SENNA directed by Asif Kapadia (UK documentary, 2010)
You don’t have to know anything about Formula One racing to appreciate this exemplary documentary film about the life and death of Brazilian motor racing champion, Ayrton Senna. This is just as well since this is a sport and spectacle that leaves me cold.
Of course, I knew the name of Senna and the fact that he tragically died at the age of just 34 at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. Other than that most of the facts presented were new to me.
Being a sport which is so rabidly followed by the media and public alike, there’s no shortage of footage of Senna in action doing what he did best and there’s also plenty of home movie footage and behind the scenes material. Kapadia has done an amazing job of editing this into a compelling 1o6 minute story where the driver’s humility, intelligence and honesty shines through. He has dispensed with the common strategy of lining up a series of talking heads telling us what an amazing guy he was but wisely lets the film shot at the time speak for itself.
What struck me most of all was that Senna typifies the single-minded sense of purpose needed to separate the winners from the losers. For Senna, there was never a question that merely taking part and competing at the highest level was enough. There is only one winner and he was not prepared to accept second best.
To achieve his goal of being the champion, he had to contend, not only with the other drivers (notably Alain Prost) but with the politics which, in common with all sports nowadays, meant that business and money interests take precedence over the human factor.
When Senna drove, he talked about being “closer to God” and his religious belief seems to be what grounded him.
It is the interviews that are at the heart of the film with Senna speaking candidly about what motivated him, making it clear that even when things were not going to plan, quitting was never an option.
His tragic death was both avoidable and inevitable.