Formula 1 on Super Bowl Sunday

Michael Fassbender, NYC,  9/12/13

Michael Fassbender, NYC, 9/12/13

Being an American, Formula 1 Grand Prix Races (like World Cup soccer) barely registered.  But Thu, who had lived most of her life in Paris and London, loved the racing.  And so did Mark, and I started watching when the great Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna dominated the sport.  His driving was so fluid, natural and he was so charismatic and good-looking, that to me, it actually seemed like an actor was playing him.  Senna, extremely charitable and approachable in Brazil, was considered to be a competitor nearly equal to Juan Manuel Fangio, Formula 1’s Michael Jordan.

“1,” recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, directed by Paul Crowder, and narrated by Michael Fassbender, opens with the perfect event to reveal the fearless, speed-obsessed men (and they’re all men) in those beautiful sleek cars with the distinctive sound.  British driver Martin Brundle goes airborne during the 1996 Australian Grand Prix, survives the spectacular crash, leaps out of his wreck and running back to the pit and jumping into his spare car, resumes the race.

Mixing archival racing footage with historical and contemporary interviews, “1” shows the glamour of the drivers and the excitement of ever-faster cars, which fueled the world’s fascination with the sport.  Engine size doubled and wings for downforce were added in the late 60s but a culture of safety had not yet developed and the races became profoundly dangerous (claiming the lives of many top drivers) until three-time World Champions Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda demanded changes in the design of their cars and the famous tracks.

Progress was made but it wasn’t until the shock of Ayrton Senna’s fatal crash on May 1, 1994, at Imola that safety began to catch up with advances in performance and there hasn’t been a fatality since that terrible tragedy.

(Unfortunately I’ve never photographed a Formula 1 driver.  The closest I’ve come is Daniel Brühl, who played Niki Lauda in “Rush.”)

Daniel Brühl

Daniel Brühl

Being an American, I live in a culture obsessed with football but somehow the sport barely registers. Maybe it’s because as a kid I played the games–kickball, punchball, softball–that use baseball’s rules and never learned what one does with a pigskin.  And I rarely know the names of football players except the superstars, usually quarterbacks (often named Manning and/or often from New York).

Two New York Super Bowl winners, Giants great Phil Simms and Jets legend Joe Namath. took part in this year’s ceremonial Super Bowl pregame coin toss.

I photographed Phil Simms in one of the least likely places I would have found myself if I hadn’t become a photographer–the field at the old Giants stadium.  He had just finished practice and when I asked him to take off his helmet, he objected a bit,  “Ma’am , I look like a sweaty dawg” but graciously complied when I insisted–and he looked great.

Phil Simms, Giants Stadium, 12/5/86

Phil Simms, Giants Stadium, 12/5/86

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