“Senna” Examines F1 Racer’s High-Speed Life and Death
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Formula One is the highest class of single-seater auto racing sanctioned by Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).
A modern Formula One car is a single-seat, open-cockpit, open-wheel racing car with front and rear wings, and an engine positioned behind the driver. These cars are considered to be the fastest circuit-racing cars in the world. F1 cars achieve speeds up to 220 mph.
“Senna” – a documentary currently playing at the Tropic Cinema – tells us about Brazilian Formula One racer Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34.
This film begins with his mother imploring “May God always protect him from all the dangers he may face – that’s my greatest fear.”
A lanky dark-haired kid, Ayrton started off racing go-karts, a competition that he fondly called “pure driving, pure racing.” His parents hadn’t expected karting to lead to a racing career, and were “a little worried because he will probably race in Formula One.”
Director Asif Kapadia mixes archival footage with present-day interviews to give us a portrait of this triple world champion. We watch Ayrton’s first time behind the wheel of a Formula One. “I think God gave me this chance,” he said. “And now He is helping me to stay relaxed, tranquil.”
We follow Ayrton Senna to the 1984 Monte Carlo Grand Prix where he “showed a touch of genius.” It was his eighth F1 race. On the most dangerous part of the circuit, he edges into second place. But the race is stopped due to wet conditions before he can cross the finish line. “Formula One is political – it is money,” he grumbled. “And when you are still small you go through this.”
Nonetheless he was dubbed “the new star of Formula One.”
“You either do well or forget it,” he declared his ambition.
The next year he moved to the Lotus team, enjoying his first victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix. When he later switched to the McLaren team, his sister noted, “The first year at McLaren was very decisive in Ayrton’s life. It was like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders because now he had a responsibility to prove he really was a top driver.”
The film follows Senna's competition against his nemesis, French World Champion Alain Prost. Although on the same team, “beating each other became far more challenging than beating the rest of the field,” observed McLaren’s Ron Dennis. The 1989 Championship won by Prost and the 1990 Championship won by Senna were decided by collisions between the two fierce drivers’ F1’s.
“It was war between them,” said a racing commentator.
Although a global superstar, Ayrton remained humble, almost shy, off the track.
He placed his car on pole for a then-record 65 times.
Alain Prost asserted, “Ayrton has a small problem. He thinks he can’t kill himself because he believes in God and things like this, and I think it’s very dangerous for the other drivers.”
Senna denied this, saying, “I am as scared as anyone of getting hurt. Especially driving a Formula One car, it’s a constant danger.”
Senna died in a crash while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. His death was watched live on television by 300-million fans. The Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning.
After his death FIA appointed his friend Professor Sid Watkins to improve the safety in F1 racing. Ayrton Senna was the last driver to die at the wheel of a Formula One car. A 2009 poll by Autosport magazine named him as the greatest Formula One driver of all time.
[from Solares Hill]