Cutting down the late Ayrton Senna’s achievements at the pinnacle of motor racing into a 90-minute film was never going to be easy. There were around 15,000 hours worth of archive footage of the legendary Brazilian driver to use. Kapadia notes in a recent interview that ‘it took us four years’ to find the right combination of footage to represent Senna’s 10-year career in Formula One.
The extensive footage of F1, a sport saturated with television coverage, spliced with home-movie images of Senna with his family, provides a touching portrayal of the various aspects of Senna: driver, national hero, winner, philanthropist, family man.
The film begins at the scene of one of Senna’s finest drives, for the unheralded Toleman team at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. This performance, in only his sixth Grand Prix, typified his general brilliance in rainy conditions; he was only denied victory because the race was stopped due to torrential rain.
Kapadia swiftly passes over Senna’s development as a youthful kart driver back in his native Brazil, along with his exploits in Formula Three. Instead, the central narrative of Kapadia’s work is the rivalry between Senna and the four-time F1 winner, Frenchman Alain Prost.
There are touching moments between the two, who were team-mates at McLaren for two years during the 1988 and 1989 seasons. An early exchange between the two would fall under that much-despised term ‘banter’, though there is an underlying competitive tension in their words. Prost asks his team-mate, ‘Is it possible to be equal?’ to which Senna replies ‘No’. Prost amusingly concludes: ‘Shit.’
Yet, after spending so much time creating this piece, there is bound to be a partisanship from Kapadia towards Senna, with the dramatic arc seeming to cast Prost, almost unfairly, as the villain to Senna’s heroic protagonist in a simplistic representation of both drivers. Furthermore, the accusation that Prost was in bed with Jean-Marie Balestre - the French president of FIA, Formula One’s governing body - is disappointingly repeated by Kapadia. Whatever the relationship between the two may have been, Senna’s disdain for the politics that have engulfed F1 is made clear.
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