I watched “Rush” a few days ago – the movie that details the rivalry of Niki Lauda and James Hunt. It is a movie that explores the contrast between two top racers – a passionate dare-devil Britisher called James Hunt and a clinical German called Niki Lauda. They raced at a time when F1 was far from safe – a death or two every year was commonplace – and brought incredible skill to a challenging and often punishing sport. Rush is about an epic rivalry that pushed both of them to do better.
The crux of the story is in their differing approach to racing. James Hunt (painted as the more talented racer) approaches racing with passion, love, and possesses the sort of dare-devil instinct that allows him to put his life on the line. His life involves multiple highs and lows with alcohol, women, and substance abuse – he’s the flawed superstar. Lauda, on the other hand, works the percentages. For him, racing is a profession and he’s out there to win. He refuses to race in conditions where he sees more than a 20% chance of death. He also understands every aspect of the car and often helps the technicians with the engineering. It makes for a great contrast and a very interesting story and, as the movie goes on, they develop a grudging respect for each other’s talents.
James Hunt eventually does win the world championship he always dreamed of. However, things go downhill very quickly after that. He loses focus (despite Lauda’s attempts to push him) and he dies aged 44. His story reminds me of that of Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend George Best. Best was the best player of the world at 22 but no amount of talent could save him from himself.
It is a telling reminder that talent is only one part of the equation of excellence and happiness. There’s a lot more to life than that and the boring traits of discipline and consistency rarely get the credit they deserve.
Lauda sums it all up brilliantly after a conversation with Hunt just after Hunt’s world title.
“Of course he didn’t listen to me. For James, one world title was enough. He had proved what he needed to prove. To himself and anyone who doubted him. And two years later, he retired. When I saw him next in London, seven years later, me as a champion again, him as broadcaster, he was barefoot on a bicycle with a flat tire, still living each day like his last. When I heard he died age 45 of a heart attack, I wasn’t surprised. I was just sad. People always think of us as rivals but he was among the very few I liked and even fewer that I respected. He remains the only person I envied.”