A documentary about Ayrton Senna, the legendary Brazilian F1 Motor Racing driver with no new material, instead relying on archived interviews, clips and personal home video does not sound like a riveting watch.
Director Asif Kapadia has however managed to produce an interesting, gripping and ultimately poignant tribute to the much loved driver, which will be enjoyed by anyone with even a passing interest in the sport.
Senna burst onto the scene at Monaco in the mid 80’s, following a highly successful Karting career. Passionate, quiet in private, patriotic yet monumentally talented he effectively rocked the boat in the stable and stage manged F1 world at the time, the administration of which was held in a vice like grip by Jean-Marie Belstere – “The best decision is my decision!”
The film focuses on the white hot and ultimately acrimonious rivalry between the established champion, Alain Proust and the upstart pretender. On occasion it appears that races and decisions were formulated to preserve the status quo and despite his evident talent, Senna is blocked at every turn.
The sport is dangerous, drivers are considered to be highly paid “monkeys” with few rights, decisions on safety are apparently made arbitrarily without any real thought or implications for those travelling at 300kmh, round slippery wet tracks.
Despite the lack of new material, the film is carefully balanced and constructed, each piece carefully laid, ultimately leading to the crash that would claim Senna’s life in front of 300 million television viewers. Treated as a god in Brazil and almost a saint since his death, the film neatly adds the rider that Alain Proust remains an executor for the trust created in Senna’s name to help underprivileged children in Brazil.
Senna when asked what the best race he ever took part in, refers back to his Karting days when the racing was pure, man against man in the identical machines with no politics or electronic controls. As many will know, Williams dominated the sport when electronic aids were initially introduced, effectively making drivers mere passengers in their own cars whilst computers controlled many functions during cornering. This ushered in a new era in which no one could match Williams until the rules were changed.
F1 has always been about politics and money, Bernie Ecclestone merely taking the premise to the next level. Senna is shown as very much the outsider, clearly held back until his talent and fan base became too big for the sport to ignore.
The irony being that it took the death of perhaps the sports most enigmatic, enduring and crowd pleasing star to bring about much needed safety improvements and driver participation in decisions affecting them.
As the film notes, to date no F1 driver has died since the incident.
Intriguing, poignant and quite gripping, this is well worth a watch for anyone even vaguely interested in motor sport.