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Emmys 2017
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The Wild Rivalry That Inspired 'Rush'

Formula One racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt were fighting for the 1976 world championship when a crash nearly cost Lauda his life; the former superstar talks about living to see his story on screen

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Ron Howard didn’t know much about Formula One racing when he first encountered Peter Morgan’s script for Rush. ”I just knew that it was cool and intense and there was a kind of glamour to it,” says the director. He knew even less about the motorsport’s most famous rivals, the Borg and McEnroe of Formula One: Niki Lauda and James Hunt. But for those who lived through the riveting 1976 season when Hunt and Lauda battled for the world championship, the memories haven’t faded. ”When that season finished, I said, ‘If you wrote this as a film script, nobody would accept it,”’ recalls Alastair Caldwell, who managed Hunt’s racing team. ”From beginning to end, there was drama.”

The Competitors
The British Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) and the Austrian Lauda (Daniel Brühl) were polar opposites in many ways. Hunt was seen as a playboy, as celebrated for his good looks, his partying, and his love of women as for his skills behind the wheel. ”He was a very atypical British sex symbol,” says Morgan. ”He looked like he just got off a surfboard.” Lauda, by contrast, was all business, his mind devoted purely to driving and winning. Still, the two shared a willingness to put their lives on the line. ”In those days, Formula One was a very dangerous business,” Caldwell says. ”We lost two or three drivers a year. I wouldn’t get close to James because if he died, I didn’t want to go to his funeral as his friend.”

The Crash
It was Lauda, not Hunt, who nearly died on the track. In August 1976, a terrifying accident left him badly scarred, though he managed to compete against Hunt just six weeks later. Watching the crash and its aftermath in Rush gave Lauda (who, at 64, is a Formula One commentator and is involved with the Mercedes team) a new perspective. ”Back then, I would get very upset when people approached me and wouldn’t look in my eyes,” he says. ”All they wanted to see was how badly my face was burned. But when I saw the movie, I saw it from the other side and I knew why they were so shocked.”

The Truce
While Rush depicts Hunt and Lauda as archrivals, they greatly respected each other and maintained a friendly relationship until Hunt died of a heart attack in 1993 at age 45. ”On the circuit there are some drivers you don’t trust and some you do — and James was one that I trusted,” Lauda says. ”It’s a pity because he would have enjoyed this, for sure. We could have laughed about the past.”