06:02

Rush

I saw Rush last night. It’s a wonderfully cinematic version of the rivalry between James Hunt and Nikki Lauda that culminated in the incinerating crash where Lauda was appallingly burned – and opened up the championship to Hunt who won it in the last race in Japan in the same weather conditions that had nearly killed Lauda only months before. Lauda withdrew having started the race. Facts are bent but the story has real human tension and the race scenes have to be seen on the big screen.

Motor racing is, of course, the modern gladiatorial contest - with death and terrible injury as the stakes. But the modern races are sanitised versions of the carnage of the 1960s and 1970s - a period when it was said that, in contrast to our present era, sex was safe and motor racing dangerous. If the seventies was dangerous then the sixties were lethal.

I spent a morning once with Jackie Stewart – a three time world champion. He was telling me about his son Paul’s brush with cancer and he was postulating that stress may have played a major part. On the subject of stress I asked him how he coped with the almost wartime danger of his Formula One era that preceded the Hunt/Lauda rivalry by nearly a decade. He told me how in one season they were losing a driver every two weeks on average and he had taken on the task of unofficial undertaker – arranging for bodies to be flown home and the like. In his careful and methodical way he did what he could to reduce the risks for himself. His logic was interesting. If you had major organ damage you were probably done for anyway. If you didn’t and got to Intensive Care then you chances were quite good. The ‘killing zone’ was between when help arrived at the crash and the entry into Intensive Care. It was on that period that he focused. Who is going to be the most qualified person to keep you alive during that critical period? An anaesthetist. That is what they do every day. So he hired one to be on the trackside at every practice and race.

He never had to avail himself of his insurance policy – but I admired his logic.
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