Beyond Driven

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Beyond Driven
"Although we spend a lot of time away from the race track, the film never loses that throbbing energy and sense of danger."

What were you doing on the 27th of April, 1975? If you're old enough and if you had a television - which wasn't a given at the time - then you may remember it as the day of the Spanish Grand Prix, an event that made the news not just for the usual reasons but because it was the occasion of a horrific crash, when Rolf Stommelen's car went over the barriers, killing four spectators. Something else happened in that race which, in light of that crash, didn't get the attention it otherwise might have done, but remains an important piece of sporting history: Lella Lombardi became the first (and so far only) woman to win a point in Formula One.

Picking up the story 45 years later, Riyaana Hartley and Vincent Tran's documentary asks who Lella was and how she got into that position, what became of her and why we have yet to see another woman match her achievement. Archive footage of the Spanish event is accompanied by additional snippets of film from the time and linked together with animation, interviews with Lella's niece and footage from her home village, Frugarolo - plus insights from many of the most capable women in the sport today. It takes in the discrimination she faced and her struggle to access funding in what is one of the world's most expensive sports, and looks at the way that these problems persist in the present, but it also celebrates what women have achieved despite that, and anticipates the arrival of the new W series which will give female drivers the chance to hone their skills and break through at the top level.

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At the heart of it all is the story of an ambitious, sport-loving girl who fell in love with speed during one desperate drive and never looked back. There's a story like this is the background of many a racing driver but Lella's passion is clear to see and is reflected in her niece's accounts. Some of the drivers reckon it was more necessary in her time than in theirs, reflecting on the massive changes in car design that took place during the intervening years and expressing their amazement that anyone survived going as fast as they did back then with only their own reflexes to rely on. Although we spend a lot of time away from the race track, the film never loses that throbbing energy and sense of danger.

Why shouldn't women be as successful as men? There's some reflection on the financial disadvantages they face, more on the fact that they get less 'free' upper body muscle, but it's noted that this can be resolved with extra training. Outside Formula One, women have made an impression on the sport, and there's a particular focus here on the intersection of racing and karting. The filmmakers are interested not merely in the women't sporting successes but in the ambition behind them, that competitive spirit that's essential if one is to get to the top in any sport.

Hartley and Tran have dedicated their filmmaking careers to raising the profile of heroic outsiders, especially women, but this film is so rich and so full of great stories that it never feels like a lecture. It's a celebration of the thrill of sports and an invitation to more people to give them a try. It's also suffused with simple, addictive joy of going really, really fast.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2020
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The story of Lella Lombardi, who, at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix, became the first and only woman ever to score a point in Formula One - and a look at the legacy she left for others.

Director: Riyaana Hartley, Vincent Tran

Writer: Riyaana Hartley, Vincent Tran

Starring: Riyaana Hartley, Carmen Jorda, Vicky Piria, Alice Powell, Patrizia Lombardi, Beitske Visser

Year: 2020

Runtime: 74 minutes

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