For the first time since 2016, the Formula One pit lane at this weekend’s British Grand Prix will feature 11 teams.
From the outside, the garage of APXGP looks like that of any other F1 team. The screens, tools and signage are all in place. The pit crew is decked in black overalls. With blue-chip sponsors including Tommy Hilfiger, IWC and Expensify, the team has attracted some big brands, their names carried on a black and gold car design that stands out on track.
You won’t have heard of the drivers, Sonny Hayes and Joshua Pearce, whose names and numbers sit above their respective garages. But you’ll recognize them.
Sonny Hayes is Brad Pitt, and Joshua Pearce is Damson Idris, the stars of the as-yet-untitled Apple original movie about F1 going by the codename “Apex.”
The “Top Gun: Maverick” creative team leads the film, including producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Joe Kosinski. Lewis Hamilton also works as part of the production team, ensuring its realism.
The F1 world has embraced the project with open arms. This weekend at Silverstone, at-event filming begins, and every effort has been made to integrate the fictional drivers and team into the real-world paddock.
It all promises to make it the most authentic racing movie ever.
Embedding in the F1 world
The demands of F1’s traveling circus mean it would be difficult to replicate anything close to the modern sport without significant involvement from its stakeholders.
But the awareness of those at the top of the F1 of the benefits the movie could offer has led to such an open approach. It’s allowed for the 11th garage to be set up for the fictional team and allocated track time throughout the British Grand Prix weekend for filming as part of the official schedule.
Eight time slots are designated for “filming activity (high speed)” for the movie. This will allow the filmmakers to capture the cars on track during an F1 weekend. The time slots are no longer than 20 minutes – such is the challenge of accommodating track time amid the demands of a grand prix weekend filled with F1, F2, F3 and Porsche Supercup sessions. The two cars completed laps together on Thursday afternoon at Silverstone, with more filming slated for other races this year.
Although the cars won’t be racing any others in these filming periods, they will be important opportunities for the filming crew to capture the car on-track at a race weekend which can then be used throughout the film, forming the exciting race footage in the same vein as the fighter jet scenes in “Top Gun: Maverick.”
“Joe is an incredible director,” said Hamilton. “If you just think of what he has done with that in terms of the dog fights you saw with those jets, which was pretty epic, bringing that technology and that viewpoint into our world, I think it is going to be amazing.”
The film’s plot remains shrouded in secrecy. But at 59, Pitt is already older than any driver who has ever raced in an F1 grand prix. Hamilton did not think it would cause any problems in getting fans to suspend reality, adding that Pitt is “aging backwards.”
“That was a big topic at the beginning when we were discussing the first story,” said Hamilton. “But he’s super fit, he’s been training. And at the end of the day, it’s a movie, so there will be a Hollywood element to it that will make it believable.”
The on-track footage will also benefit from camera technology from the film world that Hamilton thought would make it “a lot better than what you’re seeing when watching TV,” both with the trackside cameras and those used on the car itself.
“I spent time with Joe trying to make sure that we got the best camera positions, and the frame rate is different,” he said. “It’s going to look fast.”
A realistic racing experience
On Thursday, the first images of the APXGP car on the track were shared by F1 via social media. It looks like an F1 car is because it is. The cars used in the filming are based on Formula 2 machinery but through work with Mercedes, they have been updated to look closer to F1 cars, featuring a longer wheelbase and updated aerodynamics.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 6, 2023
Although professional racing drivers will be used as stunt drivers for parts of the filming, Pitt and Idris have undergone private training to prepare themselves for the cars’ physical demands. Hamilton said he spent a day with Pitt at a track in Los Angeles and saw him driving a car at Silverstone recently.
“For someone who hasn’t raced, he’s definitely got a keen eye,” Hamilton said of Pitt. “He loves watching MotoGP, so he’s always been a racing enthusiast. He already had a knack for the lines, and he was fully on it, which was good to see.”
The commitment to producing not only the car but then putting the actors through their paces to ensure they’re up to speed again shows why the film will not be like anything else.
But Hamilton also noted the importance of having “the original characters that are already on the grid” as part of the movie. By that, he means that having the filming take place on grand prix weekends and in the same paddock will automatically give an extra level of realism as APXGP races against the likes of Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari, along with all their drivers. It’s a fictional addition to the real world.
The presence of the APXGP setup in the paddock has already caught the attention of the drivers, teams and fans. Esteban Ocon joked in the press conference on Thursday that “APXGP is bringing some upgrades this weekend” and that “Sonny Hayes is in good shape.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris added: “The garage is pretty nice… I’m kinda jealous of some of the things that they’ve got!”
The next step in the US boom
Just as Netflix was a game-changer for F1’s global reach, bringing droves of younger and more diverse fans to the sport, the film’s stakeholders hope to produce the same effect.
“We all wanted to be a pilot after Top Gun,” said McLaren boss Zak Brown. “I think it will have the same impact. It will get a lot of current fans excited, but also a lot of people who don’t follow the sport will see it and think it’s unbelievable.”
It could prove to be the next step in the American boom. There is already a strong foothold with three races on the calendar in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas. But the movie gives F1 a chance to tap into Hollywood and gain even greater mainstream awareness. This goal has been part of Liberty Media’s vision since acquiring F1 in 2017.
Hamilton doubted F1’s previous owners would have been so open to the project. “They perhaps wouldn’t have seen this as an important step in terms of the sport’s growth,” he said. “But we’ve already seen the great work and impact of the Netflix show, and I think this will take it to new heights beyond that.”
Hamilton admitted to feeling nervous for the start of at-event filming after so long in the planning process, knowing the significance it would have for the entire sport.
“We want everyone to love it and to really feel that we encapsulate what the essence of this sport is all about,” he said.
“That’s our goal. Hopefully, we can do you proud.”
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(Lead image of Brad Pitt at Silverstone: Kym Illman/Getty Images)