I have to admit that I was far from impressed when I first watched Grand Prix: The Killer Years when it originally aired on BBC4 earlier this year. I am, however, somewhat aghast that what was nothing more than an hour’s worth of sensationalism will shortly be committed to DVD. Profiting through on-screen misery doesn’t sit well with me.
Killer Years, for those that missed it the first time around, is a made-for-TV documentary that focuses on grand prix racing during the early 1960s and 70s – a horrific period where death was all too commonplace.
And with that, we are dealt a series of heart wrenching, ghoulish, crashes that are interspersed with talking heads such as Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi and John Surtees, all of whom played vital roles in pioneering driver safety over the years.
These extraordinarily candid interviews are wholly impressive. Listening to Stewart and other luminaries narrate the long struggle to making racing safer for friend and rival alike is certainly a depressing affair. It never fails to astound how expendable driver’s lives seemed to be just a few decades ago.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the positives I can possibly conjure up as far as Killer Years is concerned because, quite frankly, I find it to be nothing more than a load of gratuitous, exploitative, nonsense.
Firstly, it is littered with inaccuracies. It’s not even a minute old before the first howler rears its ugly head: was the 1961 world championship really a fight between Wolfgang von Tripps and Jim Clark as they lined up on the grid at Monza? Really? And, if my eyes don’t deceive me, why is Clark sat in an F2 Lotus?
The gaffs don’t stop there. There’s random Indianapolis footage, mixed with snippets of F2 and F3 races for some bizarre reason. More inexcusable is the implication that some drivers were killed during a grand prix when they actually weren’t.
Jo Bonnier, for instance, died in a sportscar, Mike Spence was killed during testing for the Indy 500, and Ludovico Scarfiotti perished during a hillclimbing event.
These errors are unforgivable. If you are going to produce a documentary on such a serious subject matter, at least get your facts right, and don’t just use them as an excuse to serve up grim footage to shock the audience.
And that’s where I take issue with Killer Years. Be honest, do you really want to see someone die in a ball of flames or be cut to pieces? On-track fatalities of the nature included are nothing short of distasteful and are totally unnecessary to get the point across that grand prix racing was once a highly dangerous pursuit. And ask yourself this: would anyone in their right mind produce a documentary on deaths in other sporting categories?
As a documentary it’s neither innovative, nor is it the most informative you’ll ever see. It seems to lack focus and aimlessly plods along – you never really know what its intentions actually are. It’s a wasted opportunity that fails to educate and inform on how safety has evolved in the sport. Instead it seems to revel in how deadly it once was.
The fact Killer Years is soon to be released on DVD truly baffles me. Why would anyone want to fork out the best part of £20 on something that is so abhorrently distasteful? The honourable thing would be if a charitable donation were made from each sale (to the GP Mechanics Charitable Trust, for example), but I can’t see that being the case, unfortunately.