On the eve on the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix Roman Polanski joined Scottish Formula 1 champion racer Jackie Stewart for his attempt at a second win of the famed race. Granted unparalleled access to the driver, Polanski follows Stewart through his preparations for one of the most dangerous, albeit the most glamorous, races in the sport.
What follows is a glimpse into the mind of an athlete at the height of his powers competing in a sport where the survival rate, at the time, was one in three. Ever cognizant of the mortal peril he placed himself in; Stewart takes Polanski on a ride around the circuit and explains, in meticulous detail, how he will approach each curve and straightway in order to win and stay in one piece. Throughout the weekend Stewart displays the easy charm that made him such a beloved figure in the racing world along with the great knowledge and focused determination that made him a 3-time champion.
Beyond preparing for the race itself, Polanski joins Stewart and his wife Helen on the glitzy social engagements that make the Monaco GP unique in the racing world. Stars of the day include Princess Grace, Ringo Starr and Joan Collins along with cameos from legendary racers Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, and Graham Hill.
With anticipation building, race day arrives and with it, overcast skies and the constant threat of rain. Despite this, the race goes off smoothly with no major incidents. As Stewart zips around the circuit his wife tensely jots down lap times as the spectators cheer. The race ends with Jackie receiving the winners laurel wreath from Prince Rainer and Princess Grace as champagne flows. The film then pulls out to the two aged masters watching themselves in the same hotel room Jackie stayed in over 40 years earlier. They joke about their former selves and Jackie’s sideburns before turning to the more serious discussion of driver safety. Stewart recounts of the utter lack of safety in his era and the dozens of drivers and friends he knew that perished behind the wheel, including his protégé Francois Cevert. Cervert died in what was to be Stewart’s final race and he then went on to dedicate his life to safety reform in racing and now it is exceedingly rare for there to be a fatality in a F1 race. The men then take another drive around the Monaco circuit, this time a little slower and with hubris tempered by age as memories jostle with descriptions of what has changed.