Friday, 3 June 2011


I'm back at home having just seen Senna - a film I've been waiting for since it was announced last year. What can I say? Despite having never seen Senna race (well, if I did I don't remember - I was only 2 when he died), like any good F1 fan I know that he was one of the greatest - if not the greatest - drivers of all time. However, I'm sorry to say that I don't know all that much about Senna's career aside from snippets read on the internet. So, the Senna movie was something I desperately wanted to see to learn more about the legend.

We had a bit of trouble getting to see the film, as there was only one cinema in Kent showing it (a travesty really, as I feel the film could be a platform for getting more interested in F1. Still, all to do with money I guess). Finally though, I managed to get tickets for Senna on the day it was released. So today I came back from university (having completed a statistics exam - fun!) and immediately set off with my Mum and Dad to the Bluewater Shopping Centre.

The film started eventually and even from the first few bars of the music I knew it was going to be a special film. The shots of Senna driving his cars from the very start to the untimely end of his career were stunning. I'm so glad that the film was made using real footage, rather than staged clips filmed for the purpose. I don't think any filmmaker would be able to capture the atmosphere of the crowd and Senna's magic when he drove.

The personal story of Senna was something very inspirational. His statements that he always aimed to learn and do his very best was something which I feel we can all aspire to - I relate very much to Senna's sentiments with my academic life. As such, this side to Ayrton makes the film much more accessible to non-F1 fans.

The combination of Senna's absolute raw skill in driving and his frankly inspirational personality were demonstrated and balanced so well in the film as a whole. Although I knew that Senna was rated as one of the greats, it's hard to capture this combination in books and internet articles. The film served to explain to me exactly why Senna was considered to be such a great man - and why his death shocked and saddened so many people.

I was only 2 when Senna had his crash at Imola in 1994. It's one of the events in F1 that I have never dared to find on internet videos - I don't like it when drivers crash and I despise people who watch motor-racing for the accidents. I have, however read about Senna's accident and the controversy which surrounds it. Watching the accidents in the cinema was rather poignant and shocking. You could feel the tension in the audience whenever a driver crashed, as we all knew that the film would be showing Senna's demise.

I have to admit, the accidents shown in the film unsettled me somewhat. The first crash shown with a driver out of the car lying on the ground was perhaps the most shocking I've seen - however the driver survived. Barrichello's crash at Imola in 1994 was the first in a series of crashes shown at Senna's last race. It was so unexpected during the course of the film and you could hear the intake of breath from the audience. Roland Ratzenberger's fatal accident was the next to be shown. It was horrific watching the doctors trying to resuscitate him. I guess if I was watching any other film there would be comfort in knowing that it wasn't real, that the man in the car was little more than an actor who would be able to walk away. Not so in Senna - we know that the moments we're watching are the driver's last, and it's humbling and harrowing at the same time.

It was emotional watching the Imola sequence. The whole audience knew what was about to happen, and the portrayal of Senna as a hero throughout the film made everyone wish that history was different - that Senna had taken Sid Watkins's advice and retired at the peak of his career, or that the race had been cancelled in light of Ratzenberger's death. However, we knew that this wouldn't be the case. It was hard watching Senna's last few days. He was clearly unsettled with the car and was deeply affected by the death of Ratzenberger. You get the impression that Senna was considering his own mortality - something which perhaps wasn't as present in Senna previously (at least, this is the impression I formed when watching the film). Inevitably, Senna got into his car on the 1st of May 1994 and hit the Imola wall in an accident that everyone wishes never happened. This was the hardest thing I've watched in any film.

One more thing I would like to say about Senna is that the film didn't portray Alain Prost in the best light. Now, I can kind of understand this on one level as the film maker was out to portray Senna as the hero. This is understandable - the film is called Senna after all, and so perhaps it was necessary to portray Prost in a more negative light than is true. Whether Prost was as villainous as the film makes out isn't for me to say - there was notable rivalry between the two; we already know this. However, the rivalry is understandable to whatever degree in reality. We see rivalries in modern F1 too, rivalries which mirror Prost and Senna: Hamilton and Alonso and (to an extent last season) Webber and Vettel being some examples of this. The drivers are out for wins and rivalries develop. As fans we may choose which driver we prefer over another and side with them much more - which is perhaps what happened with this film and the Prost/Senna rivalry. The film makers simply chose Senna over Prost. Nevertheless, Prost's portrayal as the 'villain' in the film was countered at the very end when it was revealed that he was a patron to the Ayrton Senna Foundation; so while they were rivals on the track there was undoubtedly respect between the two.

 Overall, I think everyone should see Senna - whether you like F1 or not. Hell, if I had the money I'd take each and every one of you to see it, just so you can learn more about the legend. Senna was portrayed as such a generous, talented and inspirational man, and even though I was too young to remember him racing I admire him all the more for seeing this film. After watching the crash and seeing Senna motionless in his car followed footage of his funeral. This was perhaps where it hit me that Senna was much more than a racing driver - he was a hero to the people of Brazil and to people from the rest of the world and when he died there was a great loss to not only motorsport, but to the world.