Formula One racing in the 1970s was about more than just fast cars. This week we’ll compare history with the 2013 Ron Howard movie Rush.
KEEP LEARNING WITH MORE RESOURCES
- Rush (2013 film) – Wikipedia
- Rush True Story vs Movie – Real Niki Lauda Crash, Real James Hunt
- ‘Rush’ only hints at race-car driver James Hunt’s exploits | New York Post
- Rush (2013) – IMDb
- Rush (2013/I) – Synopsis
- Niki Lauda – Wikipedia
- Niki Lauda: ‘I wish James Hunt could have seen Rush’
- James Hunt – Race Car Driver – Biography.com
- 1976 Formula One season – Wikipedia
- List of Formula One World Championship points scoring systems – Wikipedia
- James Hunt – Wikipedia
- James Hunt – Home
- Pole position – Wikipedia
- Formula 1 champion James Hunt slept with 33 BA air stewardesses before race | Daily Mail Online
- Niki Lauda And ‘Rush’ Star Daniel Brühl On Cheating Death And Faking Accents | HuffPost
- List of Formula One seasons – Wikipedia
- Formula One regulations – Wikipedia
- History of Formula One regulations – Wikipedia
- Number of Participating Drivers per Formula 1® Season
- 1950 Driver Standings
- Obituary: James Hunt | The Independent
- A tribute to James Hunt – YouTube
- F1 Driver’s Story: James Hunt – YouTube
- Niki Lauda – Nurburgring 1976 – YouTube
- Niki Lauda Talks RUSH Movie 2013 Niki Lauda Interview on James Hunt + F1 2013 Carjam TV HD – YouTube
- et’s talk about money: Niki Lauda – “What are friends, anyway?” – Money –
- Amazon.com: James Hunt: The Biography eBook: Gerald Donaldson: Kindle Store
- Niki Lauda on Rush, James Hunt and the crash that changed his life
- Marlene Kraus, Niki Lauda’s ex-wife (wiki,bio)
- Rush: a thrilling but untrusty ride | Film | The Guardian
- Marlene Knaus | Bio – age, net worth, married, husband, divorce, and more
- Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda marries his transplant hero girlfriend 21 years his junior | Daily Mail Online
- James Hunt – 1976
What comes to mind when you hear the legendary filmmaker’s name?
There’s so much to choose from:
Maybe the first thing you thought of was his eight-year run on The Andy Griffith Show as Andy’s son, Opie Taylor. That was from 1960 to 1968 and since Ron was born in 1954, he was just a child when he broke into Hollywood. Although, technically that wasn’t his first role. That would go to an uncredited role in a 1956 film called Frontier Woman. Ron was just two years old then.
Or perhaps your mind went somewhere more recent with another hit TV show, Arrested Development. Ron Howard was never on screen, but he provided the narration the show.
Maybe you’re not thinking of any of that. Maybe you’re thinking of one of the two films Ron Howard has directed that we’ve looked at here on the podcast, either 1995’s Apollo 13 or 2001’s A Beautiful Mind.
Of course, you’d be right for all of those and plenty more great movies and TV shows that could come to mind when you think of the work Ron Howard has done in Hollywood.
…and maybe a few not-so-great projects in there, too.
Today we’re going to be looking at yet another movie directed by the legendary filmmaker.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl and Olivia Wilde, 2013’s Rush snuck in under the radar for many despite being nominated for two Golden Globes and winning three BAFTA Awards.
Maybe one of the reasons it snuck in under the radar for many is because of the subject matter. Rush tells the story of a rivalry between two of the world’s best Formula One race car drivers—a sport that apparently isn’t as popular as space is.
At least, that’s what the U.S. box office would seem to imply. With a budget of $38 million, Rush would go on to make only about $27 million at the box office. For a bit of context, Apollo 13 was made for about $52 million and came home with over $172 million at the box office.
But let’s not rush to judgment based on numbers alone. Let’s speed into the world of fast cars as we compare history with Rush.
The true story behind Rush
We’re greeted in the opening moments of the movie by text on screen. It’s August, 1976, and we’re at the Nürburgring race track for the German Grand Prix. As the camera pans across race cars and their drivers, we hear a voiceover explaining that 25 drivers start every season of Formula One. Each year, two of those drivers die.
So right away we’ve got some details to verify and those details from the movie aren’t really true.
There’s not always the same number of drivers each season.
For example, in the inaugural year for Formula One, 1950, there were technically 81 different drivers who competed throughout the season, although only 22 of them ended up earning a position. The next year, 84 drivers with 19 earning a position.
By the way, to earn a position you have to score—even if it’s a fraction of a single point.
But I think you get the point. There were more than 25 drivers each season for Formula One like the movie says. In fact, just three years after the sport officially kicked off there were the most drivers ever at 108 drivers in 1953. As of this recording, the most recent season was 2017 and it saw 22 drivers.
So if you’re like me, your next thought might be, well, maybe the movie is talking about an average. Over the 66-year history of Formula One from 1950 to 2017, there’s been a total of 3,056 drivers. That comes to an average of 44.9, but since it’s really hard to have 0.9 of a driver, let’s just say that’s an average of 45 drivers per season.
Then there’s the next stat. Each year, two of the drivers who start the season die.
Well, again, the numbers don’t really seem to back this up.
The first driver who lost his life was the British driver, Cameron Earl, who crashed his car during a test run on June 18th, 1952. That’s two years after Formula One started, so the detail in the movie is already incorrect. Sadly, two did die the following year, though, in 1953. Then one in 1954. Three in 1955.
As of this recording, the latest driver to pass away was the French Jules Bianchi who died in July 2015 due to injuries from a crash during the Japanese Grand Prix during the 2014 season. October 5th, to be more precise.
Yes, a lot of Formula One drivers have died over the decades. In all, 51 drivers have died since 1950. That’s 51 drivers across 66 years for an average of 0.77 drivers per year. Again, rounding to the nearest whole number, that’s one per year.
So while it’s tragic to lose an average one human being for a sport, at least it’s not two. In fact, in an interview after the film Rush was released, Niki Lauda himself commented that in the 1970s they knew at least one or two drivers would die each season. Everyone knew that. And safety was a real concern that they tried to get under control. But that’s easier said than done and while efforts were underway to make the sport safer, not a lot of success had been made on that front by the time the core plot in the movie happens—in 1976.
After this introduction in the movie, we’re taken back six years to 1970 and introduced to James Hunt. He’s played by Chris Hemsworth.
The main plot points here are the introduction of Nurse Gemma, who’s played by Natalie Dormer, and the apparent fact that James Hunt is quick to sex with the ladies.
Well, I couldn’t find any proof of a woman named Gemma that James Hunt hooked up with in 1970, so that seems to be inconclusive. But we do know that James Hunt had a lot of sex. And that’s something we see throughout the movie. In fact, some people have estimated James had sex with about 5,000 women in his lifetime. So we might not know if Gemma was real, but that sort of scenario is certainly plausible.
Oh, and as sort of a blanket statement, there’s not a lot of details about some of the secondary characters in the film like Gemma. So if you have more information about them that you can share, I’d love to hear about it!
Going back to the movie, James Hunt shows up with Nurse Gemma to the Crystal Palace Race Track in London in 1970. According to the movie, this is Formula Three racing and it’s here that James first meets Niki Lauda.
Niki is played by Daniel Brühl.
So the specifics that happen in this sequence where James and Niki meet aren’t things we can verify. For example, we don’t know about someone named Gemma so we don’t know James started dating the nurse we saw earlier. But there’s some things we know about Formula Three.
If you’re not familiar with formula racing, basically there’s three levels of drivers. Formula Three is the first one then there’s Formula Two and, of course, Formula One.
Think of this kind of like the D-League in basketball. Or maybe a better analogy would be the minors for Major League Baseball. There’s different levels like Single-A, AA, AAA and then the Majors. Players typically start in Single-A and rise through the ranks until they play in the Majors.
The same is true for Formula One racing. Most drivers start at Formula Three and rise through the ranks before they can race for Formula One. Of course, not everyone goes to Formula Three and then Formula Two, just like in baseball sometimes a player can skip from AA to the Majors.
According to the movie here, both James Hunt and Niki Lauda seem to have started their careers in Formula Three. At least that’s the impression we get when Chris Hemsworth’s version of James Hunt sees the newcomer Niki Lauda for the first time from across the track.
This is sort of true, but there’s more to the story.
James Hunt actually started his racing career outside of formula racing altogether as a touring car racer. Touring car racing is not nearly as fast as Formula One racing but they’re typically using regular cars that get suped up or highly modified for racing purposes.
For James Hunt in particular, he raced a Mini. That’s the small cars from the British Motor Company. Since a majority of listeners are in the U.S., you might be familiar with the Mini Cooper. Technically those are a sort of reboot of the original. The Mini Coopers you see driving around now are a subsidiary of BMW, the German car company and not the British Motor Company, or BMC. The Mini’s that James drove were iconic British cars that looked a lot like the Mini Coopers we see on the road in the U.S. today, but those were discontinued in 2000.
Anyway, in 1968, James Hunt started racing a little bigger cars and a little faster when he started formula racing. Not in Formula Three yet, but Formula Ford. That’s a little below Formula Three.
It didn’t take long for James to progress to Formula Three, though, which he did in 1969. So the movie is correct in showing that James Hunt raced at the Crystal Palace track in London. That happened on October 3rd, 1970.
So far everything seems to be in line with what the movie shows, so why did I say that it was sort of true? Well, that’s because the events we saw happen at Crystal Palace in the movie didn’t happen like the film shows.
In the movie, James Hunt and Niki Lauda getting into a bit of a tiff after James clips Niki’s car causing him to lose control. They both slide and a near-crash causes Niki to lose the race while James Hunt continues on to win the race.
It didn’t happen like that because Niki Lauda wasn’t there. Instead it was James Hunt and another driver named Dave Morgan. Near the end of the race, James and Dave’s cars collided and both cars were out of the race. James was furious. He got out of his car, ran over to Dave’s car and pushed him to the ground.
This event was highly controversial at the time, and although Dave Morgan ended up getting a 12-month suspension of his racing license, James Hunt was cleared of any charges and allowed to keep racing.
So if Niki Lauda wasn’t at this race, where was he?
Well, back in the movie, we see Daniel Brühl’s version of Niki Lauda get a bank loan to buy his way into formula racing. This after his well-off parents refuse to finance him since they don’t approve of racing as a career.
That’s true, but there’s a key difference from what we saw in the movie.
Like James, Niki started his racing career in a Mini car and worked his way up. In 1971, his career plateaued a bit and he decided to take a big risk when he took out a £30,000 loan to buy his way onto a Formula Two team.
That £30,000 loan is about the same as $504,000 today. It was only after this loan that Niki would then take out another loan to buy his way onto the Formula One BRM team in 1973.
So even though that was after the event we saw in the movie, Niki Lauda couldn’t have been at the Formula Three event we saw in the movie because he started his formula racing career at the Formula Two level.
Oh, and remember that little moment where Chris Hemsworth’s version of James Hunt mocks Niki Lauda and then when he turns away, he says to Nurse Gemma that Niki looks like a rat?
It’s something that James says about Niki throughout the movie. That little detail is true, but it wasn’t a nickname that James Hunt came up with. The real Niki Lauda explained in an interview with The Telegraph that the nickname was from a “marketing guy” from one of his sponsors, the cigarette brand Marlboro. That unnamed marketing guy thought because of Niki’s buck teeth it’d make for a good nickname and they put “The Rat” on his visor.
Technically, the movie never really says James Hunt came up with that nickname, but it sort of implies it. Still, there’s no mention of the Marlboro marketing guy, so I think it’s safe to say the movie is a little inaccurate here. But the real James did use it quite a bit when talking to Niki, if that counts for anything.
Back in the movie, James Hunt makes it to the big time when the team’s financier, Lord Hesketh, shows him their new Formula One car. The movie makes it seem like they got the idea from Niki by just buying their way in.
Although we don’t know if the specifics happened the way the movie shows, the overall gist is pretty accurate. Probably the biggest difference between what the movie shows and the true story is that James Hunt wasn’t a part of the Hesketh Team for as long as the movie shows.
Remember the scene at Crystal Palace? Well, in the movie we see Christian McKay’s character, Lord Hesketh there, but in truth James didn’t join the Hesketh Team until 1972. During his time in Formula Three before that, he was racing for a team named STP-March.
So the movie may have simplified the timeline a bit, but the end result is the same. Oh, and Lord Hesketh’s real name was Alexander. Alexander Hesketh was a politician in the UK’s House of Lords, so that’s why they call him Lord Hesketh in the movie.
Speaking of which, the next big plot point happens when we meet a new main character. This is Olivia Wilde’s version of Suzy Miller. According to a newspaper the nearby mechanics are reading while she’s talking to James, Suzy is a model.
After this introduction to Suzy, according to the movie, James and Suzy get married. Apparently after their first meeting. The movie seems to imply it was love at first sight—and marriage at second sight.
The movie doesn’t mention how much time has passed, but the only other year mentioned was back at the Crystal Palace track in 1970. Although the movie does mention briefly a driver dying at Watkins Glen track.
But the movie doesn’t really mention who it was that died at Watkins Glen. And unfortunately there have been two Formula One drivers who died at Watkins Glen. The first was François Cevert on October 6th, 1973. The second was Helmuth Koinigg exactly one year later on October 6th, 1974.
So, really, the movie could’ve been mentioning either of those because we know from history that this meeting between James and Suzy took place in 1974.
And James didn’t propose when they first met. But it was fast. Only a few weeks after meeting, James proposed and, on October 18th, 1974, Susan Miller became Susan Hunt when the two lovebirds were married at The Oratory, or sometimes called the Brompton Oratory. That’s a slang term for the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in London.
Going back to the movie’s storyline, while at his wedding, James gets some surprising news. Niki Lauda has joined the Ferrari team. As the movie explains, Clay Regazzoni signed with Ferrari and insisted on bringing Niki along because of his talents for setting up the cars.
There’s not a lot of details about this deal between Ferrari and Regazzoni other than it seems to be the catalyst for how Niki Lauda joined the Ferrari team, which is good because there’s not a lot of details we can verify. What we do know is that in 1974 Clay Regazzoni left the BRM team to join Ferrari. He had raced for Ferrari before, from 1970 to 1972, but Ferrari themselves weren’t doing so well. In 1973, a man named Luca Cordero di Montezemolo became the assistant of Enzo Ferrari himself—Enzo, of course, being the man who founded the Ferrari auto manufacturing company.
That same year, the Ferrari racing team named Scuderia Ferrari was in the midst of a slide. They were doing horribly and things needed to change. So in 1974, Luca took the reins for the Ferrari company’s Formula One team.
This change in leadership also saw a bunch of other personnel changes as well as something that’s important for our story today. It was because of those personnel changes that led to Clay Regazzoni to return to Ferrari. When he did, just like we saw in the movie, it was Clay who recommended Niki to the Ferrari team. He spoke so highly of Niki that Ferrari offered to pay off all of Niki’s debts—including the loans he’d taken out to buy his way onto the BRM team—if he’d join their team. It was an offer too good to pass up.
So even though the movie doesn’t show the year, we know Niki Lauda joined Ferrari’s Formula One team in 1974.
After this, in the movie, we see Niki meet up with a woman named Marlene Knaus. She’s at a friend’s party that Clay takes Niki to. But Niki doesn’t want to stick around, so he catches a ride with Marlene back to Trento—the nearest town with a train station.
All of this is plausible, but unfortunately it’s not something we can really verify because there’s not a lot of documentation about when Niki Lauda happened to meet Marlene. However, if I were speculating on accuracy, I’d venture to lean on the side of it being more accurate since we know that Niki himself was a consultant on the film.
Back in the movie, the next big plot point happens when James Hunt switches teams from Hesketh to McLaren. According to the movie, this happens when Lord Hesketh runs out of money and is forced to shut down the Formula One team.
After Niki Lauda won his first championship in the 1975 season, Lord Hesketh made the announcement that he couldn’t afford to keep the team going without sponsors and James Hunt was forced to find a job elsewhere.
Just like the movie shows, he didn’t have to look for long, though, because just before the 1976 season began, a driver named Emerson Fittipaldi left McLaren’s team. James was hired to take the vacant spot.
That set up the thrilling 1976 season where James Hunt was racing for McLaren and Niki Lauda was trying to defend his championship.
In the movie, we see a montage of races from the 1976 season. The first race of the season is in Brazil, which Niki wins. James takes second. Then in South Africa, the same result—Niki first and James Hunt second. Then in Spain, according to the movie, something different happens. James Hunt takes first and Niki comes in second. After this, there’s a measurement and James Hunt is determined to be disqualified for his car being 1.5 centimeters too wide!
As crazy as this seems, it’s true, but the movie is speeding things up a bit. Perhaps appropriate for a film about racing, but what I mean by that is that when it jumps from Brazil to South Africa to Spain, those were actually the first, second and fourth races in the season. The movie skips over the race in Long Beach, California that was the third race of the 1976 season. Clay Regazzoni took first place in that race with Niki coming in second.
A Frenchman by the name of Patrick Depailler took third place. He’s not really a focus in the movie, but if you look closely throughout the season you can see Patrick’s blue six-wheeled Tyrrell car with the word “ELF” painted on it.
Anyway, going back to the disqualification. When that happened, it didn’t take long for the McLaren team to appeal the decision. The movie doesn’t really focus on their reasoning for the appeal, but they said the measurement wasn’t accurate because the tires expanded during the race—which certainly can happen as the car speeds along the track and the tires heat up. Two months later, just like the movie shows, the disqualification was overturned and James Hunt was given the victory for this race.
According to the movie, James Hunt’s wife, Olivia Wilde’s version of Suzy Hunt, doesn’t seem to stay faithful to James. While James is racing, we see a newspaper with headlines talking about Suzy hooking up with the actor Richard Burton.
Of course, as a little side note, I’d like to call attention to the rumors of James himself having sex with over 5,000 women in his lifetime. So…it’s not likely he was staying faithful to Susan, either.
While the newspaper we saw in the movie was fictional, the story it told was not.
Although it’s worth pointing out that it happened a little bit earlier than we saw in the movie. The film makes it seem like James Hunt was having a horrible first half of the 1976 season, and then he’s blindsided by this little infidelity with Suzy and that’s what inspires him to turn it around for the second-half of the season.
That’s sort of true, but not really. In truth, Suzy left James closer to the end of the 1975 season. It was, though, for the actor Richard Burton, like the movie shows. And while the movie doesn’t mention this outright, there’s a moment where Chris Hemsworth’s version of James Hunt implies not having to pay a divorce settlement. That’s true. Richard Burton paid about $1 million for the divorce settlement.
But all of that paperwork didn’t happen overnight. Not to mention that Richard was married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time. So James and Suzy’s divorce was finalized in June of 1976 and then in July of 1976, Richard Burton divorced Elizabeth Taylor for the second time. Then in August of 1976, Richard and Suzy were married.
Speaking of marriage, the movie shows Niki and Marlene getting married soon after this. The movie doesn’t show any sort of date, but since we know this is the 1976 season it’s safe to assume it’s happening at some point in 1976—and that’s true.
According to the real Niki Lauda, it happened much like we saw in the movie, too. By that what I mean is that it was quite an uneventful affair. Niki explained in an interview with Huffington Post that the couple wanted to get married under the radar without any press. To give you an idea of how much planning went into the wedding, unlike what we saw in the movie, Niki wasn’t dressed up.
As Niki explained, they wouldn’t perform the ceremony if he wasn’t wearing a tie, though. So he found a random guy walking by with a tie and asked if he could borrow it for five minutes. And just a few moments later, the guy had his tie back and Niki was married to Marlene.
Back in the movie, the next major plot point happens on the Nürburgring race track in Germany. According to the movie, after a failed attempt to cancel the race due to rainy conditions, Niki loses control going around a curve and the car bursts into flames. The movie is really subtle in explaining what happened, but if you listen closely you’ll hear a TV announcer explain that the Ferrari’s fuel tank got punctured and that’s what caused the accident. Then after his car burst into flames, another driver named Brett Lunger crashed into Niki’s car before getting out to help Niki out of his burning vehicle.
The movie got all of this pretty spot on. In fact, you can see actual footage of Niki’s car crash at Nürburgring in 1976 online. I’ll make sure to put a link to it in the show notes at basedonatruestorypodcast.com if you want to check it out.
Fortunately, the movie also got it correct that Niki Lauda survived the horrific accident.
The movie again speeds up the timeline here, but we see a few more races from Niki’s perspective in the hospital. There’s the August 15th race at Österreich and the August 29th race at Zandvoort. Those are accurate to the real 1976 season and were the 11th and 12th races of the season, respectively.
Then the movie shows something remarkable. Not only does Niki recover from his injuries, he does it in time for the race in Italy in September of 1976.
Again, while the specific conversations and such may be dramatized for the film, the overarching plot is quite true, including the remarkable recovery.
After Niki’s crash in Germany—or more specifically West Germany at the time—on August 1st, 1976, Niki suffered from severe burns to his head as well as inhaling scalding and toxic gas fumes. The latter of which caused damage to his lungs and blood that probably would’ve been enough to kill him had the doctors not extracted much of it, similar to what we saw in the movie.
No one expected Niki to return. The Ferrari team even scrambled to find a replacement driver to finish out the season, a man named Carlos Reutemann.
The movie mentions 42 days, which might seem a little on the nose since that’s exactly six weeks, but that’s how much time was between the race in Germany where Niki crashed and the 13th race of the season in Monza, Italy—which is one of the suburbs of Milan. And that’s how long it took for Niki to return.
But before we continue, something interesting happens here in the movie. It’s not really something the characters in the film come out and say, but the general sense I got while watching this part of Niki’s recovery was yet another change in the characters. So if before the big change mid-season for Chris Hemsworth’s version of James Hunt was after his wife left, in similar fashion this recovery marked a sort of change for Daniel Brühl’s version of Niki Lauda. Except this time it was to offer some sort of respect for James Hunt as a competitor.
At least that’s how I read between the lines in the movie.
And if I read that correctly, that’s not really true, because according to Gerald Donaldson’s excellent biography of James Hunt, the two racers were actually very friendly during their careers. So the movie pits the rivalry between the two drivers as if they’re enemies, in truth it was really more along the lines of a very strong competitive nature between two great drivers.
That’s something we see all the time in sports between great athletes of all sorts.
For example, Niki Lauda himself mentioned in an interview once how he actually spent the night at James Hunt’s apartment after a night on the town in London. That’s not something we see in the movie at all, but it’s something Niki recalled them doing early on in their careers. Of course, according to Niki, it wasn’t just he and James. As he clarified with a slight smile, there were four of us that night.
After Niki’s amazing return from his accident in the movie, we see the film come to a close along with the 1976 season. That was, just like the movie shows, in Japan. And again, the movie accurately portrays the amazing comeback from James Hunt while Niki was in the hospital that allowed him to come to within just three points of catching up with Niki Lauda.
In the movie, this is made even more tense when Niki Lauda starts the race and then decides to stop the race because, as he says in the movie, it’s way too dangerous.
That is very true.
On race day, the Fuji Speedway track near Tokyo, Japan saw a downpour of rain. Many of the drivers protested the race, but it continued for the same reasons the movie said—because there were already international television rights for the race. Everyone wanted to see the tense competition between James and Niki.
Calling off the race could mean losing an untold amount of money. That’d be like cancelling the seventh game of the World Series when it’s tied three games to three—not going to happen.
The filmmakers didn’t really need to change much in the real story to make this interesting because, just like the movie shows, after two laps, Niki Lauda unexpectedly pulled into the pit and withdrew from the race. He said it was way too dangerous to be driving out there in the heavy rains. And he was probably right.
Remember, the last time he had driven in wet conditions he had barely escaped with his life.
That set up a championship for James Hunt if he could hit third place.
The movie doesn’t really mention how the points system works in Formula One, and to confuse things even more, the points system used in Formula One racing today isn’t the same as it was in 1976. So as a little refresher, the basic concept is that there were 16 races in the 1976 season. There’s not always 16 races, for example in 1977 there were 17 races. But since we’re focused on the ’76 season, there were 16.
For each race, the driver who came in first place earned nine points. Second place earned six points. Third place came away with four points, fourth place with three, fifth place with two and sixth place with one point.
So that’s why the movie mentions that in the last race when Niki Lauda had 68 points and James Hunt had 65 points, James only really had to finish in at least third place to come away with the win.
Well, sort of. Technically he had more first place finishes throughout the season than Niki had with an advantage of six to five. So if James had come in fourth place and tied with 68 points, James Hunt would’ve won the title anyway because the tie-breaker goes to whomever has the more wins throughout the season.
Something else the movie didn’t have to fake to add to the tension was how James Hunt came back from behind to take the victory.
With about 11 laps left, the tires on James’ car started to wear. Then one of his tires punctured and, like we saw in the film, he had to turn into the pit. While he was in there, James lost his lead to the American Mario Andretti.
It wasn’t until there were only two laps remaining when James finally managed to claim and hold onto third place until the end of the race. That finish gave him 69 points to Niki’s 68 points. Just barely enough to become the World Champion. The finish and victory was, as the movie shows, a surprise to James Hunt at the time.
As the movie comes to a close, we see montage of TV interviews and shots of James celebrating, there’s a quick one that we see where Chris Hemsworth’s version of James Hunt is in a photo shoot next to a very scantily clad woman. That’s a very real photo—just a minor little detail the movie adds. I’ll include a link to the real photo in the show notes at basedonatruestorypodcast.com.
This is part of a general story line that explains the different lives that Niki Lauda and James Hunt lead after the 1976 season. While James is celebrating his victory with alcohol and women, Niki is getting back to work to prepare for the 1977 season.
Daniel Brühl’s version of Niki provides voiceover as he explains that James retired from Formula One only a couple years later and, sadly, passed away at age 45.
All of that is true.
While Niki reclaimed his title in 1977 and again in 1984, James Hunt was apparently satisfied with just the one title in 1976.
On June 8th, 1979, James Hunt officially announced his retirement from Formula One racing—effective immediately. Within a matter of weeks, BBC reached out to James to hire him as a broadcaster to cover Formula One on their TV channel. He agreed, and for about a decade and a half had a successful career in broadcast.
While the movie makes it seem like Niki Lauda went a completely different route and stayed in Formula One racing while James Hunt retired, that’s not entirely true. You see, Niki Lauda also retired from Formula One in 1979.
The big difference is that after his retirement and decision to focus on a new airline he started, Lauda Air, Niki returned to Formula One racing in 1982. He’d go on to win another World Championship in 1984 before retiring for a second time in 1985.
As for James Hunt, he tried to return to Formula One in 1980, but McLaren’s sponsor, Marlboro, was only wanting to offer James half of the $1 million he was asking. Any chance of seeing James behind the wheel on the track disappeared when James broke his leg in a skiing accident—Marlboro pulled their offer.
Which is interesting because just a couple years later, in 1982, James was offered £2.6 million to race for another team. That’s about the same as $11 million in today’s U.S. dollars. He turned that down.
In his personal life, James and Suzy never reunited, but toward the end of 1983, James met and fell for a waitress named Helen Dyson. She was almost 20 years younger than James, but neither of them seemed to care about the age difference.
On June 13th, 1993, James Hunt covered his last event for the BBC when he rode his bicycle the ten or so miles from his home in Wimbledon when to the BBC’s studios at Television Centre in London. That’s about 16 kilometers.
That event was the 1993 Canadian Grand Prix.
The following day, James called up Helen and proposed to her over the phone.
That night, we can only assume he went to sleep a happy man. Unfortunately, he never woke up.
James Hunt passed away in his sleep on the morning of June 15th, 1993 due to what doctors would later determine was a heart attack. Just like the movie says, he was only 45.
As of this recording, Niki Lauda is still alive. As we learned earlier, Niki was one of the consultants on the film Rush, and he’s had the chance to see it since it was released. Niki has gone on record a number of times praising the filmmakers for accurately portraying the events on screen.
If there’s one regret he has, though, it’s that James never could see the film. In an interview with The Telegraph, Niki was reminiscing about James and the movie when he said:
“The sad thing is he isn’t here now. I wish he could have seen the movie because I know for sure he would have enjoyed it.”