, are still haunting in the Formula 1 documentary '1; Life on the Limit' due to be released in selected British cinemas in January 2014 and then further afield.

The Parisian, a pits-lane heart-throb and hero of more carefree times - one moment escorting Brigitte Bardot, the next playing a concert piano and the next day risking his life in the most dangerous and glamorous of arenas.


More than a decade before Alain Prost won his first title in 1985 it was Cevert - Jackie Stewart's friend and team mate at Tyrrell - who had seemed destined to become France's first Formula 1 champion.

Instead, at only 29, he died during qualifying for the 1973 US F1 GP at Watkins Glen.

The sense of what might have been, the waste of so much young talent in those 'golden' years when sex was safe and motor racing frequently fatal, hangs over the film without sensationalism, recrimination or gratuitous gore.

Cevert had declared earlier in his career: "We all know, every one of us, that death is in our contract." He knew the risks, loved the sport, lived - and died - for racing.

Video: Before the crash - and afterwards

The story of F1 combines horror and heroism, evident in the archive footage, and in later years has focused on the fight to reduce the carnage and improve safety as attitudes common in the decades immediately after the Second World War began to change.

'1' has been long in the making. Previews were shown in Austin in 2012 during the first GP weekend at the Texas capital's track and then at the 2013 London Film Festival. The timing looks right.

Anybody who has seen 'Rush', the Ron Howard movie with Daniel Bruhl playing Niki Lauda to Chris Hemsworth's James Hunt, will be familiar with the dramatic 1976 season and the Austrian Lauda's comeback from a near-fatal flaming crash at the Nurburgring.


The same applies to fans of 'Senna', the multiple award-winning film about the life and death of Brazilian triple champion Ayrton Senna.

This the latest documentary complements the previous two films, connecting storylines and filling in the background with the drama provided by original footage.

'1' is narrated by German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender, star of 'X-Men' and 'Inglourious Basterds', and directed by Paul Crowder. It charts F1's progress from 1950's insouciance to the modern era where drivers expect to walk away from big crashes.

It includes interviews with Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda and Nigel Mansell and more recent racers Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher.


F1's 83-year-old commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley (former president of motorsport's governing International Automobile Federation) also have their say as key players in the battle to improve safety and about friends lost along the way.

Younger audiences may not be familiar with the history but the fascination for the committed F1 fan lies in the archived material. We see Jim Clark at home in rural Scotland and witness the shock and confusion on the faces of spectators in the Hockenheim grandstand in 1968 when his death was announced over tinny loudspeakers before flags were lowered.

There is the tear gently rolling down the cheek of Professor Sid Watkins, who died in 2012, as that eminent neurosurgeon and F1 doctor recalls his last conversation with Senna.

There is the poignancy of Austrian Jochen Rindt, the only posthumous champion, asking his wife shortly before his death at Monza in 1970 what one thing she would wish for.

"For you to stop racing," she replies.

Then there is Cevert...


The camera follows Colin Chapman, the Lotus team boss then already no stranger to fatalities in his own cars, pacing anxiously in the pits lane as he sought information from others about the October 6 crash

"Cevert? Bloody Hell," he sighs.

Stewart did not compete the next day, or ever again in F1. He had already decided to quit as champion. Cevert - who had not been told of the plans - was to take over as Tyrrell's No.1 driver.

Stewart wrote in his autobiography 'Winning is Not Enough': "We arranged to send flowers to his mother and to his grave on that date of every year that followed, until she passed away.

He had regarded the Frenchman as a younger brother,

Many others had been mourned already, including promising young Briton Roger Williamson who died earlier in 1973 after a fiery crash at Zandvoort in the Netherlands.

The footage of that accident, with the driver trapped in the flaming upside-down wreck while David Purley struggles in vain to rescue him while the race carried on, remains stomach-churning 40 years on. The viewer is spared nothing.


How much has changed since Senna's death in 1994 is emphasised by the opening shots of Martin Brundle running down the pits lane after a terrifying, flying shunt in Melbourne in 1996 that broke his Jordan in two.

He was unscathed and got into a spare car for the re-start.

A generation of drivers has now grown up without suffering the loss of one of their own at a racetrack of started a season wondering whose funeral they might attend before the year was out but there can be no complacency - not even now as 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the last driver fatality (Senna).

As Mosley, who started the same Formula 2 race in which Clark was killed, observes quietly: "One is always haunted by the past."

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