Star rating – 9/10
You certainly don’t need to be a Formula 1 fan to appreciate this totally thrilling and absorbing docu-film about the talented and charismatic Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna. It has glamour; style; religious devotion; an arch rivalry to beat all others; and political intrigue too.
It is told via archive film footage which is cleverly knitted together by director Asif Kapadia with voice overs from his friends, family and colleagues. Senna rose to the top of his sport from a fairly, although not overly, privileged middle class background. His love of competing, and of sheer speed, came to the fore in his go-karting days as a boy. His love of life, his love of God, his awe inspiring talent, and his beautifully charming smile secured his success.
The film charts his meteoric rise to the bright lights of Formula 1, a rise which made him many enemies. In his native Brazil he was worshipped as an idol, but his French rival for the F1 crown, in the form of Alain Prost, was not so impressed. Prost does not come well out of this film, even though he was remarkably one of the pall bearers at Senna’s funeral, and a trustee of the charity Senna’s sister set up in his name to give education to poor children in his native country. Prost was not willing to give up his crown without a fight, and he sometimes did not play fair. But then neither did Senna, although you never quite believe he was as malevolent as Prost as their bitter battle raged on, and brought much public attention to their sport.
And the politics behind motor racing are also shown up to be the same corrupt affair that is currently plaguing world football and FIFA. Some things never change. The F1 chairman happened to French and a great friend of Prost, and funnily enough he was behind a move to ban Senna from the sport for 6 months, which nearly caused him to give up his life’s passion.
Senna was both proud of his country, and very concerned at the social injustice and poverty that ravaged it. He is surely the greatest motor racing champion there ever was – with more charisma in his little finger than Nigel Mansell (who only won the world championship due to his computerised Williams car), and Michael Schumacher put together.
Senna loved to go fast, and took risks. He did not know how to do it any other way. He put his trust in God via his catholic faith, and went for it. The end of the film is both thrilling and very difficult to watch, as we know the tragic script. But it is a hugely enjoyable piece of cinema that is a fitting tribute to this shining star.