Only diehard fans could tolerate F1's modern era, in which high-tech cars seem to carry a group of pampered, dull men around the tracks in near-perfect safety, reducing skill and excitement to a minimum. But in 2011 Asif Kapadia's documentary Senna, focusing on an outstanding individual from a more thrilling era, changed that perception. This was a film that had audiences of all inclinations gripping the arm rests.
With Rush, writer Peter Morgan and director Ron Howard ought to repeat the trick. The filmmakers have also gone back in time, to the 1970s, when drivers died each year in their quest for the chequered flag. In particular, the film looks at one of the most compelling rivalries in the sport. Like Senna, Rush is absorbing and exciting; it's also rather a lot of fun.
James Hunt and Niki Lauda were chalk and cheese. The upper-class Englishman was one of the most charismatic men ever to climb into a racing car - a dashing hedonist who drank champagne before a race and jumped into the arms of beautiful women as soon as it finished.
Hunt appreciated both the danger and thrill of racing - customarily vomiting before a race, while his exploits on the track earned him the nickname Hunt the Shunt.
In contrast, the Austrian was a cold fish, ambitious, supremely efficient, but seemingly without passion for the sport.
The film's warm-up lap charts each man's entry into F1, before their rivalry begins. The clash of personalities is immediate. "Rules are rules," sneers Lauda after a typical off-track manoeuvre for points. "And rats are rats" is Hunt's response.
Starting in a superior team, Lauda is the first to win a championship, in 1975. But the focus is 1976, a memorable year for both men and one of the most dramatic in the sport's history.
Peter Morgan thrives on dynamic real-life duels: in The Deal, The Queen and The Special Relationship he observed Tony Blair grapple, respectively, with Gordon Brown, Queen Elizabeth and Bill Clinton; in Frost/Nixon it was the televised "boxing match" between broadcaster David Frost and disgraced president Richard Nixon. That last film was also directed by Howard; this particular pair work very well together.
Howard also brings some sporting experience to the table, having directed the superb boxing movie Cinderella Man. An intelligent, mainstream filmmaker, he understands the importance of character as well as spectacle. He and Morgan have great fun constructing this bitter rivalry, which slowly moves towards grudging respect.
Though an Australian might seem an odd choice for an English toff, Chris Hemsworth (better known as Thor) has the requisite flowing-haired good looks and a decent accent, while expressing the desperate need to prove himself that flows beneath Hunt's devil-may-care persona. Daniel Brühl has the more difficult job - to ensure that Lauda doesn't become the villain of the piece - and manages it by making his social failings so outrageous that they're amusing; Brühl also shows the steel of the man, in a crisis that would have destroyed most.
As their wives, Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara leave us in little doubt of the difficulty of being involved with obsessives.
The action centres on the key races in the rivalry, including the German Grand Prix at a track known as "the graveyard". Howard and cinematographer Anthony Dodd Mantle produce atmospheric, dramatic set pieces, conveying the danger as well as the thrill for drivers Lauda refers to as "rebels, lunatics and dreamers".