- 07 Jun 11
Documentary about F1 icon is a brilliantly crafted thrill ride
A Brazilian racing prodigy, Aryton Senna began his career as a go-karting champion in the ‘70s, but his fearless driving and almost innate understanding of cars saw him quickly rise up the ranks of Formula 1, eventually joining McLaren, one of the top racing teams in the sport. But despite becoming one of the greatest drivers in the world, Aryton’s career was filled with controversy and ended in tragedy when, in 1994, he became the last driver to be killed at the wheel of a Formula 1 car.
Asif Kapadia’s documentary is wonderfully unique in that there are no talking heads or needless reconstructions. Instead it’s constructed from over 15,000 hours of existing, archived footage, with only occasional voiceovers from his family or racing experts who worked with Senna. Throw in some heart-stopping shots from inside his car and shocking footage of multiple crashes and the result is a pacey, intimate and thoroughly engrossing narrative that flows as effortlessly as Aryton does – or rather appears to! – around the racetrack.
In fact, Kapadia’s entire approach echoes Aryton’s philosophy about racing, as both of their visions focus purely on the asphalt in front of them. Just as the purist eschewed the politics behind the racing, the director refuses to take the easy option of focusing on the driver’s many famous girlfriends or his celebrity lifestyle. Making this interesting to audience members with no knowledge of F1 could have been a challenge, but like Aryton, who drove best in wet conditions, Kapadia slams his foot on the pedal, making Senna a superior thrill-ride.
Aryton’s much-publicised rivalry with his McLaren teammate Alain Prost was a major influence of the increased popularity of the sport in the ‘80s, and is given due coverage here. The well-connected, smarmy Frenchman acts as the perfect foil to Senna’s almost naïve, religious outlook, and becomes the pantomime villain for the audience to root against. As does Jean-Marie Balestre, the president of FISA, whose hypocritical rulings reveal just how corrupt the machinations of driving politics could be.
An engrossing, nerve-wracking and beautifully crafted examination of a sporting hero, Kapadia’s documentary is a must-see. Race you to the cinema!