“It was an era of great glamour and great risk.”
In the 1950s, races like Le Mans and Grand Prix thrilled spectators and made racers celebrities. It was an exciting and scary time in the history of auto racing. This was a gentleman’s sport with much respect for the car and adoration for its driver. A first place win guaranteed immortality. During this time the sport wasn’t quite new but was still suffering from growing pains. Technological advancements ensured faster and more efficient vehicles and racers were beating speed records left and right. However the sport was still incredibly dangerous. From 1950 to 1959, 39 drivers were killed on the racetrack, an alarmingly high mortality rate.
Was the risk worth the glory? Enzo Ferrari thought so.
In a new documentary by director Daryl Goodrich, Ferrari: Race to Immortality explores the pivotal years of 1955-1958, when Ferrari’s Formula One team was celebrated as one of the most successful teams in racing history. Told through stunning archival footage and audio and interviews with historians, biographers, former racers and those closest to the drivers, we learn about these drivers who lived for the thrill even when death stared them right in the face. Key figures in the documentary include:
Marquis Alonso de Portago
Juan Manuel Fangio
“These guys are warriors.”
The film also offers background on the figure behind the team and the brand, Enzo Ferrari. He had a very complicated relationship with his business and his drivers. Driven by unwavering ambition, he worked tirelessly to bring prestige to his brand Ferrari. It paid off because Ferrari is still known as one of the most important luxury car brands in the world. He felt little emotion for this team members, with the exception of Peter Collins who had a bond with Enzo’s terminally ill son.
A key takeaway from the documentary is how death was perceived by the drivers, team members, their significant others and by society as a whole. Today we can look back at this time and be both horrified at what happened and relieved that the sport is much safer now. But in the 1950s, society embraced death in a way we wouldn’t understand today. In the 1955 Le Mans disaster that killed one driver plus over 80 spectators, the race continued and Mike Hawthorn won. Whenever a fellow competitor died on the track, the wins were tempered with sadness but there was also a resilience to keep on. This is a reminder of what people would do for glory and immortality.
This documentary fully immerses you in the world of 1950s racing. Instead of seeing the talking heads we hear narration over all of the archival footage. The faces of the interview subjects are only revealed in the last 10 minutes. This was an interesting filmmaking technique. The footage keeps you in their world and breaking away to footage of interviews would have just taken the viewer out of it. Also there was a build up of curiosity about the interview subjects. There was some added some emotional resonance at the end when we finally get to see their faces.
Ferrari: Race to Immortality is a poignant documentary about an exciting yet dangerous time in the history of auto racing. It’s available on digital download and is coming to VOD on 7/24.