1: Life on the Limit may be a veritable who's who of Formula 1 - featuring contributions from world drivers' champions such as John Surtees, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher, Jody Scheckter, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel to name but a few - but it's really the story of two men, Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley.
It's easy to be cynical about both Bernie and Max - particularly when you think about some of the things they've hit headlines for away from the track. But 1 - which uses the tension between speed and safety as its angle - sheds light on their determination to improve safety that some younger followers of motorsport - this writer included - may not have fully appreciated. Both Ecclestone and especially Mosley are candid about their desire to improve things, having lost friends, colleagues and fellow racers through the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Hollywood star Michael Fassbender is our narrator, and his voice never becomes too intrusive, providing links between subject matter only where necessary. It's the people who lived and breathed the sport who tell most of the story - a necessity to give this sprawling history legitimacy. Lord Alexander Hesketh's account of how his fast-living racing team knew "absolutely f**k all about how to set a car up" for a wet track at Zandvoort in 1975 is a particular highlight - especially when you realise it was the first Formula 1 grand prix that James Hunt won.
However, there is a mixture of light and shade in 1. We see candid video of a very young Damon Hill being fussed over by drivers' wives and girlfriends at the so-called 'Doghouse Club', Francois Cevert playing the piano and flirting with numerous women, and James Hunt, well, being James Hunt. But for every light-hearted moment, there's a reminder of the statement printed on every pitlane pass: 'Motorsport is dangerous'. Nina Rindt's wish that her husband Jochen would stop racing is especially heartbreaking given it was made shortly before he lost his life during one of the sport's most dangerous periods.
Although the narrative is roughly chronological, it's broken up by diversions into classic tracks so that it doesn't become too linear. For example, Monaco's character and glamour and the unbridled passion of Monza's devoted crowds are conjured up expertly through use of anecdotes and archive footage.
The section on the Nurburgring focuses on Niki Lauda's accident (as seen in Ron Howard's recent movie Rush), and the first time you hear Niki's voice in the film is when he talks about his first memories of the aftermath of the crash. It's an utterly sobering moment, as is the late Professor Sid Watkins's moving account of the day Ayrton Senna died at Imola almost 20 years ago.
A curious editing decision in which we rush through the last 35 years of the sport is frustrating, and hampers the movie to some extent. Fair enough, cuts had to be made somewhere, but it feels like the film is missing its final act as a result.
Having been blessed with detailed accounts of so many great rivalries between stars of the past like Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, plus Hunt and Lauda, it's a shame that we see nothing of the on-track tussles between Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet, or Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen. As such, 1 is an uneven history - but an illuminating and ambitious one all the same.