Ayrton Senna might be the most gifted driver in Formula 1’s long racing history. His popularity with racing fans is matched by no other driver. Senna raced when I was a very young child. I never got the opportunity to watch him race on TV and didn’t become a Formula 1 fan until nearly a decade after his untimely death. While I had heard his name numerous times during race telecasts and have seen the corner that took his life, I knew only that fans and drivers alike respected his talent. Recently, a film about Senna comprised entirely of archival footage and audio interviews has come to Netflix Streaming and I had a chance to give it a watch.
When I first started watching Formula 1, I was enthralled by the wailing scream of the engines and the technical feats of ingenuity that went into making those cars as fast and grippy as they are. The exotic Grand Prix locations around the world, the high-class personality of the sport, and the action kept me staying up to the early hours of the morning to catch live races every weekend. The part of Formula 1 I never seemed to connect with however was the drivers. In the early 2000’s, the cars seemed to drive themselves with the drivers being mere cogs in the machine. Sure, there were skilled drivers, but none had much of a personality to follow. Top Gear actually makes reference to this quite a bit and its probably best personified in the show’s character, The Stig – An unfeeling silent cyborg who knows only one thing, driving.
Only about ten years before my love of Formula 1, a completely different style of driver existed. Ayrton Senna was one of the most colorful personalities the sport has ever seen. His absolute drive to win, his unflinching bravery in overtaking opponents and his emotional battle with doing the right thing and making sure he won played out on the track at every Grand Prix during his years as a Formula 1 driver.
The film, simply titled Senna follows Ayrton’s career from his start in go-kart racing up through the series of races through his career in Formula 1 until his unfortunate accident that took his life. The film shows through amazing archival footage the incredibly tense drama that played out in several seasons of his career. High points such as Senna’s first win in his home country of Brazil to low points like his constant battles with arch-racing rival and former team mate Alain Prost are testament to a time when Formula 1 was far more dramatic and angst ridden. Senna may have been one of the more outspoken drivers, but the film shows that nearly every driver had a unique and interesting personality.
Ayrton Senna’s influence on the sport and its culture is far reaching. Fans still speak about him reverently and young drivers reflect on him as a mythic figure they watched each weekend as children. As a driver, his skills were unparalleled. As a man, his concern and deeds for his home country of Brazil are the subject of hero worship to this day.
The mark of any good documentary is its ability to inform AND engage the person watching. Senna’s life story had as many twists and turns as any good work of fiction but had the added benefit for the viewer of being real history rather than made up. Racing can get a bit sterile at times which might be tough for non-fans to appreciate a documentary about a driver. However, the story of Ayrton’s life is so wonderfully told through this film that I can see someone who has no prior knowledge of the sport finding it fascinating. I highly recommend Senna. It’s definitely stuff you should watch.