Cast: James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune, Brian Bedford, Jessica Walter, Antonio Sabato, Francoise Hardy, Adolfo Celi, Claude Dauphin, Enzo Fiermonte, Genevieve Page, Jack Watson, Donald O’Brian, Jean Michaud, Albert Remy, Rachel Kempson, Ralph Michael, Alan Fordney, Anthony Marsh, Bernard Cahier, Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Richie Ginther, Lorenzo Bandini, Bruce McLaren, Bob Bondurant, Jack Brabham, Juan Manuel Fangio, Chris Amon, Mike Spence, Jochen Rindt, Dennis Hulme, Paul Frere, Dan Gurney, Joakim Bonnier, Michael Parkes, Peter Revson, Jo Siffert, Jean Pierre Beltoise, Nino Farina, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Guy Ligier, Jo Schlesser, Skip Scott, Jim Russell, Andre Pilette, Teddy Pilette, Ken Costello, Tony Lanfranchi
Mechanics make last-moment preparations and drivers take their seats on the Formula 1 race cars about to compete in the 1966 Grand Prix of Monaco. English driver Scott Stoddard (Bedford) dons his helmet and settles into his dark green BRM. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Sarti (Montand), twice world champion, adjusts his goggles at the wheel of his Ferrari. His teammate, Sicilian Nino Barlini (Sabato), a fast qualifier, is next to Sarti on the front row. Behind them on the second row is American Pete Aron (Garner), Stoddard’s teammate, a talented driver who has not won a Grand Prix since leaving Ferrari three years ago. There’s a deafening roar as the drivers rev up their 3-liter engines. As the crowd looks on expectantly, the race starter raises his arms and yells, “Ten seconds,” beginning the countdown that initiates the race. The cars run on the spectator-lined streets of Monaco, past hotels, around plazas and through tunnels, chasing each other at vertiginous speed. Stoddard moves ahead of Sarti and gradually increases his lead. Midway through the race, Aron begins to have transmission problems and loses ground. Stoddard comes up on Aron, now a lap behind, but has trouble passing him on the narrow streets. Along the waterfront, Stoddard starts to pass Aron, but the two collide. Aron’s car plows through a barrier and into the harbor. Stoddard’s car spins, flips, and crashes spectacularly. Swimmers rescue Aron from the water, dazed but not seriously hurt, but Stoddard has to be cut out of his car and is critically injured. Jeff Jordan (Watson), the BRM team leader, blames Aron for the accident and boots him off the team. Sarti wins the race. At a victory party, he meets Louise Frederickson (Saint), an American journalist working for a fashion magazine on an article with a motor racing background. While Sarti takes Louise on a tour of an automobile racing museum, the two talk and become attracted to each other. Barlini meets Lisa (Hardy), an attractive race circuit follower, and the two start a relationship. Stoddard’s wife, Pat (Walter), visits him in the hospital and tells him that she knows that he’ll pull through, he’ll race again, but she will no longer be sidelined by his obsessions, she’s had enough. Aron travels to Modena, Italy, to try to get a job with Ferrari, but the team boss, Agostini Manetta (Celi) tells him, “There are fewer than thirty men in the world qualified to drive Formula 1; a mere half-dozen, perhaps, to win. At this moment, I am inclined to think you are not one of them.” Aron gets a job as a motor racing commentator, an occupation that allows him to follow the Formula 1 race events. At the French Grand Prix near Clermont-Ferrand he meets Japanese industrialist Izo Yamura (Mifune), whose Formula 1 team’s performance has been mediocre. In contrast to Monte Carlo’s city-street circuit, Clermont-Ferrand is run on lyrical countryside roads on the Auvergne. Louise watches from the stands as Sarti wins the race. Aron is offered Yamura’s sponsorship, and agrees to drive for Yamura’s team. Pat Stoddard tries to begin a life away from her recovering husband and strikes up a relationship with Aron. Sarti’s wife, Monique (Page), is more interested in running their company than in him, and Sarti’s romance with Louise develops further. Aron gets back on the circuit at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa Francorchamps is a fast circuit where speeds above 150 mph are achieved. Driving in the rain, Sarti crashes, but walks away. Aron wins the race. Stoddard, still harboring bitterness toward Aron, overcomes lingering pain and rejoins the circuit. The drivers, the team leads, the race car manufacturers, and the fans move from circuit to circuit, chasing victory in a sport that is as dangerous as it is mesmerizing. Aron ponders, “To do something that brings you so close to the possibility of death and to survive it is to feel life and living so much more intensely.” Lionel Lindon’s scenic cinematography captures the glory and spectacle of the 1966 Formula 1 season. Near the end of the season, Barlini, Stoddard, Sarti and Aron are close to each other on championship points. Whoever wins the Italian Grand Prix, at Monza, will be the next world champion. Top Grand Prix drivers of the period, including Phil Hill, Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio, Graham Hill, and Jochen Rindt, have cameo roles.