Man in the know
While you wait for racing season to start, here's a list of must-watch motorsport films to whet the appetite
AS RACING SEASON IS YET TO KICK OFF, I thought I would use this column to highlight some of the motorsport related films and documentaries that I have seen over the years. I just watched the Grand Prix Driver series on Amazon Prime which followed the McLaren Honda team through this time last year. For those of you who followed the annus horribilis that was 2016 for the team, this is a remarkably open account of just how badly their year started, even before the first race. The documentary is made by Manish Pandey, a friend of mine whose name you may recognise from the Senna movie.
Manish told me that he was amazed at the level of access that McLaren granted to the filming crew and really hats off to the team for allowing the fans to get into the inner sanctum. I’m fairly sure that when they agreed to the documentary, they were hoping that 2017 would be the year that with a whole new engine design, Honda would get it right and they will have a behind the scenes documentary of a McLaren Honda revival. But that wasn’t the case and instead we saw some amazing scenes of tension between the English team and their Japanese partners.
This reminds me of a documentary made in 1993, titled A Season with McLaren. It was an amazing six-part documentary following the team through the season, which happened to be Ayrton Senna’s last year with the team. It’s still online on YouTube once you do a bit of digging and I would strongly encourage you to see it if you’re a true F1 fan.
Another legendary team that has released a movie in the past few months is Williams. This is a very different documentary which is a human story of a family that have gone on to run a Formula 1 team and create a dynasty and a legendary brand name within the sport over the past 40 years. The story is actually told largely from the lowest profile member of the family, Lady Virginia Williams, who was Sir Frank’s wife until she succumbed to cancer a few years ago. Ginny was a remarkably tough lady who I was very privileged to know and watch a few Grands Prix with over the years. When Frank had his accident in 1986 which has since left him in a wheelchair, she fought tooth and nail to keep him alive and keep the family together through it all – and amidst all this turmoil, Williams were the most successful team during the 1986-1987 seasons.
I do hope that with the growth of companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime, we get more and more of these documentaries. F1’s new owners Liberty Media have already recognised that to grow the fan base of the sport, we need to start telling the human stories of the characters involved. Opening up the filming rights for these sorts of documentaries has no impact on the actual race audience for the TV broadcasters, if anything it will serve to kindle the interest in people who have never seen F1.
I remember talking to my friend Bruno Senna about when he went to New York for the premier of the ‘Senna’ film a few years ago. Now the US doesn’t yet have a huge F1 fanbase and apparently there were a number of people who didn’t actually know that Ayrton was tragically killed in that accident in Imola which left them shocked and in floods of tears at the end of the film. But it also sparked their interest in this world of Formula 1.
Outside of the world of F1, I watched a couple of other documentaries about the Isle of Mann TT race. I’m lucky to count some of the big characters like John McGuiness and Guy Martin as friends now and I thought that I really ought to learn more about their world. There are a couple of fantastic documentaries that I would recommend: TT3D closer to the edge and Road.
John is the second most successful rider in the 98-year history of the Isle of Man TT race, with 23 career wins. I once said to him that I thought they were all crazy and it actually upset him! He had a very valid reply which was, “I hate when people say we’re crazy. We’re not. We just have a higher threshold for what we think is safe and what isn’t.” Actually, when I think about it, he’s right. To him, doing a lap of the 37-mile course at 185kmph average will feel quite slow and safe because they’re normally in the high 120s but to us, that would just be terrifying.
I digress. The TT3D film largely follows Guy and his campaign leading up to the Isle of Man TT race and also captures the incredible commitment and bravery of the other riders at the event. Road, is about a remarkable dynasty of the Dunlop family, who collectively are the most successful family to ever compete at the Isle of Man with Robert and Joey Dunlop being followed by Robert’s sons William and Michael. I don’t want to give too much away, but both these films are absolute must see documentaries, even if you have no interest in motorcycle racing!
The level of access that McLaren granted to the filming crew allowed the fans to get into the inner