Keep your enemies closer

The long awaited adaptation of Formula 1 history is here: Ron Howard’s Rush has hit the big screens across the UK attracting both sporting and Thor fans alike. As adaptations go – especially those provided by an American director with admittedly limited knowledge about the sport – some manipulation of the facts is to be expected, for the good of the motion picture… a pill which can be hard to swallow for devoted petrol-heads. However, the general consensus is that Rush is a film worth watching to learn or remind oneself why today Niki Lauda stops in wonder over his own 40-year younger self.

Those who expect to see a prequel to Senna are in for a big disappointment; the production uses hardly any archive footage until the final credits while Chris Hemsworth’s hammer-bearing godly accent makes a far lesser impression than Ayrton’s live voice recordings in the 2010 documentary. But when a more sport-focused viewer – like myself – finally accepts the relationships-driven storyline, it is hard not to enjoy the parts when the action picks up speed: the deafening roar of the engines, the pictures of cylinders brought into motion and the on-board camera shots from the races are captured beautifully thanks to the tools of modern cinematography.

But then the storyline returns to the troublesome topic of toxic relationships – at which point one has to agree that it forms an integral part of not only the motion picture, but also – of a champion Formula 1 driver.

Rush talks about rivalry that created champions Photo poster: Total Film

Rush talks about rivalry that created champions
Photo poster: Total Film

Rush traces two types of human interaction that can directly affect a driver’s performance: romance and rivalry. While the first type is bound to be interpreted differently depending on the sportsman character – point clearly demonstrated in the film (even if overly dramatised). The second type, however, can be generalised across the history of the sport: it’s rivalry that pushes the driver to be beat his opponent at any cost. To quote Daniel Brühl – mastering the portratal of Niki Lauda in Rush – and his response to Hunt’s clumsy apology as feeling responsible for Lauda’s accident:

“You were. But you were equally responsible for getting me back in the car.”

READ ALSO: Loyalty, Ambition and War: the F1 team trinity

History has provided plenty of examples of this form of toxic relationship, which ultimately creates champions – most notably, the relentless competition between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Just like Hunt and Lauda, the pair would keep a close eye on each other’s on-track decisions and do the maths score by score to aid their title campaign.

One could argue that there is more to a win than the driver’s determination, with the different car packages being an obvious example, especially in today’s Red Bull-dominated sport – and the Ferrari superiority is what Hunt considered Lauda’s winning card, when faced with his own “illegally” set-up, death-on-wheels McLaren. However, the rivalry gains a whole new meaning when it takes place between team-mates. The unbearable toxic atmosphere in the McLaren garage was apparently the trigger for Prost to move away from Senna on to Ferrari. Closer to date, the untamed rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – again at McLaren – cost both of them the championship title in 2007, when they ended the year on the same amount of points – both one point off behind the winner. One year later Alonso followed in Prost’s footsteps and took over the leader’s seat in Ferrari.

Massa helped Raikkonen win his 2007 title - now he's given the Finn his own seat on the team Photo: Getty Images for The Telegraph

Massa helped Raikkonen win his 2007 title – now he’s given the Finn his own seat on the team
Photo: Getty Images for The Telegraph

And now he is to be joined by the man who potentially took his 2007 title…

Ever since the historic Maranello team announced at its home Grand Prix this year that their driver line-up decision was “imminent”, the name Kimi Raikkonen kept popping up in various contexts: “Raikkonen admits Lotus just too slow“, ” Kimi Raikkonen poised to make 2014 decision as Ferrari deal nears “, “Nico Hulkenberg plan B for Lotus if Kimi Raikkonen goes” and, just a day before the grand announcement: ” Alonso will accept Ferrari’s 2014 decision as Raikkonen talk grows“.

The Spaniard’s recent critical outbursts and spats with the team’s bosses have been interpreted as a protest against the decision that reportedly was still to be made. And little wonder: his pairing with meek Massa was ideal for the third career title contender, who was faster than his team-mate, even when he was not.

READ ALSO: Felipe Massa

“Montezemolo knows me 100 per cent, he knows what I can do, he knows my talent, he knows what I already did for the team,” Massa told AUTOSPORT shortly after the Italian Grand Prix. It is common knowledge that he has often times helped Alonso gain positions and points – as he had helped Raikkonen gain his champion’s title in 2007. But now, facing the fourth year of thrashing by a drink-company suit,  the longest running team on the grid has decided to double up the point-scoring forces in the squad.

“I’m not a fan of the new hiring,” Cesare Fiorio, former Ferrari sporting director said in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport.

“He doesn’t live like an athlete and to be champion in F1 talent is not enough.

“You need physical, technical and psychological effort and, from what I know and have seen, he’s the type of guy who takes his bag and leaves shortly after the sessions…”

Best friends or biggest rivals: what team-mates will these two be? Photo: AFP

Best friends or biggest rivals: what team-mates will these two be?
Photo: AFP

…Words which bring to mind careless Hunt, considering racing as a part of his life, not an ultimate goa, and racing to win the title – even if just the one.

A different-from-Ferrari-norm approach did not, however, stop him from winning the championship in 1976 – nor did it stop Raikkonen from claiming his title with the team.

Fiorio did actually concede that his former team’s line-up choice for next year was, indeed, a practical one.

“I don’t see any problem ahead. In any case, the new pairing will be the strongest in 2014: the Mercedes pairing is close, but Rosberg is very inconsistent, he does exceptional things and then disappears.

“Kimi instead is a hammer in the races, a fighter, even though he’s not an ace in qualifying.”

He did not, however, doubt, who should keep on the leader’s cap in this set-up.

“In my opinion Alonso is happy: his worth will grow by beating him [Raikkonen].”

And yet, it is impossible to picture either one in this pairing doing what Massa did: assuming the subordinate role on the team.

Rush - and the media of the time - seemed to forget Lauda and Hunt were also good friends Photo: Luca Ferrari

Rush – and the media of the time – seemed to forget Lauda and Hunt were also good friends
Photo: Luca Ferrari

With the grand changes of 2014 it is difficult to predict whether Ferrari’s money-heavy tactic of pulling all the stops will be enough to finally take the championship reins back; but considering Raikkonen’s quiet, cold determination and Alonso’s fearless, fiery temperament – a vague resemblance of Lauda and Hunt – it’s a given that this pairing will provide numerous thrills on and off the track.

Some viewers of the newest Ron Howard movie – those who remember the good-old 70s in the sport – might find that one of its biggest cons is the portrayal of the animosity between the two drivers, when, in fact, Lauda and Hunt were close friends – an idea that adds another level to the concept of racing rivalry, often omitted by the media. Without the insight into the driver’s heads it is impossible to establish how they actually feel about their “rivals” – and Alonso’s response to the suggestion of leaving the “geniuses” at Ferrari for another team encompasses the complexity of the matter:

“It’s a way of living. My team, my second family, my friends.”

The phrase “keep your friends close…” has a special meaning in the world of F1.

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