By SANJIT DEEPALAM
Senna, a 2010 sports documentary directed by Asif Kapadia, follows the story of one of the world’s most accomplished racing drivers: Ayrton Senna. The film discusses not only Senna’s achievements in racing, but also his personal struggles as a racer in Formula 1, the highest level of open wheel motor racing in the world, and the traits and characteristics that made him a Champion on the track and in the hearts and minds of fans of motorsport. The movie also explores Senna’s intense inter-team rivalry with his partner driver Alain Prost at McLaren Honda, one of the most successful teams in motorsport, and how their rocky and heated relationship ended up defining both of their careers.
The movie making behind Senna is smart and efficient. Kapadia manages to take the most important accomplishments from a ten year career that resulted in three World Championships and weave them together with interviews, home videos and childhood footage to create not only a well-rounded representation of a great career, but also a portrait of a complex man. The humanity Kapadia depicts is what makes Senna engrossing and enjoyable for viewers, whether or not they are fans of Formula 1.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Senna shown in the movie is his ruthlessness. In one famous interview, Senna remarks, “I’m not designed to come second or third. I’m designed to win.” According to a close friend featured in the documentary, Senna reportedly believed that he had the God-given right to win, so much so that he intentionally crashed into Alain Prost in 1990 to achieve his second World Title. Every place finish in a race is awarded a certain number points; if Prost had finished the race, he would have had enough points to become the Champion even if he had finished last and Senna had won. This knowledge drove Senna to prevent Prost from finishing the race at all. Ultimately, his competitiveness was what made him so charismatic; Senna shunned the politics of sport and simply focused on being the best.
The flip side of this ruthlessness was a very humble, funny, God-fearing man that donated millions to fight poverty in his native country Brazil. When Senna died in a horrific crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, Brazil declared three days of mourning and gave him a Presidential burial, honoring the man he was on and off the track.
Senna is among the most interesting sports documentaries out there. The filmmaking is both clean and efficient, and the story is engaging. The film grossed $1.6 million in the box office, has received a 92% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and was chosen as the opening film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.