x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ron Howard plans F1 film about Lauda and Hunt

The former Happy Days star and Apollo 13 director explains why he sees cinematic potential in the rivalry between two of the top drivers of their generation.

Ron Howard is looking to F1 for his next film project.
Ron Howard is looking to F1 for his next film project.

Ron Howard is perhaps best remembered on the screen as the happy-go-lucky Richie Cunningham in the long-running American television series Happy Days.

But behind the camera he has proved even more successful, directing such Hollywood blockbusters as Apollo 13, Backdraft, A Beautiful Mind - for which he won an Oscar - and The Da Vinci Code. In doing so, he has worked with the likes of Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe.

However, the 57-year-old is poised to enter a different movie-making phase altogether with a planned film centred on motorsport and the world of Formula One.

Peter Morgan, who wrote the play Frost/Nixon on which Howard based his movie of the same name, has written a new script that takes on the events of the 1976 F1 season.

The film has the working title Rush. Howard explained: "The script is very much about the relationship that year between Ferrari driver Niki Lauda and McLaren racer James Hunt, who were the two top guys in the championship at that time.

"I got sent the script by Peter and I liked it very much - it blew me away, in fact. It's a great story, it's a remarkable story and, as all F1 fans know, it nearly ended tragically when Niki Lauda crashed into the barriers while travelling real fast and his car burst into flames.

"Amazingly, he survived but he was clearly in a bad way, but even more amazingly he missed just two races and returned for the Grand Prix in Italy."

Clearly struggling with the extent of his burns, though, Lauda, who had been dominant in the early part of the year, winning five of the first nine races, was not quite the same force again that season.

Hunt won two of the remaining four races and, when he finished third in atrociously wet conditions at the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix and Lauda withdrew from the race insisting it was too dangerous (and hence scored no points), the Briton pipped his Austrian rival to the title by a single point.

The film has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster with its dramatic twists and turns, although Howard revealed it will be shot on a more modest budget, much like Frost/Nixon.

"It's a European film and so the budget's going to be set accordingly," he said. "But I think it will still work with American audiences. Even though Nascar is king in the States, a lot of people love F1 and even more people like a good story and this is just that."

Hunt died in 1993 after suffering a heart attack at his home at the age of 45, so Howard, as he says himself, "never had the pleasure of meeting the guy".

But he added: "I've met Niki Lauda and we've spoken at length. He's a cool guy who did some pretty amazing things in a race car. He's still a colourful character today."

Despite the nature of the film, Howard readily admits he is no motoring expert, not that he does not enjoy it. "I've been to some races in the States and one Formula 1 Grand Prix but it's a relatively new world to me," he said. "But I'm a really big sports fan so this comes under that bracket.

"Actually I'm on something of a crash course at the moment when it comes to cars and motorsport as a whole. But it's not a problem, really it's not. Before I filmed Backdraft, I was far from an expert in fighting fires, likewise pre-Apollo 13 filming I wasn't up with my knowledge of space. So I'm learning all the time and I'm loving the journey."

Intriguingly, it marks a full circle for Howard, whose directorial debut had a four-wheeled theme with Grand Theft Auto, in which a young couple - Howard played the lead role - steal a car and take part in an increasingly explosive car chase to Las Vegas.

Howard also drove a 1958 Chevrolet Impala in the 1970s film American Graffiti, taking part in a police chase during the film as well.

As for cars as a whole, Howard admits he is not an avid collector but likes to have a look. "Sure, I like my cars, which guy out there doesn't?" he said. "But I'm not about to race out and get a Lamborghini or a Ferrari anytime soon."

Ron Howard really is a car guy, when you look at some of his work.