‘Senna’

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Benportrait1I am now well into my first summer holiday since starting University and the closet thing I have to a job is walking my Nan’s dog in the morning. As a result I find myself browsing through late night TV, searching for something to help pass the mind numbingly boring daytime hours. Last Friday, whilst browsing the TV guide, I came across ‘Senna’, thefilm-documentaryabout the Brazilian Racing driver. I had heard about the documentary, but not being the biggest Formula 1 fan (I’ll happily sit and watch a race, but I am not the type of person that needs to watch every second of a grand prix weekend) I didn’t seek it out. But it was there, and it couldn’t be worse than the endless reruns of ‘Come dine with me’ so I hit the record button.

I had heard of Ayrton Senna and knew small bits about his life and, spoiler alert, his death at Imola. But other than that, I knew very little about the Brazilian. So I sat down following the morning Dog walk to watch. I thought it was going to be a series of Formula 1 racing sequences and very little else. How wrong I was. Yes there were plenty of racing sequences but there was a lot more to this documentary than the telling of how Senna won his three World Championships. The film focuses on a number of issues including the safety and bureaucracy of Formula 1.

The documentary made use of family interviews, to tell the back story behind everything that happened to Senna, as well as racing commentary of the day and the thoughts of some of the people who knew Senna best, including the then McLaren chief Ron Dennis. The documentary follows Senna from the start of his Formula 1 racing career as he initially joins the Toleman racing team. It then moves on to his rise through the ranks, joining Lotus and then McLaren, where he won his three championships. It then finishes on his last season at Williams, his death and the aftermath.

As you would expect the documentary focuses on Senna.However, during the McLaren period, the film’s dedicated focus on Senna removes some of the piece’s integrity, as you only hear snippets from Senna’s team mate, greatest rival, and the documentary’s villain, Alain Prost.  The documentary continues to tell the story of Prost and Senna’s rivalry while also heavily emphasising on the bureaucracy and biased nature of Formula 1’s governing body and in particular the FIA French president Jean-Marie Balestre’s attitude towards Prost.

The film makes Alain Prost the definite bad guy with his all too willing side kick Balestre. However Senna was no angel, and again I feel the film is weak at discussing the controversial incidents undoubtedly caused by Senna, such as the crash at Suzuka in ’91, while being all too willing to vilify Prost and Balestre.

Following the McLaren years, Senna moved to the Williams racing team. The documentary covers the season building up to the fateful race at Imola. Focusing mainly on the technical difficulties Williams faced and the immense pressure that Senna was put under. From the first mention of Imola to the end of the film, a good 25 minutes, I had goosebumps. Asif Kapadia, the director, focuses on the three major crashes that occur in order to highlight the lack of safety in Formula 1 at this time, mentioninga very young Rubens Barrichello, along with the fatal Roland Ratzenberger crash. I have goosebumps just writing about it. The Ratzenberger is covered in an indescribable way. And finally, the film focuses on the onboard coverage of Senna’s fatal final lap. The legacy of the two fatal crashes can still be seen today, as since the two deaths not one driver has died due to a racing incident. This is mainly due to the work of Professor Sid Watkins.

The documentary shines a light on the fantastic human character Senna was. It looks not only at his racing career, but also at his work for a Brazil that wasn’t proud to be Brazilian at the time, as well as an in depth look at Senna the man. And so, if you have the slightest interest in Formula 1 and Ayrton Senna, go and watch this film. It is fast paced, entertaining(which are hard things to achieve in a documentary), insightful, fascinating and saddening. I definitely recommend this film.

Ben

 

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