Motorsport fans have been spoiled for choice when it comes to racing documentaries produced in the past two decades — and these are some of the very best of the bunch.
A recent growth spurt in Formula 1’s popularity has provided plenty of opportunities for great filmmakers to revisit some classic racing stories.
From Juan Manuel Fangio’s historic leap into the history books to the stunning advances made by IndyCar’s medical team, these are the best modern racing documentaries released in the past 20 years.
Senna is perhaps the first documentary racing fans think of when they’re asked about F1 movies. The exceptional film tells the story of Ayrton Senna, perhaps the most iconic Grand Prix racer of all time, before his tragic death at age 34. While it does contain some anti-Alain Prost bias, it’s still an incredible doc that could turn any viewer into an avid race fan.
1: Life on the Limit (2013)
If you’re looking for a quick refresher on your Formula 1 history, 1: Life on the Limit is the perfect documentary for you. It tells the story of F1’s so-called “golden age,” the period of the late 1960s to the early 1980s, when motorsport technology rapidly took off and completely changed the name of the racing game — albeit at the cost of countless lives. It’s a difficult film to watch, but a critical one for any racing fan.
In his youth, no one would have suspected Bruce McLaren would become one of racing’s most iconic names; he was regularly ill and was born and raised in New Zealand, far from the epicenters of motorsport. Yet this driver of humble beginnings persevered to become an F1 driver, a racing team owner, and a Can-Am legend. You won’t make it through the film with dry eyes.
This documentary follows the story of Sir Frank Williams, a man whose sheer determination enabled him to build one of the most iconic Formula 1 teams in history.
Of course, those familiar with the Williams story also know that it’s marred in tragedy, thanks to Frank Williams’ near-fatal car accident in 1986. One of the finest parts of the documentary centers on Claire Williams, who took control of the team as her father aged; she shared heart-rending stories about what it was like growing up with such a dedicated father, and a mother who was never thanked for the role she played in nursing Frank back to health.
Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story (2023)
The newest release on our list, the Brawn docuseries narrated by Keanu Reeves tells the incredible story of how the underfunded and understaffed Brawn F1 team suddenly arrived in 2009, dominated the World Championship, and immediately disappeared after launching Jenson Button into stardom.
It should be an impossible story, and yet it’s one of the most exceptional in the sport’s history.
A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story (2020)
Juan Manuel Fangio remains the only World Championship driver to have won five Formula 1 titles with four different teams — something that should have been impossible for a working-class driver from Argentina.
This documentary (which is largely told in Spanish) tells the story of Fangio’s Cinderella-esque career path and expands on the respect he commanded from all of his competitors.
Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)
Willy T. Ribbs has been described as the “Jackie Robinson of auto racing,” and Uppity follows the Black driver’s controversial career as one of the first highly successful racers of color.
The first Black qualifier for the Indy 500, Ribbs had dominated in Trans-Am racing and was even invited for some open-wheel tests in England by Bernie Ecclestone — but it doesn’t shy away from reckoning with the ways institutional racism stunted the career of an incredibly promising racer.
It has now been a decade since the skiing accident that changed Michael Schumacher’s life, and the Schumacher documentary is a heartbreaking look at one of racing’s greatest legends and the impact he’s had on his friends and family.
You’ll learn about Schumacher’s early against-all-odds forays into motorsport, where he was karting on salvaged tires, and follow him all the way through his dominance at Ferrari and eventual retirement from F1.
Interviews with Schumacher’s family offer a personal touch and insight into the current life of a man who has been shrouded in privacy.
And We Go Green (2019)
While Formula E is still a fairly young series, its fantastic documentary titled And We Go Green provides some fantastic insight into what makes the all-electric open-wheel series tick.
It follows the 10-race FE Championship, profiling the series’ most iconic drivers while expanding on the eco-friendly ethos that makes Formula E stand out.
Rapid Response (2019)
While most motorsport fans are familiar with just how dangerous racing used to be, many are less up to date on the advancements made by medical crews and safety professionals to make motorsport a better place.
Rapid Response tells the story of the doctors, volunteers, and researchers who completely changed the name of the safety game.
These advancements first came in American open-wheel racing before their findings spread around the world to encompass things like fully-staffed medical centers, safety cars, and more.