Director: Hannes Michael Schalle
Cast: Niki Lauda, James Hunt, David Coulthard
Watch Lauda: The Untold Story online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / iTunes / Google Play
Niki Lauda will be very familiar to any F1 fan, but even for the casual viewer, his name will ring a bell, thanks to Ron Howard’s recent racing drama, Rush. There, Daniel Brühl’s performance as James Hunt’s cool-as-a-cucumber rival stole the whole show. What, then, is so unknown about him that it should warrant a documentary titled “Lauda: The Untold Story”? That’s one of many problems that Hannes Schalle’s film tries to overtake. Frequently, though, it gets stuck on the bend.
The movie begins by playing the most dramatic card in its deck: the 1976 fire at the German Grand Prix almost killed him. How did he recover from that blast to compete again at Monza, just few weeks later? And, more to the point, how did he do it all so calmly?
There’s real meat here for a character study to chew over and The Untold Story certainly gives us an insight into its subject: he appears frequently to give us his perspective on past events. He’s frank, honest and matter-of-fact, exactly as you’d expect. But before then, we have to see footage of the crash and ensuing blaze, footage that is accompanied by Dramatic Music and topped with a cheesy American voice over that counts the number of seconds Nikki was trapped in his fiery cockpit.
It’s the kind of unsubtle presentation that feels more sensationalised than sensitive. Surprisingly, though, that feeling is completely at odd with the movie’s final section, which shifts focus from our driver to the sport in general and how it has employed new safety measures to prevent similar accidents happening in the future.
Access is always a key factor to a documentary’s success and Schalles certainly has it: everyone from Jackie Stewart to David Coulthard is available to comment, while most of the footage on show has not previously been broadcast. Behind-the-scenes archives are essential to capturing the impact Nikki’s crash had upon the racing world. But zooming out to show the corporate rather than the human takes away more of the personal weight of that opening incident. There is speed, yes, and an intriguing profile of Nikki’s constant control – the fact that he started his own airline company is one of a long list of impressive achievements – but the sudden swerve into detailed technical territory will leave the attention of most casual viewers spinning off the track.
Lauda may well have an “untold” story, but this doesn’t seem like the best way to tell it.