Coming from the perspective of someone who didn’t understand the difference between Formula 1 and NASCAR, the fascinating documentary “1” serves as a great introduction to the car racing circuit that transfixes the world. Let’s just say that if you know nothing about Formula 1, watch this film before watching Ron Howard’s film Rush, which chronicles one epic F1 rivalry between two of the racing greats from the 1970s. It gives a much richer context of the sport for newbies. Plus, considering the amount of interviews scored of the sport’s greatest (surviving) racers, “1” would be a real treat for longtime fans of F1 as well.
Grand Prix auto racing has been around almost as long as automobiles themselves. First roaring to popularity in the 1920s, the Formula 1 circuit as we know it really roared to life in the 1950s. Though the races occur at tracks around the world (one of the most famous being in Monaco, where the route takes the racers dangerously through city streets), the teams are based on the cars (for instance Porsche or Honda) rather than the nationalities of the drivers hired by the teams. Team Ferrari has such fervored Italian fans, for instance, that the fans actually have a name: Tifosi.
“1” focuses mainly on the sport’s most exciting, dangerous, and transformative years in the 1960s and 1970s. Without any background or familiarity with the big names, I quickly started to see a pattern. As one hot shot driver was introduced after another, you start to get the sense that they were doomed. Jim Clark. Jochen Rindt. When you see the beautiful eyes and 70s-pinup good looks of François Cevert, you can’t help but note that there are no modern interviews with him. As 3-time champion Jackie Stewart notes, the tracks were the same, but the cars were going pretty much twice as fast. More attention was put into designing and redesigning cars for speed, rather than safety.
It took decades of horrific accidents for the sport to improve its safety standards, and to Formula 1’s credit (or discredit, if you consider inaction excusable), the last major death was in 1994, when Ayrton Senna’s car slammed into a wall. Still, with speeds averaging over 150mph on winding, dangerous roads, F1 continues to be a thrilling and extremely dangerous ride. Whether or not you have a familiarity with Formula 1, this documentary is a fascinating and engrossing profile of a sport that has rabid fans worldwide.