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The Hunt Vs Lauda Story: 1st August 1976

It was 1st August 1976 – exactly 37 years ago today – that the simmering world championship battle between McLaren’s James Hunt and Ferrari’s Niki Lauda sparked explosively into life.

The day was a decisive one for Lauda, not only triggering the firestorm for one of the most thrilling world championship denouements in sporting history, but also forming the epic backdrop from which, through his own sheer resilience and bravery, he was able to craft his legacy as one of sport’s greatest heroes.

On lap two of the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Lauda’s Ferrari crested a left-hand kink before inexplicably slamming rightwards into an earth bank. The impact knocked the unconscious Lauda’s helmet from his head, leaving him powerless to extricate himself from the damaged car, which had slewed to a halt in the middle of the track and burst into flames.

Lauda was treated for serious smoke inhalation and left scarred for life by the searing burns to his head.

On August 1, even with victory in Germany under his belt, James had still only amassed 35 world championship points to Lauda’s 61. Even accounting for Lauda’s absence through injury, winning the world championship still seemed an impossible task. Yet it would be the start of one of the great sporting comebacks.

Actually, make that the start of two great sporting comebacks.

Despite his injuries, and with his head still wrapped in bloodstained bandages, Lauda returned to the cockpit in mid-September, making his racing comeback at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

He finished fourth. It was a drive of quiet, stoic heroism.

Browse the James Hunt Racing Collection at the Official McLaren Store

The story has incredible resonance within not just Formula 1, but sport itself, which has always reveled in the transcendent glory achieved through the pain of suffering. Uniquely, both Lauda and Hunt elevated themselves to greatness during that unforgettable ’76 season, even though only one man was able to hold aloft the world champion’s trophy at the end of the year.

Of course, their story lives on – and has been stunningly retold by filmmaker Ron Howard, who has created a compelling, visceral and brilliant account of the two drivers’ friendship and rivalry.

Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda, will be released in September, and is a fitting tribute to the achievements of both men.

Watch the brilliant trailer for Rush here: