It was at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1984 during a torrential downpour that former F1 driver and commentator James Hunt, announced to the world, the arrival of “a pretty staggering talent” in Formula One by the name of Ayrton Senna.
Monaco is a dangerously tight circuit where passing another car is usually off the agenda. But Senna, who started the race in 13th position on the grid, in what was considered a hopelessly uncompetitive car at the time, ripped through the field like a man possessed to finish ahead of the reigning F1 champion and race leader, Alain Prost, but lost the race due to a technicality and the questionable ethics of former F1 chief, Jean Marie Balestre.
ESPN motorsport journalist at the time, John Bisignano, said of Senna,
“he would brake later, fly into these corners where the car was just over the edge and somehow he could dance a dance with that car to where it stayed on track”.
It was an extraordinary display of supernatural talent by the young Brazilian in atrocious conditions, made all the more remarkable given that there were no fewer than six current or future world champions in the race, all going for the chequered flag that day.
Ayrton Senna had arrived at the front of the Formula One grid with a boom, and over the next ten years he would become a global superstar in the midst of battles with other drivers, F1 officials and his own dark demons.
Universal pictures gave CarAdvice a sneak peak at an extraordinary documentary film about the life of Senna, the man and the racing driver, from when he first represented Brazil in the world carting championships to his untimely and tragic death at Imola in 1994.
Senna offers a remarkable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the man who many consider to be the world’s greatest ever Formula One driver.
Much more than just a film about Formula One racing, it is a unique insight into the private side of the one of the most dangerous sports in the world, never before shared in the public domain.
Some say Ayrton Senna was arrogant. After seeing this film, I sincerely doubt such notions. He was a deeply religious man who on more than a few occasions believed that God had assisted him on the track. He spoke of driving outside himself, as though he was possessed and driving ‘in the zone’.
The film shows some remarkable footage of Senna driving in the Brazilian Grand Prix in 1991, which he won, but only after the transmission jammed in sixth gear with seven laps to go.
A remarkable man, a remarkable driver and a remarkable film by Asif Kapadia, Senna opens in Australia on 11 August 2011, and CarAdvice has 10 double passes to give away closer to the release date.
CarAdvice scribe Tim Beissmann, also joined me at the screening and gives an interesting insight into the film from a generation who wasn’t even born when Senna entered Formula One…
I was just four years old when Ayrton Senna died at Imola in 1994. I never saw him race, and I come from a generation that largely has no appreciation of his achievements on or off the racetrack. Many of my friends have only heard the name, and until recently I myself only knew of him as ‘that Formula One driver who died’.
Asif Kapadia’s intimate documentary reveals that Senna was, and is, so much more than that.
Senna was a pure race driver. To him, racing was a spiritual and deeply religious experience, and at those times when his subconscious took control, nothing came between himself and the chequered flag.
Former teammate and bitter rival Alain Prost exposed the core of Senna’s uncompromising mentality after one Monaco Grand Prix. “He didn’t want to just beat me, he wanted to humiliate me.” At times this was his greatest weakness, but it was also the philosophy that took him to 41 race victories and three world titles.
He raced with the weight of a troubled nation on his shoulders, and he was described affectionately as “the only good thing about Brazil”. His love of his country led to the creation of Instituto Ayrton Senna – an institution devoted to giving Brazilian children a chance to rise above poverty. Between 1994 and 2009, his institution helped more than 11.6 million children get an education, and continues his legacy to this day.
Senna not only introduces the man to my generation, it brings us close enough to witness his soul: at its most frustrated and fragile, and at its most peaceful and fulfilled. To be remembered for his death alone would be the greatest injustice of all, as his life can teach us all about the depths of humanity and what it truly means to live your dreams.