The plot of the film — a year in the life of four international Formula One (F1) rivals and the nervous women who wait for them on the sidelines — isn’t much, but the film set the standard for presenting racing footage. Director John Frankenheimer, himself an amateur racer, certainly knew his way around fast cars; much of the high-speed action here looks like a dry run for the acclaimed car chases in his 1998 spy thriller Ronin. Frankenheimer hired real-life Grand Prix champion Phil Hill to drive the camera car, and much of the footage was shot on real Formula One tracks with real racers like Jackie Stewart sitting in for the actors.
In the editing room, Frankenheimer made vivid use of split screens and the ultra-wide Cinerama format; the movie earned Oscars for Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects. The production itself was a race, with Frankenheimer competing against Steve McQueen and director John Sturges, who were making a rival F1 epic that ultimately never came to fruition. McQueen reportedly turned down the lead role in Grand Prix for that project; instead, the movie gets a different kind of cool from the unflappable James Garner, who took up racing in real life after the shoot.