Director: Asif Kapadia Starring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Ron Dennis, Frank Williams, Viviane Senna, Sid Watkins, Jean-Marie Balestre
Certificate: 12A Running Time: 106 Minutes
Tagline: "The legend of the greatest driver who ever lived"
Formula One has always been a popular sport here in the UK. We've produced a good number of skilled drivers and won lots of world titles. Also, unlike many sports that we've created or helped to pioneer, we've actually remained successful at it until the present day. However, I don't think the sport has ever been more popular than it was in Brazil during Ayrton Senna's rise. He was a naturally gifted driver and a born competitor who, with his parents help, pursued his passion from an early age, and soon rose to prominence in his homeland. This documentary by Brit, Asif Kapadia, who is more normally found directing arty dramas, follows the career of the Brazilian legend from his promising arrival in Formula One in 1984, through his most successful years, right up until his untimely demise ten years later.
Quite a bit of the compiled footage here obviously includes highlights of some of Senna's more notable races. This has been gathered from a mixture of on-car cameras as well as the more common aerial views. After quickly readjusting to the inferior image quality of the day, the screen is practically throbbing with the loud, energetic racing action, and never more so than thrilling car-cam shots. Shaky and flickery they may be but never has racing action seemed so intense and visceral, to me at least. Of course, the action isn't all car-based. Kapadia himself doesn't speak or appear on camera but there's interviews and narration from fellow professionals, both drivers and pit-crew, family and friends, including Sid Watkins who was F1 safety chief, on track medic, and Senna's friend.
If you followed F1 closely around the time documented here, there's probably not too many major revelations but that's not really what it's about either. It's very enlightening to see pre-race drivers meetings, press conferences and the like, and there's a lot of footage that even the biggest fans won't have seen. They show another side of Senna which I for one wasn't fully aware of and reveal a man who disliked the internal politics that were developing in the sport at that time. Also covered extensively, of course, is Senna's epic rivalry with French driver, Alain Prost who is not portrayed in a particularly flattering light here. Despite also being a supremely talented driver, the fact remains that Prost was just a different kind of competitor to Senna, and the personality clash, both on track and off, is there for all to see.
The Brazilian people are very selective about who they idolise. It takes a lot more than mere talent or positive results (unlike here in the UK!). Was Senna the greatest driver of all-time? Statistically, no, but he was without question one of the purest racers there has ever been. He was extremely passionate (in defence of his aggressive driving style: "If you no longer go for a gap, you're no longer a racing driver") and yet he was also very humble. He was very patriotic too, as most Brazilians are (I should know - I'm married to one!). He grew up with a reasonably well-off family for Brazilian standards, his story is certainly not a rags-to-riches one, but unlike some, he never turned his back on his heritage and instead embraced his culture and in so doing, helped to share it with others and quickly became a genuine idol in his homeland.
RKS Score: 9/10