Many of my earliest memories involve Formula 1. Growing up in the 1980s, there was one name that stood out above all others. That name was ‘Senna’. Now, almost 2 decades after his last Grand Prix, a documentary has been made that allows everyone – from the un-initiated to the F1 junkies – to understand just what made Ayrton Senna so special.
Director Asif Kapadia has taken the hundreds of hours of footage from Bernie Ecclestone’s personal archive and created an entertaining, yet powerful documentary. Originally over 4 hours long, the key to its success is in the editing. Now in its much more manageable 105 minute form, the film is stronger than ever, and manages to use entirely archival footage, never once resorting to breaking the action with a talking-head insert. Instead, we are allowed to immerse ourselves in the Formula 1 universe, sharing the highs and lows with the man himself, listening to his story in his own words.
Part of what made Senna so special was the contradiction. Safety was of high importance to him, yet at times he would risk everything to win. It becomes clear during the film, that it was an internal battle for him, trying to balance the two opposing sides of his personality. These moments are intimate, as if between just Senna and the audience, and add real emotional power to the race sequences, which are incredible to witness. They capture Formula 1 at its best, at a time where technical advancements were allowing teams to really push the limits of what was possible. The sense of speed is both exhilarating and alarming, while also making you consider the motivations for anyone to sit in an F1 cockpit. Add to this an intense battle between Senna and his main rival Alain Prost, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re watching a summer blockbuster, except that every single second of what you’re seeing actually happened.
Out of all the amazing moments in this film, Senna’s win at the 1991Brazilian Grand Prix really stands out. I have never witnessed a moment in any film that captures the euphoria of success so well. This is a documentary that celebrates the truly memorable moments of life, from comedy to tragedy and everything in between. For anyone who was a fan of Formula 1 at the time, certain scenes will no doubt be intercut with their own memories, especially of the 1994 season. For everyone else, the climax of this incredible story is one nobody will forget, and like the man himself, changed Formula 1 forever.