Rush, which opened wide this past weekend, tells the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, real-life rival drivers who competed in the dangerous Formula One race-car circuit. The Ron Howard film chronicles the 1976 Grand Prix season, in which Lauda attempted to defend his World Championship against Hunt. With all the sex, drugs, trash talking and exploding cars, it’s hard to determine what in movie is true to life, and what is Hollywood manufactured drama. With the help of several sources—including a BBC documentary on the Hunt-Lauda rivalry, a biography of James Hunt and a Telegraph interview with Lauda himself—we’ve figured out what’s fact and what’s fiction, with minimal spoilers (as long as you’ve seen the trailer).
James Hunt and Niki Lauda were trash-talking rivals from the very beginning of their careers
Ruling: Fiction According to an interview with Lauda, he and Hunt spent time together exploring London’s nightlife. The two were friends, and Lauda was not quite the anti-social recluse that the movie depicts. They were, however, opposites in terms of their racing styles: Lauda was nicknamed the “computer brain” because he was a dedicated full-time competitor; Hunt was nicknamed “Shunt” for his reckless driving style. .
James Hunt was a somewhat eccentric partier
Ruling: Fact Hunt was so wild, in fact, that the film barely does him justice. According to a biography of Hunt, the race-car hunk bedded 5000 women in his lifetime, and he had a special affinity for airline stewardesses. He also heavily indulged in alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, as suggested by the film. A smaller detail the movie got right: Hunt was constantly taking off his shoes; he preferred to arrive at formal events barefoot and in jeans. .
James Hunt would get sick to his stomach before every race
Ruling: Fact Hunt’s pre-race ritual always involved vomiting. It’s up for debate as to whether this was due to nerves, excitement, or the ill effects of the previous night’s excesses. .
James Hunt proposed to his wife the day they met
Ruling: Fiction But that fact is barely exaggerated: Hunt proposed to model Suzy Miller only a few weeks after they met. However, the marriage quickly turned sour. He admitted to papers later in life that he was “roaring drunk” at his own wedding because he was apprehensive about giving up his bachelorhood. Miller did have an affair with, and eventually married, Richard Burton, though Hunt’s biographer argues that Hunt was relieved to be rid of his wife, not disappointed in her infidelity. Burton paid Hunt’s $1 million divorce settlement to Miller. .
Niki Lauda tried to convince his fellow drivers to boycott the German race course where he later had his near-fatal accident
Ruling: Fact Lauda called together a meeting of his fellow drivers to try to get the event taken off the circuit. He argued that the track—14.2 miles of extremely narrow track carved out of some mountains in West Germany—had been fine for vintage races, but was deadly for cars traveling at an average speed of 112 miles per hour. By 1976, 63 drivers had died in Grand Prix racing—and that year, drivers had a one in 15 chance of surviving the season. Lauda was outvoted by the other drivers. .
Niki Lauda returned to racing only six weeks after his accident
Ruling: Fact The facts of Lauda’s accident are all true—he was caught in an inferno and breathing fumes for nearly one minute. A priest even came to Lauda’s bedside to read him his last rites. Yet Lauda returned to the track only six weeks later to defend his championship against a fast ascending Hunt. He had a panic attack during his first practice run, but slowly built up to being able to race again and returned to drive in the British Grand Prix.