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Top Gun: Maverick director’s F1 movie will film Brad Pitt driving at real race weekends

Tom Cruise is already jealous, but Pitt will be in slower machinery

Brad Pitt strides along the F1 grid, with packed stands in the background, trailed by an interviewer and surrounded by pit crew
Brad Pitt walks the grid at the 2022 United States Grand Prix.
Photo: Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

Brad Pitt will do a Tom Cruise in his new Formula One movie — which is directed and produced by Top Gun: Maverick’s Joseph Kosinski and Jerry Bruckheimer — by driving a race car for real, on actual race weekends, starting at the 2023 British Grand Prix in July. And it sounds like Tom Cruise is pretty envious about it — the Top Gun star and incorrigible thrillseeker has already offered to do some extra driving if they need him.

But claims that Pitt will drive an actual F1 car for the film are overstated — according to reports, he’ll be behind the wheel of a slower mock-up. And he won’t be competing against other drivers on the track.

Kosinski and Bruckheimer revealed the plan for filming their movie during a panel at the F1 Accelerate Summit in Miami on Thursday, ahead of this weekend’s Miami Grand Prix. Panel host Will Buxton summarized the highlights of their chat on Twitter, and was the one to claim that Pitt would be “driving an F1 car.”

Buxton said the film production was “creating an 11th team” for the movie in consultation with the Mercedes F1 team, which has designed and tested the car the film team will use. Filming will take place “on track and on event,” with the stars (Pitt included) in the cockpit driving, captured by compact camera rigs similar to those used to put viewers in the cockpit of fighter planes in Top Gun: Maverick. The actors are already practicing on track and using simulation rigs, while seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is a consulting producer on the film.

Filming on track at actual F1 race meetings will give the currently untitled movie the kind of authenticity and spectacle that made Maverick a global smash. But Buxton’s comments — particularly that Pitt will drive actual F1 machinery — should be taken with a grain of salt. Variety has subsequently confirmed that Pitt will not race against other drivers on the track, and the car he drives will be most likely be a much more manageable junior F2 or F3 car, modified to look like an F1 beast.

It’s not surprising. Driving an F1 car in anger requires not only great skill and reflexes but an incredible level of strength and physical fitness; Pitt, at 59, has almost two decades on the oldest driver currently on the grid, the great Spanish champion Fernando Alonso, who’s 40. Hamilton is 37, and most of the rest of the field are in their 20s. It’s true that Cruise, at a similar age, endured the G-forces of an F-18 jet for Maverick, but even he, a skilled pilot, didn’t try to fly it at the same time.

There’s also no way that the actors and film crew will be allowed to interfere with the integrity of the race event itself, for both sporting and safety reasons. Racing licences for drivers are strictly regulated, and, at F1’s level, take years to acquire. It seems most likely that special filming sessions — possibly involving some of the actual F1 teams and drivers — will be scheduled around the rest of the race event.

“It will be quite invasive in terms of production, it’s something that we need to control in a way,” F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told F1 investors a few weeks ago. “But it will be another way of showing that F1 never stops.”

Why go to all this trouble? Because the movie — which has been acquired by Apple, but will have a wide theatrical release before going to Apple TV Plus — presents a massive marketing opportunity for F1. The Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive has hugely increased the popularity of the sport, especially in the U.S. and with younger viewers. F1 owner Liberty Media is hoping the film will take it to the next level.

In the movie, Pitt will play “a driver who comes out of retirement to compete alongside a rookie driver against the titans of the sport,” according to its official logline. His teammate will be played by British actor Damson Idris, star of the FX series Snowfall.

Buxton said that Kosinski’s “biggest touchstone” for the new film is John Frankenheimer’s 1966 movie Grand Prix. That film featured cameos from a number of contemporary F1 drivers, and used footage shot at real race events. World champion Phil Hill captured footage from the wheel of a modified camera car during sessions at the Monaco and Belgian Grands Prix, and star James Garner did some of his own driving. Kosinski and Bruckheimer “are determined to make the most accurate, most impressive race movie anyone has ever seen,” Buxton said.

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