Motorsport is absolutely ripe for picking incredible plotlines from, stories that seem to come from a film studio. It’s why Le Mans ‘66 (Ford v Ferrari in the States) was chosen as the subject of a film, and why Rush worked so well. There have been a lot of good, and a lot of bad motorsport movies, but the good ones always seem to be based on true stories. So we’ve picked out some of the very best that could become the next blockbuster.
The seven best motorsport stories that should be movies
Alex Zanardi – from F1 to IndyCar and a Paralympic champion
If anyone in motorsport deserves a Hollywood film, it’s Alex Zanardi. Multiple CART champion in his first era in the sport he heads off to Formula 1 to try and find fame. There he is an outsider. Struggling to get used to grooved tyres and unable to get up to speed, Zanardi is out after one season. He heads back to CART to try and find himself again, and is gradually working his way back in when it happens. He wakes up in a hospital bed in Germany with no legs. The crash was so horrific the legs weren’t medically amputated, they were cleaved from his body. But Zanardi will not be stopped, he doesn’t care if he has no legs, he will show the world. He’s going racing again and he will win. Sure he cannot race IndyCars, but there’s more in the world than that. Three years later he’s in a BMW touring car racing in the World Touring Car Championship, 14 races later and he is on the top step of the podium. A disabled racing driver showing the world that nothing will stop him. And it really won’t because he’s not content there. Later Zanardi races in sportscars, in the DTM and even completes the grueling Daytona 24 Hours. And he’s still not finished. Motorsport cannot contain the new Alex Zanardi. He discovers a love for hand cycling, and isn’t just going to enjoy it as a hobby. He’ll become the best in the world. And he does, winning four Olympic titles and ten World Championship crowns. It’s all starting to sound a bit ridiculous now. If this was a Hollywood script you’d dismiss it as overblown nonsense. And then someone would tell you it was true...
Denny Hulme’s Can-Am triumph
In June 1970 Bruce McLaren stepped into a new version of his team’s Can-Am contender, the M8D, at Goodwood. He would never finish the session, crashing fatally off the Lavant straight. It was just a few days before the start of the 1970 Can-Am season. McLaren was the reigning champion and his team was the dominant force in American sportscar racing. The team was devastated and potentially directionless. It was down to the team’s other driver, Kiwi 1967 Formula 1 champ Denny Hulme, to try and gather the shattered group together and attempt to get through the season. But Hulme had suffered horrific burns in a fire at the Indy 500 that year, and was racing in agony with his hands bandaged. He fought to finish third in his painful return to the cockpit, but would then go on to win six of the following nine races. Bonding the team together around him he helped McLaren cars win nine of ten races, and won the championship himself by over 65 points. A season of incredible heartbreak was turned into a triumph when everything seemed dead set against the team. It would make the perfect Hollywood blockbuster.
Benetton cheating in 1994
This one could play out in one of two ways. Either you follow the efforts of the Williams team, reeling from the death of Ayrton Senna at the start of the season, led by Damon Hill, a man with the pressure of the world on his shoulders as the son of a two-time champion. They would spend the season battling against a force that wasn’t fighting on a level playing field, the Benetton team spending the season fighting allegations of illegal fuel rigs, use of traction control systems and a two race ban for their lead driver Michael Schumacher for ignoring black flags. Williams and Hill in this case would come up short after a highly suspicious incident in the final race of the year which guaranteed a championship for Schumacher. Or if you wanted to play up the other side you could go into the Benetton garage, and play a fight against the world from the cheeky anti-heroes, led by the always-troublesome Tom Walkinshaw. Either way it would be another down-to-the wire tale, with twists and turns along the way.
Brawn GP – a phoenix from the ashes
A triumph out of near tragedy this. The story of a team that had reached the top in the mid-‘00s, nearly going out of business, only to recover to the most amazing of successes. You’d start the tale inside the 2008 season, with Honda and Jenson Button’s F1 careers appearing to be on a trajectory for the exit. Honda then pull all the money from under the team’s feet, despite the fact that they are working on a potential secret weapon for the following season. It’s left to Ross Brawn and Jenson Button (and just them of course, as this is a movie, so they have to do it all themselves) to rescue everything. Come the start of the season they are just about on the grid with the Brawn GP01, and ready to show everyone, and especially Honda, exactly what they can do. If you really wanted you could then follow the season, or you could finish the film as the lights go green in Melbourne. A true story of redemption.
1959 World Sportscar Championship
We’ve actually told this story in one of our GRRC Original documentaries, but it would be a brilliant story as a fiction film. Set against a backdrop of a three-way fight for world championship glory, fought out right here at Goodwood. The stars are John Wyer, irascible team manager of the Aston Martin sportscar programme, having been in charge for a decade with little success, and Stirling Moss, a young hotshot with the world in the palms of his hands. Moss is surrounded at all times by beautiful women and lives an apparently carefree playboy lifestyle, but belies this image by being able to drive almost anything faster than anyone else. Moss sets off on what seems at first like a victory lap (victory nine hours?) in the race, as he flies off into the lead at the start. He hands the car over to a team-mate, and heads off, only later to see smoke rising from the pits. Moss rushes over to find the cremated remains of the car he was going to take to championship victory. It’s all over. But not if Wyer has anything to do with it. In comes the sister car, using a pit box valiantly vacated by an independent team, next to the extinguished carcass of the old car, and Moss is bundled in. Moss is no longer in the lead, instead there is a deficit to be made up. And off he goes, lapping faster and faster, hurling the beautiful Aston Martin DBR1 past slower cars as if they are stationary. Hours later he’s home, the winner in an incredible, scarcely believable turnaround. Aston Martin are champions for the first and only time.
FISA vs. FOCA war
Everyone loves a political thriller these days. And the battle for control of Formula 1 in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was exactly that. Full of backstabbing, rule breaking, strikes, threats and with victims cast aside all over the place. FISA was the sub-section of the FIA tasked with looking after Formula 1, FOCA was the organisation put together to look after the rights of the teams. Teams that were aggrieved that rules seemed to be enforced to benefit certain competitors above others. But FISA thought the teams were too loud and wanted too much control. At one point FISA threatens to not let any of the FOCA teams race, at another the FOCA teams hold their own, un-FISA-sanctioned, Formula 1 race. It comes to a head in 1982 when both sides of the war stretch the Formula 1 rulebook to absolute breaking point and the FOCA teams go on strike, boycotting the San Marino Grand Prix. But the stars would be two men: Bernie Ecclestone, who owned the Brabham team at the time, and his legal advisor Max Mosley. Between them they would lead the FOCA side before eventually jumping ship at the end of the war, turning gamekeeper to lead Formula 1 and the FIA respectively. The ultimate political showdown.
Senna vs. Prost
Sure it’s been told in a pretty decent documentary, although if you ask many (me included) it paints Prost in an unnecessarily bad light. But there’s not been a drama about this amazing story yet. Imagine it, the two protagonists, both at the very top of their games, thrust into rivalry in the same team, both thinking the other was out to get them, thinking teams were favouring the other and in some cases willing to do almost anything to get one over. It features clashes that decide championships, violent comings together and emotional outbursts. And then, later in life, they reconcile. The two become friends, and the calming effect of age seems to have won over, until disaster strikes.
- 2007 Hamilton vs Alonso at McLaren
- Toyota’s cheating in the WRC
- Mazda winning against the odds at Le Mans in 1991
- Formula 1 Crashgate 2008
- The 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours – Toyota fall at the last
- Richard Seaman and Mercedes
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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