The supercharged rivalry between dashing British grand prix driver James Hunt and his coolly clinical Austrian rival Niki Lauda is thrillingly brought to life in this superlative drama from director Ron Howard. Chris "Thor" Hemsworth seamlessly inhabits the world of Hunt, a womanising playboy happy to take risks, while Daniel Bruhl convincingly plays the ruthlessly effective Lauda, a driver who managed to survive an appalling crash and return to the track within weeks. It's a rubber-burning, heart-tugging, mind-blowing triumph.
Alexandra Maria Lara
They may both have been vying for pole position but Seventies Formula 1 titans James Hunt and Niki Lauda were (arctic) poles apart.
The dashing Brit, the son of a Surrey stockbroker, began his racing career in touring cars and then took the wheel for the maverick Hesketh team, an operation run by a deep-pocketed aristocrat, before tasting international succession with McLaren where he took the chequered flag for the World Drivers' Championships.
Born into wealthy Viennese stock, the dour, socially awkward Lauda (Bruhl) defied his parents wishes and launched himself into a racing career, pragmatically securing a bank loan and carefully revving up the racing hierarchy until he was signed by Ferrari and went on win two world championships.
Pitted against each other throughout the 1970s, it was thrillingly obvious that the bon viveur Hunt - mercurial, cocksure, impetuous (not for nothing was he nicknamed 'Hunt the Shunt') - and Lauda, quiet, calculating, happily married - were on track for a major collision. Literally.
Yet Peter Morgan's script, an object lesson in soberly effective economic writing, lends what could become two rigid stereotypes a pulsing emotional dynamic that Hemsworth and Bruhl flesh out to keenly dramatic effect.
Hemsworth, in particular, is stand-out, perfectly capturing Hunt's sardonically British accent and his expansive - often drink-fuelled - mood swings while Bruhl's Lauda is a model of quietly unwavering ambition and sheer courage after he makes his comeback following the horrific 1976 crash at Germany's notorious Nürburgring circuit.
Off the track, there's sterling support, particularly from Olivia Wilde as the model who accepts the giddy proposal of marriage from the impulsive Hunt (and ultimately left him for another hellraiser, Richard Burton).
What really distinguishes this already compelling story, however, are the visceral action sequences. Howard films the fiendish clatter of the full-tilt petrol engines with compact digital cameras built into the cars and, rather than relying on CGI, follows real F1 monsters out on the track to provide a jolting surge of power. You can almost smell the petrol fumes.
There's been a pretty ignoble tradition of motor-racing movies (Le Mans anyone?) but this scintillatingly bucks that trend, providing spills and thrills as well as a poignant story where even two bitter rivals are obliged to honour a grudging respect for one another,
Howard, who never takes just foot off the pedal, has made his finest movie.