With the release of Ron Howard’s “Rush” earlier this year, it seems that there would be little more to say about Formula 1’s most famous rivalry. Howard’s film provides an accurate account of the tension existing between McLaren’s James Hunt and Ferrari’s Niki Lauda while romanticizing the details enough for even the non-gearhead to appreciate the turbulent 1976 F1 season. However, coming from a more objective and analytical standpoint is Revolver Entertainment’s “1976: Hunt vs. Lauda,” a short, accurate, and extremely powerful documentary that provides the ultimate insider’s look on the rivalry.
The most significant step that Revolver Group’s film takes is to first juxtapose the personalities, not the racing styles, of James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Lauda is described as the “steely, cold Austrian,” while Hunt is the, “flamboyant” womanizer who, “partied as hard as he raced.” Rather than claiming that Hunt was a risk-taker on the racetrack while Lauda was more conservative, the documentary simply shows their conflicting outlooks in everyday life–newly-released footage of an Formula 1 afterparty portrays Hunt as the heart and soul of the party while his Austrian counterpart lurks in the shadows. This incompatibility of personalities provides the perfect lens through which viewers can begin to understand the reasons for the rivalry.
“1976: Hunt vs. Lauda” also does a fantastic job of collecting information about the rivalry from (relatively) unbiased sources who were close to the action. Instead of interviewing Formula 1 media moguls of the time, the producers questioned only those directly involved in the lives of the two men: Daniele Audetto, Team Manager at Ferrari Formula 1 with Lauda, Alastair Caldwell, Team Manager at McLaren Formula 1 with Hunt, and Sally Hunt, James’ own sister, were among those interviewed. The producers were even able to question Niki Lauda himself, providing an extremely personal account of the ruthless competition during the 1976 season.
C0mmendable, too, is the fact that “1976: Hunt vs. Lauda” didn’t ignore the casual friendship that did exist between Hunt and Lauda in the 1976 season. A film searching to portray fiery competition at every corner would have glossed over their acquaintance at all costs–Revolver Group’s documentary, however, made the audience fully aware of the drivers’ friendship and even included Niki Lauda remarking that he would, “go to the pub” with James Hunt. Such a detail makes the tension that existed between Hunt and Lauda on the racetrack even more significant, as each had to put aside all feelings of friendship in order to unleash brutal competition. Despite these accolades, one critique of “1976: Hunt vs. Lauda” lies with the documentary’s subtitle, “The Greatest Rivalry of All Time.” It seems a bit ambitious to deem a one-year rivalry in a nascent sport as the “greatest of all time,” but the title does little to detract from the high quality of the documentary.
For those who appreciate the true, uncensored account of the incredible events of the 1976 Formula 1 racing season, there is no substitute for Revolver Entertainment’s “1976: Hunt vs. Lauda.” Its down-to-earth, un-romanticized approach to the famous rivalry is relatable and emotional at the same time, and the documentary is a must-see for any autophile. “1976: Hunt vs. Lauda” will be released on January 7, 2014, on DVD and VOD.
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