Keanu Reeves brings some va-va-voom to Disney+’s fairy-tale F1 documentary series. Roz Laws reports
New documentary Brawn was described as “Succession with racing cars” at an RTS Midlands event in November. Executive producer Neil Duncanson said of the thrilling story: “Conspiracy theories, money, power, betrayal – it’s all there.”
Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story, a four-part Disney+ series, tells how an underfinanced team bought for £1 managed to defeat the greatest names in F1. And it certainly appeals to far more viewers than just motor racing fans, as director Daryl Goodrich explained.
He confessed: “I have no real interest in cars! The others are petrolheads and love everything about cars but I don’t.
“That actually worked really well. They would look at me when we were editing and, if I was staring out of the window, we knew it was boring. We were making it for a wide audience, not just car fanatics, so if I found it interesting, it stayed in.”
The RTS Midlands event gave the inside track on how Birmingham-based North One Television told the extraordinary rise of F1 team Brawn, based in Brackley, Northamptonshire. It covers the remarkable events of 2009 which, if written as a Hollywood script, might be deemed far-fetched. The series uses a treasure trove of never-before-seen footage shot by Simon Hammerson, as well as radio transmissions from races and detailed interviews with key figures.
It was Hammerson mentioning this footage to Keanu Reeves that led to the Hollywood star, a passionate F1 fan, suggesting that they make a documentary. Reeves, Hammerson and former Brawn CEO Nick Fry took the idea to North One owner Neil Duncanson, who pitched it to Disney+ commissioner Sean Doyle.
During the global financial crisis of 2008, Honda pulled the plug on its racing team with the loss of 700 jobs, including drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, unless a buyer could be found. In the end, with only weeks to go before the new season started, Honda aerodynamicist Ross Brawn and Fry succeeded with a £1 management buyout.
It was David taking on Goliath – the drivers were told not to crash because they had no spare parts – except this underdog team had one huge advantage. A double diffuser on the back of the car, which sustained more downforce and grip than was previously allowed, made them seconds faster and eventually led to Button winning the Drivers’ Championship and Brawn the Constructors’ title. It was within the rules but Brawn was accused of cheating and had to fight several major battles to survive.
Fry recalls: “It’s a phenomenal story of incredible teamwork and resilience. It is a fairy tale, but it wasn’t much fun at the time, with lots of sleepless nights. I slept through the whole of the Monaco GP because I was so tired. I was worn out from trying to keep us going. Despite the noise in the garage, I fell fast asleep on my computer and they had to wake me to get the trophy.
“Every day then was a roller coaster, but now it’s a complete joy to look back and remember. The same passion we had to survive has gone into telling the story. Is Keanu Reeves as nice as he seems? No, he’s even better. He’s remarkable in terms of his professionalism and hard work and he put his heart and soul into this.”
Reeves went from being executive producer to also narrating and interviewing.
Goodrich added: “Keanu is an exceptional interviewer. He put people at ease, asked the right questions and paused where necessary. He really got them to open up and talk from the heart.”
The Brawn screening and Q&A took place at the IET Birmingham: Austin Court on 17 November. It was produced by Sindy Campbell and hosted by Amber Sandhu.