Who’s fastest? That’s the question explored in the latest MotoGP documentary from filmmaker Mark Neale, his follow-up to Faster and The Doctor, The Tornado and the Kentucky Kid. Motorsports have been featured in a few docs recently, with TT3D: Closer to the Edge and Senna having been released in the last year or so. Great timing, then, for the release of Fastest.
The film opens with a breathtaking final lap from a MotoGP race. The two lead riders enter the final lap neck and neck. Trading the lead several times, they keep the crowd guessing until the very final corner. To a viewer more accustomed to Formula 1, where races are generally won through tactics and track conditions, and overtaking is a rare and precious thing, it is a revelation.
Fastest revolves mostly around aging superstar Valentino Rossi. Known as The Doctor, he is the sport’s biggest icon, and has been for several years. Using the 2010 MotoGP season as a base, it takes a look back at Rossi’s 14 year career, his championship wins and losses. The Doctor has had a fascinating career. Motivated as much by speed and his own reputation as winning championships, he is an interesting and worthy role model.
Fastest also looks at the great risk of injuries in the sport, and talks a bit about the aerodynamics and set-up of the bikes themselves. It touches upon past champions aside from Rossi, and talks a little about the racers currently rivalling him now, the next generation of racers vying to take over from the fading star.
For the uninitiated, Fastest holds a lot of information about MotoGP. It covers the history of the championship, its current state, and the challenges facing the constructors and the riders. It does all this, however, with Rossi at its centre. As much as anything, the documentary is a love letter to the enigmatic sportsman.
This is one of the documentary’s problems. It is not specifically a profile of Valentino Rossi, but he is its central focus. So whilst we are treated to some of the history of the championship, we learn very little about past champions, and nothing about the sport before the start of the Doctor’s career. It is based around the 2010 season, but it is not a season review. We see too little of the other racers, and with the film jumping around in time, it is hard to keep track of where we are in relation to the 2010 championship at any given time.
It does, however, perfectly convey both the excitement and peril of MotoGP. Injuries, potential and actual, are looked into in great depth. The superb camera work from the championship races brings you up close to the action, with the vibrant colours of the bikes and racers jumping off the screen. With cameras attached to the bikes, and great shots of the wheels of the bikes hugging the racing tracks, you get a great sense of the incredible speeds achieved in the sport.
Your level of knowledge and interest in MotoGP will greatly dictate your interest in Fastest. If you know nothing of the sport, there is some really interesting stuff. If you are an existing fan of the sport, and of Rossi, you’ll love it. If you do not share the director’s affection for Rossi, though, you may well find yourself frustrated, as your favourite rider is given just a few short sentences before Rossi appears back on screen.
As a fan of Formula 1, but being new to MotoGP, I found the documentary fascinating. With a focus on pure speed and overtaking, it looks to be more exciting than the Grand Prix action that I am used to. Unfortunately, the documentary does not give enough information around the technical aspects of a race. I know a lot about Valentino Rossi now, but still do not know anything about race tactics. Are racers forced to make a certain number of stops? Do they have to use different types of tyre? Are constructors limited just by their imaginations and wallets, or are there strict safety regulations to adhere to? None of these questions are answered, meaning that Fastest on its own is not an adequate entry into the sport for a novice.
As a fan of film, I also found the documentary frustrating at times. Valentino’s career is a great story, and worthy of a film on its own, but Neale’s attempts to cover this in conjunction with the 2010 season, and some basic information about the sport lead to a very unfocused narrative. The doc jumps around a lot, to the point that often you forget what point in time is being discussed.
Overall, though, it is an exciting watch. Everything covered is interesting. Ewan MacGregor narrates the film, and is an inspired choice. Well known for his love of motorbikes, he is authoritative and an adept storyteller. The camera work is beautiful, and the director’s love of the sport, and in particular its greatest star, is fully evident. With a bit more focus, Fastest could have been great. As it is, it is still very good. As a result of watching it, I checked out the MotoGP race at Catalunya on Eurosport for the first time just days later, surely the greatest compliment to any documentary.
Along with the trailer, there is a small collection of ‘featurettes’, which provide some interesting, more personal bits about the riders.