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The Senna Movie - They nailed it // Evaluating the emotions let loose after a Senna movie viewing

Published by Rory McClaren

Sceptical thoughts filled my head when I first heard of the proposed Senna documentary. After viewing it last weekend I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Ayrton Senna. There aren’t many bigger names in Formula 1’s rich history. How could anybody be brave – or stupid – enough to tackle a subject of his size and mystic in film?

Senna was an extraordinary man for whom we’re all familiar with. A man who many of us, young or old, greatly admired and occasionally despised. A man who was taken in such a public fashion.

Could a documentary actually capture the complexity of Ayrton Senna? Could Senna do that?

Yes. And it does it beautifully.

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Fresh from its success at Sundance I had the chance to see the much anticipated work by Manish Pandey and Asif Kapadia. It was screening in Adelaide, my home town and former host of the Australian Grand Prix, as a part of the city’s biannual Film Festival.

As many would be aware the plot (quite rightly) focuses on Senna’s time in F1, in particular 1988 onward and his relationship with Alain Prost. So if you’re looking for detail about the Martin Brundle dog fight in British F3, forget it. It doesn’t even get a mention.

The FOM clips are interspersed with pieces from his karting days and life back in Brazil. The result is a film which flows beautifully, bouncing from career highlight to highlight in chronological order without relying on a central narrator.

Scenes from within the inner sanctum of the sport, at the driver’s briefings in particular, were absolutely riveting and I had no idea footage of this nature even existed. Thanks for releasing the video Uncle Bernie...

As a youngster during the era in which the documentary is set I was unable to fully grasp the combative nature of former FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre’s relationship with many in the sport. Until now.

It’s there for all to see in footage from the briefings. Balestre is the villain. The emotion in the briefing room, especially during the 1990 Japanese GP session, was incredible. As was the sense of solidarity behind Senna, lead by Nelson Piquet of all people, after the FIA judgements made the previous year.

Similarly Senna’s glassy eyed “let’s remember the good times” discussions with Ron Dennis in the McLaren garage, shot from a distance, prior to the ’93 Australian Grand Prix was poignant and powerful.

Having never seen a Formula 1 car on the big screen before the in-car footage blew my mind

Having never seen a Formula 1 car on the big screen before the in-car footage blew my mind. If you think watching a MP4/4 having its neck wrung around Monaco looks good on YouTube or TV, it’s nothing until you’ve seen it on a picture screen.

The man who Senna shared the MP4/4 with, Alain Prost, for mine isn’t portrayed in the greatest of lights. During the middle of the film Prost is made to look much like Balestre’s little plaything. I didn’t necessarily agree with this approach but considering the angle from which the film has been produced it’s a necessary evil. Senna is the definitive hero, rightly or wrongly, and the politics of the times feature strongly.

There were other occasional gripes. A lack of synchronisation between the audio and footage - normally aspirated engine notes versus turbo footage and gear changes not matching – grated from time to time.

I appreciate the commercial reasons for using the ex ESPN F1 journalist (whose name escapes me) as a contributor, you can’t help wondering if Murray Walker’s input would have been better. Nor can I recall Jo Ramirez talking, which I thought was strange considering the close relationship he and Senna shared. But these gripes are only minor in the scheme of things.

From the scenes relating to Martin Donnelly’s Jerez shunt the film builds towards the inevitable. You’re reminded just how skittish the first generation of post driver aids cars were in early 1994 and the genuine belief of Senna’s that Benetton was using traction control.

The Imola weekend is handled with the care it deserves and Sid Watkins words leave you with a lump in your throat. Footage from that weekend remains confronting, especially for those who’d made efforts to avoid seeing videos since then.

I’ve seen plenty, some might say too many, movies in my time. But I can't recall a response among the audience such as at the end of this one. There was a slight pause as people drew breath, then applause and lots of it.

Yet everywhere you turned, even as you left the cinema, people were trying desperately to dry eyes. A guy three seats down, who couldn’t have been much older than 5 in May 1994, cried for the films last 10 minutes. Such is the power of this piece.

What I was left with is not memories of Senna’s end, rather a much fuller understanding and appreciation of what his life was really all about. The intensity, brilliance, obsessive and (at times) cheeky personality of the man shines through.

If there are any Sidepodders in my corner of the world who didn’t see it on Sunday, move heaven and earth to catch the second screening this Sunday. For those who have to wait longer until a European (or USA) release, however hard that might be, rest assured it will be worth it.

The hype is justified. Like the man himself hunting pole, they nail it.