F1: Lewis Hamilton takes on Steve McQueen

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarWednesday, May 13th, 2009

 
 

This one’s either a triumph or an outrage depending on your point of view – Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren MP4-24 dubbed into one of the all-time classic racing movies.

He’s taking on Steve McQueen (courtesy of some sponsor or other) and the Porsche 917 in which his character Michael Delaney duels with Ferrari 512-equpped rival Erich Stahler during a barely-fictional version of the 1970 Le Mans race.

This gets particularly taxing for the thinking viewer because Le Mans is replete with genuine race footage and McQueen was only a few steps away from being a genuine professional racing driver himself.

So the viewer has to balance the knowledge that he or she is looking at footage of a real-life F1 pilot racing a fictional driver, in a car that actually competed in the race, played by an enthusiastic motorsports competitor, cut into genuine race footage.

Got all that?

Or maybe it’s just better to sit back and enjoy it.

The film, made in 1971, is a perennial favourite among race fans because it doesn’t really have a plot as such – in many respects it’s what we’d call a docu-drama today.

And it features some of racing’s top icons – arguably the world’s most famous and prestigious motorsports event, as well as the most complete test of a driver and car in existence.

As well as the Porsche versus Ferrari battle, of course. (The Porsche McQueen drove, incidentally, is now owned by US comedian Jerry Seinfeld.)

Off-screen, McQueen was an avid motorsports competitor – although, considering the vexed question of whether a movie star has ever genuinely doubled as a proper racing driver, he is not really able to match Paul Newman’s record.

He competed in the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race in a Porsche 908 alongside team-mate Peter Revson and won the three-litre class – only to find himself narrowly beaten to an overall victory by a Ferrari driven by Mario Andretti.

He had wanted to compete in that year’s Le Mans for real, alongside none other than Jackie Stewart, but was forbidden from doing so by the film’s insurers.

He was also an enthusiastic off-road motorcycle racer and arguably made more of an impression in that arena than in cars, being inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978.

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