“The late, great Ayton Senna” is how possibly the finest Formula One commentator Murray Walker used to describe the legendary driver on air before he retired, and possibly still does. This documentary follows Senna from his karting days through his conflicts with F1 rival Alain Prost to his untimely death at Italy’s Imola circuit in 1994. It’s an emotional journey that puts the hero of the piece on a pedestal as a Brazilian and sporting icon, but paints a one-dimensional view of the legend.
Ayton Senna is consibered by many Formula One experts as one of, if not the, greatest drivers ever to have raced in the premier division of motorsport. Harbouring an ability to push his car to the limit at breathtaking speed, his closest rival Alain Prost was persistent in his claim Senna was a constant threat to the lives of other drivers, but few could deny his out-and-out speed wasn’t down to his sheer determination and belief in his own abilities. Senna, charts his life in motorsport by piecing together racing footage, interviews and – the most eye-opeing film of the lot – pre-race driver’s briefings together with a continual commentary taken from the actual footage rather than any narrator. It’s a shame there is no narrator as it would have given the filmmaker’s the opportunity to flesh out what adds up to a concise video history of Senna, however director Asif Kapadia shows a skill at cutting and pasting a remarkably insightful character study.
Two elements of Senna’s life resonate the strongest: his passion for racing and the tense one-upmanship between him and Prost. The love for racing is there for all to see in is joy of winning, sheer speed and determination on the track. What’s more unsettling and provides the hook is the treatment Senna received form Prost and senior Formula One bosses who made life very difficult for him. This is ever-present in the pre-race briefings and shows Senna faced an uphill battle whenever stewards were involved in making a decision about his aggressive manoeuvres. Naturally Senna won’t level much criticism at it’s subject and Prost is very much made out to the be in the wrong, though you can’t help think we’re only scratching the surface by using library footage to tell the tale rather than interviews from those concerned now. That, and a lack of any insight into Senna’s private life, may frustrate fans hoping to learn something new about their hero, but it still makes for compelling viewing.