x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Cinematic tributes for a pair of champions

Ayrton Senna and Phil Hill, two former Formula One world champions, are to be the subject of films chronicling their illustrious careers.

Ayrton Senna and Phil Hill, two former Formula One world champions, are to be the subject of films chronicling their illustrious careers. Working Title Films, the British film maker, has already begun production on a documentary film featuring Ayrton Senna, the triple world Formula One champion who died 15 years ago this month at the ill-fated 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The Academy Award-winning production company, whose output includes light romantic comedies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, About a Boy and Notting Hill, has received the approval of the late driver's family to make the film, while also receiving similar support from the Ayrton Senna Institute, which manages the Brazilian's legacy. The institute was established to assist young children and has set up educational development programmes in more than 10,000 schools in Brazil.

Formula One Management is also understood to be providing Working Title Films with rare and unseen film footage of the iconic racer for use in the movie. The full-length feature film will concentrate on Senna's decade-long racing career in Formula One, from his first races with Toleman in 1984 through to his final, fatal drive for Williams at Imola. In between, Senna claimed 41 Grands Prix victories on his way to three world championship wins in 1988, 1990 and 1991 for McLaren.

His death, at the age of 34, remains the source of much conjecture. One theory blamed low tyre pressure for the Brazilian's high-speed crash at Imola's Tamburello bend, while some simply attribute the crash to driver error. Speaking a decade after his death, Damon Hill, Senna's team-mate said: "I am convinced that he made a mistake, but many people will never believe that he could." Asif Kapadia will direct the film. Kapadia is best known for The Return, a 2006 film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Far North, which starred Sean Bean.

Meanwhile, Tobey Maguire, who was critically acclaimed for his portrayal of Red Pollard in Seabiscuit, the movie adaptation of a book about an all-conquering racehorse in the Great Depression years, is being groomed to star in and produce a film dramatisation of the tragic 1961 Grand Prix season. The movie, which will be based on a forthcoming book by Michael Cannell entitled The Limit, will relive that year's title race when Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips raced for the championship as Ferrari team-mates and friends.

Hill, who died last year at the age of 81, and von Trips were vying for number one spot at the penultimate race of the season when a podium finish in the Italian Grand Prix would have been enough for the German driver to claim the title. Instead, his car clipped Jim Clark's Lotus on the second lap of the race before ploughing into a crash barrier at Monza. The accident killed von Trips and 14 spectators. Incredibly, the Grand Prix continued as the tragedy unfolded, allowing Hill to win the title and the race.

Hill remains the only American-born driver to have won the F1 championship. Despite his achievements he was a modest man who once attributed his success to an "amazing amount of luck". Columbia Pictures is close to completing negotiations to acquire the film rights for the book, which is not due to be published until the final quarter of this year. Development of the screenplay will be handled by the Maguire Entertainment, the Hollywood A-lister's production company.

nmarch@thenational.ae