We won’t even see Season 2 of Netflix’s fantastic Drive to Survive until March. Allow me to suggest a temporary fix from another world – the 1960s. Also – want a preview of Zandvoort circuit’s return in 2020? It’s here.

Reasons for modern F1 fans to watch GRAND PRIX (1966)

Until the classic F1 movie RUSH (2013), John Frankenheimers 1966 movie was Hollywood’s only attempt to cover the F1 circus on any kind of scale. RUSH is a period recreation of F1 in the 70s using a lot of cgi. GRAND PRIX, while not as effective a movie, even allowing for age, is an almost biblical level epic filmed during an actual F1 season (BEN HUR might be a a good comparison). 1966 was an odd transitional year for these types of movies.

Period F1 detail
If I can be permitted to do this one more time after the Ford vs Ferrari review, GRAND PRIX (1966) is full1 960s era immersion, like MAD MEN with the plot of GLADIATOR.

Original circuits
Classic Dutch circuit Zandfoort makes a return to the F1 calendar next year Want a preview of Zandfoort? Look no further, courtesy of Jackie Stewart in a clip from the movie itself. You’ll see that improving the safety was an issue with these vintage versions of :

  • Monaco
  • Clermat Ferrand
  • Spa
  • Zandvoort
  • Vintage Brands Hatch looks fantastic
  • Monza including the old banked oval

The original drivers
Yes that is Jackie Stewart just backing off in that still from the movie above. They don’t just make cameos in this movie. Graham Hill is practically a co star – Damon Hill must watch this and think it’s a home movie. Ironically though Graham Hill obviously isn’t much of an actor he seems more comfortable with the camera around than some of the professional actors (see below).

Other drivers seen in “Grand Prix” include Jack Brabham, world champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966; five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio (1951, ’54, ’55, ’56 and ’57) in an early formal reception scene, 1961 world champion Phil Hill and the following: Chris Amon, Lorenzo Bandini, Jean Pierre Beltoise, Bob Bondurant, Joakim Bonnier, Ken Costello, Nino Farina, Paul Frere, Richie Ginther, Dan Gurney, Dennis Hulme, Tony Lanfranchi, Guy Ligier, Bruce McLaren, Michael Parkes, Andre Pillette, Teddy Pillette, Peter Rev-son, Jochen Rindt, Jim Russell, Ludo-vico Scarfiotti Jo Schlesser, Skip Scott, Joe Siffert and Mike Spence.

 Grand Prix Driver's Association meeting in GRAND PRIX (1966). Includes Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, James Garner, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Antonio Sabato and Jo Siffert.
Grand Prix Driver’s Association meeting in GRAND PRIX (1966). Includes Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, James Garner, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Antonio Sabato and Jo Siffert.

It depicts the debut of Honda
One of the subplots in the movie is the tentative debute of a new race team from the exotic far east, referred to as ‘Yamura’ but obviously supposed to be Japanese motorsports Big Dog, Honda.
The new team are a little unsure of themseves and are generally underrated, but come through at the end in a wierd paralell of Honda’s coomeback (as Red Bull’s engine supplier) in the 2019 F1 season. Major Japanese movie start Toshiro Mifune plays a role obviously inspired by Soichiro Honda.

It shows the debut of McLaren
As detailed on McLaren’s own site
(highly recommended)
Not only is Bruce McLaren in this movie, his team makes it’s debut as well. The Yamura cars (see above) are McLarens in their first year in F1, repainted white.

The hardware
The era depicted is the heyday of Lotus, and the green cars and their revolutionary aluminium-sheet monocoque chassis feature heavily (as Stoddard’s ‘BRM’ team). It is just before the downforce era, so if you think Adrian Newey is Satan himself and wings and other contrivances have gone too far you will love this. The cars do seem able to follow each other quite closely. Around this time Lotus did have a technical bump in it’s era of dominance – according to wiki
“When the Formula One engine size increased to three litres in 1966, Lotus was caught unprepared partly because of the surprising failure of the Coventry Climax 1.5-Litre FWMW Flat-16 project, which prevented Climax from developing a 3-Litre successor. They started the season fielding the hastily prepared and noncompetitive two-litre Coventry-Climax FWMV V8 engine, only switching to the BRM H16 in time for the Italian Grand Prix, with the new engine proving to be overweight and unreliable. A switch to the new Ford Cosworth DFV, designed by former Lotus employee Keith Duckworth, in 1967 returned the team to winning form.”
Confusingly Stoddard’s team is referred to as ‘Jordan’ but has no connection to Eddie.

Stewart (as Stoddard) at Zandvoort

Ferrari’s featured in actual racing footage are 158’s but be aware the actors are mainly driving mocked up F3 cars. Common for most F1 movies, tv, documentary and coverage it has a lot of drivers shouting at Ferrari cars and shouting at Ferrari mechanics and Ferrari people shouting at everyone else.

Why isn’t it called F1 the Movie?
Formula 1 is the type of racing, the premier class. Grand Prix is the event.
At one time it was possible to have F1 races that weren’t Grand Prix’s and Grand Prix s that weren’t at F1 standard. For a Hollywood audience of the time obviously Grand Prix sounds a little more exotic than F1, so to avoid confusion ‘F1’ is barely mentioned throughout

It looks better than ever
Back when we had to watch this on tv with ad breaks, the general consensus was his movie was tedious beyond belief. Today, with 44 inch UHD screens and subtitles to catch every detail and a pause button, you really can actually watch this like a 2 episode DRIVE TO SURVIVE prequel (complete with the occasional wooden acting and stagey dialogue you might expect from a prequel type event) .

Movie as it was ran to nearly 3 hours but if you prefer to go by Frankenheimers original breaks there is a proper old movie Intermission at 1 hour 44. If you want to jump straight to Zandvoort it is right after the intermission at about 1 hour.

The race scenes are not as well edited as RUSH (made nearly half a century later) but for the era they are impressive. Multiple radio controlled pivoting cameras on quite primitive cars being pushed close to the limit, on banking circuits which were known to to dangerous and shortly to be banned (by the standards of the early 1960s!) .. driven sometimes by actors.. not racing drivers.. not stuntmen.. that is Garner in the car without silly back projection…

James Garner as Pete Aaron based on Phill Hill?
American driver Phill Hill won the world drivers championship for Ferrari in 1961, so we have to assume James Garner’s character is heavily based on him (difficult to see this movie being greenlit by tinseltown otherwise – RUSH was a German/British/US co-production).

Phill Hill as actually seen in the opening credits. If you like your Hitchcock and Kubrick you will love Saul Bass’s opening images

If you are too young to have come across James Garner before, this is probably his best serious drama role. He was actually a lot better as a comic actor (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF) In an era when the US A list actor competition is Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Clint Eastwood, Garner was always considered B list but it works in this movie as his character is not the centre of the attention – the sport and the era is. Garner is dry and cool in a fashion you might recognise from ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD and for an actor he really isn’t afraid to drive a real 1960s death trap petrol bomb F1 car.

This is Garner at Spa, no seatbelt, no full wet tires – no stuntman

Yves Montand as Jean Pierre Sarti based on Juan Manuel Fangio?
French actor Yves Montand puts in a convincing engaging performance as a Fangio like former champion who wants and needs to retire but can’t seem to leave it behind. Sarti’s story appears initially idyllic but as the team politics slowly unfold it appears he is living a nightmare he can’t escape. His romance with Eva Marie Saint’s journalist becomes the centre of the movie.

Drivers give voice overs during the races, enhancing the feel of a documentary. Characters are also presented much like a multi episode doc, with plenty of cross cutting between several drivers and teams, often connected to line ups and contracts. As a movie this serves to obscure the real thread in the plot, which is not about the British or American characters but about the French driver in the Ferrari, Sarti. A cut of this movie just concentrating on Montand’s and Garners characters would be a much better film. Perhaps including the unbearable Stoddard characters and his wife is the price we pay for technical access to the British teams .

The connections with FORD VS FERRARI (2019)
The camera cars used to shoot Frankenheimers movie include a Ford GT 40 and a Shelby cobra. The GT 40 could apparently outpace the F1 cars. Bruce McLaren, winner of the race in that movie, actually features in the drivers meeting in this movie and even get’s a line, complaining about the safety at Spa.

The connections with LE MANS (’71)
There was a meta race between Grand Prix and another motor racing project, Day Of The Champion to be the first Hollywood F1 epic to reach the screen, and the fate of the two movies are deeply intertwined.
A detailed in Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans racing enthusiast and movie megastar of the time, Steve McQueen, was originally cast in Garners role for Grand Prix but had an epic fall out with a producer at an early meeting. That went so badly McQueen immediately kick started his own rival F1 project to be called Day Of The Champion, and quickly signed an exclusive deal with the Nurburgring which meant a whole section of Grand Prix, which had already been shot at the German circuit, could not not be used. Frankenheimer got the last laugh however and Grand Prix comfortably beat Day Of The Champion in the race to be released, so much so that Day Of The Champion was dropped by the studios and eventually became the other motorsports epic of the era, the documentary/ art movie that is LE MANS (1971)
Apparently McQueen owned a condominium just above James Garners, and in a scene which could have come straight from ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, McQueen would often urinate off his balcony into Garners garden explaining to him
“You fucked my movie, I’m fucking your flowers”

Be warned though

Brian Bedford Scott Stoddard based on Jackie Stewart
The supposed main character of the movie is a really tiresome dull recreation of Jackie Stewart, who irritatingly is in much of the movie driving Stoddard’s car wearing a mask. Knowing it’s supposed to to Stewart when it obviously isn’t is distracting and annoying. The Stoddard actor/character is a charisma black hole compared to the real thing, and Bedford mainly stumbles through the dramatic scenes in bad makeup looking like the most boring Hammer film character ever. His wife is even worse.

Old movie melodrama
Stoddard’s wife is either a traumatised woman or a monstrous harpy and perhaps the balance between the two is the movie’s intention. It doesn’t make her or him any more bearable. In contrast Eva Marie Saint’s quite affecting relationship with Montand remains relatively cool and believable, making it all the more powerful when she becomes effectively the climax of the movie.

Eva Marie Saint’ as journalist Louise Frederickson at Brands race

Old movie effects
In contract to some of the hypereal period detail action, there is one laughable effects shot.

Death as a spectacle in F1

“That’s what they come for – to see someone get killed” The movie makes explicit in several places that some of the audience for the sport at the time were mainly there to see death live. It really was this dangerous. These were the days when advertising billboards for Martini were more important than gravel traps and run off. Don’t bother trying to play ‘spot the seatbelt’ – there aren’t any.

One of the back stories in the plot is the phasing out of dangerous banking and the general danger in the sport. The film shows racing taking place on the banked oval section of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy, where even the F1 racers of the time refused to race (last F1 race to use this banking was Italian Grand Prix half a decade before).

Of the 32 drivers who participated or were seen in the film, five died in racing accidents in the next two years and another five in the following 10 years.

With the benefit of hindsight since 1966

We now know that the driver that the unbearable Stoddard character is based on went on to win 3 world championships, then retired early. Then he dedicated his life to improving the safety in the sport, making it something we can watch today alongside fellow enthusiasts – not ghouls.