Thursday, August 25, 2011

Watched: Senna

I saw the documentary Senna last night. I had a brief love affair with Formula 1 racing while in college. I would be up at 6AM on Sundays to watch the races on ESPN. Ayrton Senna, a racer from Brazil, was one of the best racers at the time. Some argue he was the best race car driver of all time.

The film opens with Senna racing Go Carts just before transitioning to Formula 1. In his rookie year, 1984, he showed how special he was. In Formula 1 racing there are 3 or 4 teams that win and then there are the other teams. Senna was racing for one of the other teams that had little expectation of winning a race and no chance of winning a championship. In the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, a course that is narrow and allows for very little passing - Senna took his also ran car from the back of the pack all the way up to 2nd place. In the rain! He looked likely to pass the first place car and win but the race was stopped due to the rain. Based on his rookie year performance Senna went on to the McLaren team, with a brief stop at Lotus, where he would win 3 championships before dying in a wreck in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix.

All of the footage of the movie is archival. The graininess of the footage stands in stark contrast to today's HD footage we've all become accustomed to. There is voice over from those present at the time. Still a lot of the story is told via interviews from the time. The movie is very much a celebration of Senna's life and accomplishments. Senna's chief rival for most of his career was Alain Prost. The rivalry, and the film, peak with the 1989 and 1990 Japanese Grand Prixs. Both years the two drivers were involved in controversial crashes with each other. Both crashes would determine the Championships for the year.

Throughout Senna is depicted as the humble, devout, gifted driver juxtaposed against Prost as the arrogant Frenchman who works the political system of Formula 1. The adjective humble is used to describe Senna on multiple occasion. Senna was certainly soft spoken and at times very shy. In his interviews he often spoke of his religious belief and how his racing skill was a gift from God. I don't really buy into the humble description though. I don't think anyone who rises to the top of a sport can be truly humble.

The movie has been winning critical acclaim from many sources. I would definitely recommend it.

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