TORONTO: RACE ACE NIKI LAUDA TELLS OF FRIENDSHIP AND RIVALRY WITH JAMES HUNT
Yes, Brad Pitt was here, yes I had a long chat with Benedict Cumberbatch (whose female fan following rivals Brad’s), Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock etc. etc……Toronto is swarming with celebrities drawn by the film festival and the opportunities to be interviewed and get themselves and their movies on track for the awards season.
But for me the high spot was a talk with former World Champion race car driver Niki Lauda, who is portrayed in the film Rush with uncanny accuracy by the German actor Daniel Bruhl. The movie focuses on the 1976 racing season and the rivalry between the British playboy driver James Hunt and the methodically brilliant Lauda.
Although the movie portrays them as two drivers who disliked each other in the early days of their careers, Niki tells me that in fact they used to go out on the town in London together and on at least one occasion he spent the night in Hunt’s flat. Then he added with a smile and a wink: “But not together. There were four of us.”
Lauda, the defending Formula One champion, was critically burned when his Ferrari crashed at Nuremberg, but only six weeks after the near-fatal crash he returned to the track. He retired at the end of the 1985 season and ran his own airline, Lauda Air,before selling it to Austrian Airlines in 2000.
Hunt, who died of a heart attack aged 45 in 1993, was known for his drinking, drug-taking and womanising while Lauda was always viewed as the serious, technically knowledgeable driver who thought of nothing but racing.
But, he told me,, “I knew James’s lifestyle and I tried to do after the race what James did before it.”