— Rush is probably the best movie ever on motorsports. But there’s more beyond James Hunt and Niki Lauda’s rivalry: sociological implications, style statements and, of course, a delicious watch tale.
I must confess to having been a bit worried about how such a glorious era in motorsports would be portrayed by an American, knowing that the appeal of Formula 1 isn’t quite the same in the United States, but it has to be said that two-time Academy Award winning director Ron Howard got it right – with the help of Academy Award winner screenwriter Peter Morgan. Rush is indeed a gripping ride filled with roaring thrills and pedal-to-the-metal action, yet a movie made not just for the petrolheads.
Yes, there are a few clichés on display and, while the narrative exacerbates the animosity between the flamboyant British playboy James Hunt (played by Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth) and the methodical Austrian scrambler Niki Lauda (Germany’s Daniel Brühl), the rivalry was actually friendlier and both even shared a London apartment early on in their careers.
Nevertheless, the outcome is more between movie and documentary than one would expect from a Hollywood product. Many aspects and details of the plot that I thought overplayed or romanticized were actually true, as was confirmed by my veteran colleagues from the Formula 1 media. In the end, the 70 million euro independent movie might well be one of the best (if not the best) ever on motorsports. Even the real Niki Lauda, who served as a consultant, disclosed that when he first saw the completed film he exclaimed “shit, that’s really me!” That says a lot about the evident accuracy and attention to the detail seen on the screen.
Funnily enough, the biggest historical mistake has to do with watches – only captured by true connoisseurs. It ends up being a delicious anecdote that contributes to the legend that will be built around Rush – in much the same way that a small imperfection on a vintage watch series makes those timepieces even more desirable to collectors. Here are a few findings and conclusions that I find worth mentioning, from watches to the metaphor(s) behind the Hunt-Lauda rivalry:
Yes, if you noticed it you are a true aficionado: on the screen, Niki Lauda actually wears the Silverstone while James Hunt boasts the gold Carrera… when it should be the other way around! In the 1970s, Heuer (let’s not forget it only became TAG Heuer in 1985) had a close partnership with Ferrari and all Scuderia drivers wore Heuer timepieces as a part of the deal, more specifically all-gold Carreras with the respective name and blood group engraved on the back – and Niki Lauda should be the one with the flashy Carrera, whereas James Hunt was supposed to wear another Heuer chronograph, like many other drivers at the time. The timepieces used by both actors are originals provided by TAG Heuer, but somehow there was a mix-up. Probably someone in the production team felt instinctively that the gold Carrera should be worn by Hunt because it apparently better fits his golden looks; Lauda’s original gold Carrera was actually stolen.
I have interviewed Jack Heuer so many times since he returned to TAG Heuer as honorary president that I have lost count and, each time we have discussed his favourite timepiece in the brand’s history: that specific gold Carrera model (that he personally handed to the Ferrari drivers) always comes out on top for emotional reasons. Ironically, its case format has a slightly cushion-shaped architecture that is somewhat closer to the typical Autavia design than to the popularised Carrera design that has been used in contemporary re-editions and re-interpretations.
The Silverstone was created in 1974 as an answer to those who kept saying the Monaco was too angular: Jack Heuer picked up the square case, rounded the corners and… voilà! It was a part of the catalogue in blue, brown and red versions until 1977. In 2010, TAG Heuer re-edited the Silverstone in two limited runs (blue or brown) of 1860 pieces each with the inscription ‘150th Anniversary 1860-2010’ engraved on the back – but it is internally viewed as the brand’s biggest commercial failure, since many are still in store windows waiting to be sold; it was a misunderstood product and I would advise anyone to go and get one of those (as I did). Additionally, TAG Heuer also reissued that year a unique piece in red with Jack Heuer’s signature on the dial destined for the Heuer Haslinger Collection auction.
The 1970s rock!
A big part of the Silverstone appeal has to do with the fact that it features a typical 1970s design. And the colourful 1970s are definitely in, not only musically (take Daft Punk’s megahit Get Lucky) but especially on the watch scene: many of the best re-editions currently available are from that decade, from Eterna’s Heritage Super KonTiki 1973 to Vulcain’s Nautical Seventies – besides most of TAG Heuer’s, including the Autavia and Monaco (though introduced in 1969).
In ‘Rush, you can pick any random walk-on or extra and find he or she is accurately outfitted in 1970s style. Likewise, the Hunt and Lauda characters are of course dressed accordingly – Chris Hemsworth boasting wide lapels and velvet jackets specifically made by Gucci, while Daniel Brühl’s attire was fashioned by Salvatore Ferragamo. And both wear Carrera sunglasses.
TAG Heuer endorsement
TAG Heuer had already heard that a movie on the world of Formula 1 was being prepared when the producers of Rush contacted the brand early in 2012. An agreement was formalised and by the time director Ron Howard attended the Monaco Grand Prix (sponsored by TAG Heuer) in May, it was already a lock. Through the TAG Heuer Museum, the brand provided a list of 10 items comprised of four stopwatches and six wrist chronographs (the gold Carrera and the blue Silverstone, plus a brown Silverstone, a Monaco, a Manhattan and a Chronosplit Ferrari), besides technical collaboration for the original timekeeping used back then.
During the filming, contacts were scarce but TAG Heuer began working on the promotion of the movie right after its release, especially after the first viewing in June: it was that good. And, on September 12th, the brand gathered Jack Heuer, Jacques Deschenaux (Formula 1 journalist), Philippe Seifert (son of Jo Siffert, the first Formula 1 driver sponsored by the brand), Alessia Regazzoni (daughter of Clay Regazzoni, another ambassador) and Jean Campiche (responsible for the timekeeping teams) for a private screening. All were blown away by the quality and the attention to detail.
Sign of the times
The movie shows clearly how Formula 1 has evolved in the past 35 years, since the terrifying Niki Lauda accident at the Nürburgring that spiced up the rivalry with James Hunt and prompted his miraculous comeback. The biggest difference between now and then? In the 1970s, driving was dangerous and sex was safe – yes, it is true that the Brit had his racing suit embroidered with the motto ‘Sex, Breakfast of Champions’ was and it was said he had 5,000 lovers! Now, sex is dangerous and driving is, according to many, too safe. Drivers used to be an eccentric bunch who partied hard; these days they are an elite group of highly paid professionals whose life is so intensely scrutinised by media and sponsors they can’t afford controversy.
Jack Heuer once described me the real difference between eras: “A racing driver in the 70s always had one foot on the grave; therefore he didn’t know on Saturday night whether on Sunday night he would be celebrating a victory or dead; they didn’t know, so they lived more intensely than the drivers today, they were stronger personalities, they were truer and more original people. All athletes today have an entourage, a fitness trainer, a beautiful girlfriend or a model as a wife – it’s a part of the status”.
More than anything else, what struck me in the clichéd Hunt-Lauda rivalry (inspiration vs discipline, partyboy vs scientist) as exacerbated in the movie was the sociological clash between the amateur spirit and the professional approach. The 1970s defined the changing values that foreshadowed the end of the amateur era and the rise of professionalism – and that transition was embodied by James ‘The Shunt’ and Niki ‘The Rat’: their final dialogue is an ambivalent moral lesson. Don’t miss it!