I vaguely remember hearing Ayrton Senna had died, I wasn’t a big F1 fan but did realise that it was a big deal. Over the last decade I have become more interested in the sport and have to say that this season so far has been very interesting.  So it seems apt that in a year where F1 is getting interesting a documentary comes out about a man who made the sport more famous.

Directed by Asif Kapadia, it follows Senna from Go-Karting world champion through to his debut in Formula One to the intense rivalry with Alain Prost and the ultimate tragic ending. Like the sport itself it doesn’t waste any time, the film flies along at a relentless pace keeping the fascinating story interesting. Kapadia and his team were given access to the FIA archives and the Senna family’s private footage which is what makes this documentray so good. We get to see the private side of Senna as well as the genius driver. Of course the most fascinating footage comes from the racing side. He came into the sport as the cockpit cameras were being used, so we get this amazing footage which give us an almost drivers eye view and it’s unbelievable. As first you think it’s been sped up, then you realise thats how fast they are driving. Watching this footage on a big screen reminded me of the old video dome attractions they used to have at theme parks where you watched footage of rollercosters and you got drawn in and felt like you were moving with it. There are also some great aerial shots which I don’t think i’ve seen before. One side of the sport we the public never see are the trackside goings on and in the film we get to see a few of the drivers meetings which are really interesting, especially when Senna is trying to get his point across much to the FIA leaderships annoyance.

A large propotion of the film deals with the rivalry that built up between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, as this new kid came in and threatened Prost’s dominance. It’s great to watch the two team-mates being all friendly at the start of their working relationship and then as Senna starts to shine, the two start to fall out and become almost enemies. I have to say I feel a bit sorry for Prost in the film as he is painted a bit as the enemy of the piece when Senna gave as much as Prost did in some of the numerous collisions the two had. The film also shows how much politics there was in the sport during the 80’s and 90’s, something that to honest probably hasn’t changed now.

The film also lets us remember how dangerous the spprt can be, one scene in particular genuinely shocked me where a driver had had such a bad crash that his car had distintergrated to such a degree that the driver was just left unconscious in the middle of the track. This all leads up to the final section of the film that deal with the fateful weekend in Imola in 1994. It all starts badly with Ruebens Barrichello’s terrible crash and then the fatal crash of Roland Ratzenberger. We see Senna visually shaken by the unfurling events and so when we got to race footage I felt my stomach tighten, as we get the cockpit view as he hurtles around the track towards the Tamburello corner. Followed by upseting footage of the medics working on him.

One clever stylistic move by the director is the use of only voiceovers, we hear from people now as well as  recordings from Senna himself and the people he worked with, but the visuals are all archive footage, no people sat in a room talking about what they remember which can be a bit boring in some documentaries.

Apparently Kapadia had so much footage to use that the original cut of the film was over 5 hours long and has been cut down to 106 mins, which actually felt a little bit short, I actually wanted to see more, there was some footage in the credits which was as good as in the film itself. Hopefully the eventual blu ray will have more footage as an extra.

I do love a good documentary and this is a very good documentary. It’s never boring, an accusation usually directed at the sport, and gives us a truly fascinating insight into what gave Ayrton Senna the drive to be one of the greatest drivers ever. Even if you haven’t that much of an interest in the sport, the film is worth checking out.

Rating 8/10

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