The 1976 Formula One World Championship was made of the sort of stuff that could never have even been imagined beforehand. It took nearly 40 years for Hollywood to catch on to this incredible story (and what a job Ron Howard did with Rush) of great rivals and sometimes-friends James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
In Hunt and Lauda, you had two marvellous characters – but also two approaches to motor racing that could not have been further apart. On one hand, you had James Hunt: the playboy and centre of the party but his raw and natural gift for driving a grand prix car quickly is still the stuff of legend today. It was often said that all he had to do was just show up, and that was more than enough to vanquish the opposition. For those rare times that he realised he actually had to drive, well, those were special times indeed. Then you had the clinical and dedicated Niki Lauda. Although not quite as highly strung as his Hollywood representation would have you believe, Lauda did prefer to isolate himself before races to study what lay before him. Even after his horrific accident at the Nürburgring during the middle of the ’76 season, Lauda went through excruciating procedures and physical therapy so he could get back into his Ferrari sooner rather than later.
So, for a moment let us pretend it’s the evening of the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix, the final race of the season. Lauda leads Hunt by a solitary championship point but who are you shouting for from the rain swept grandstands? The playboy or the professor?
Photo: Associated Press/Universal Pictures