You wait ages for one F1 film to come along...

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This, though, is not simply a Rush cash-in – it was taking shape before Ron Howard even started

The superb feature documentary 1 will finally reach the big screen in October as part of the London Film Festival, prior to receiving a wider distribution in the UK.

In essence the film tells the history of Grand Prix racing by focusing on safety, with an emphasis on how – after decades of tragedy – the tumultuous events of 1994 forced the sport to confront the issue properly.

It is the baby of 50-year-old Briton Paul Crowder, a former rock drummer who once played with Sixties legends Eric Burdon and Robby Krieger. Having switched careers he has edited or directed a string of documentaries on subjects as diverse as The Who and the 1970s New York Cosmos football team.

His partner on 1, screenwriter Mark Monroe, was behind 2009 Best Documentary Oscar winner The Cove. Crowder had long wanted to make an F1 film. Via a family friendship with Herbie Blash, 1 producer Michael Shevloff was able to make contact with Bernie Ecclestone. Doors were opened, and thereafter the team gained access to pretty much anyone they wanted. Archive footage from the FOM vaults is thus combined with an awesome array of new interviews with a list of world champions from John Surtees to Sebastian Vettel, along with team bosses, wives and others involved in the sport. The late Prof Sid Watkins features heavily, as does Max Mosley, who is rightly credited with creating much of the impetus for change after Imola ’94.

It’s inevitable that 1 will be seen as taking advantage of the slipstream created by Senna and Rush, but filming began in January 2010, and planning started long before then. Ron Howard saw an early cut before he even began Rush and has acknowledged that it was a useful research tool.

“We basically spent 2010 gathering all our interviews,” Crowder says. “It helps solidify what a serious film it is – and how much detail we went into – that we have such a vast spectrum of interviewees who were able to tell a very comprehensive story.”

The biggest problem was keeping it to a manageable length: “We spent many months fine-tuning the story, who stays and who goes, how to keep it on point and moving forward all the time.”

A nearly finalised 1 was shown in Austin last year, to an audience that included Ecclestone and other paddock luminaries. It was well received – and a huge cheer went up when Watkins appeared on screen. The definitive version was signed off in February after the addition of new narration by Hollywood star and racing fan Michael Fassbender. The production company it shares with Rush wanted to hold it back and gauge reaction to an F1-themed film, although Crowder believes it will be worth the wait.

“To hear great things about Rush just gets me more excited,” he says. “Hopefully that means there’s more in store for us later this year. We’re champing at the bit for people to see this, and it’s great that we’re finally coming to the public.”

1 is being shown three times in October as part of the London Film Festival (see https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/1), and plans for a wider UK release will be confirmed later. A DVD will follow, and hopefully a high-profile TV showing, but see it first in the cinema if you can.

“The movie was designed for cinema – the sound was mixed that way,” says Crowder. “To watch it on your laptop or TV is great, but you should really be watching it on a big screen – and loud! It’s a theatrical film.”

Adam Cooper

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