I have one family member who loves Formula 1 racing, and another one who only ever watched the sports channel – often featuring F1. So I have watched quite a few races in my time. I was never a gigantic fan of Formula 1, but I used to really love watching Ayrton Senna race. If he was racing, I was watching. He was incredibly fast and had such skill in rainy conditions. Plus his yellow helmet was always easy to spot. It is not surprising that he is often named the best Formula 1 driver of all time, even today. He would probably have been world champion three or four more times before retiring, had he lived.
On Sunday May 1 1994, I was watching a live broadcast of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix on television when Senna was killed. It remains the only time I have watched a tragedy happen live right in front of me. Even with 9/11, I only got to a television set afterwards. Seeing that accident really impacted me for a long time afterwards.
Despite rave reviews and multiple award wins, I had avoided watching the 2010 Senna documentary. I knew how it would end and I was not sure I could watch the accident again. Having watched the 2021 Netflix documentary on Schumacher – and finding that his skiing accident was dealt with very respectfully – I finally gave Senna a go.
Senna is a really unusual documentary in that there are no ‘talking heads’, no ‘experts in armchairs’. Nothing from the present day. The entire documentary is created using archival footage from that time. There was so much footage that it is more like a feature film than a documentary. The fact that the footage – particularly that from the in-car cameras – is often grainy just adds to the feeling of the film.
It is beautifully done. The soundtrack is perfect, and the story is riveting. I felt a sense of dread as Imola approached in the film, but the rest of the movie was so beautiful, I found I could stand it. Senna comes across as a passionate, devout man, very close to his family, and not afraid to stand up for what he believes.
Even if you are not a Formula 1 fan, I think this documentary film is worth a watch. Apropos nothing, I idly noticed that Senna had beautifully curly/wavy hair and NEVER seemed to suffer from helmet hair or frizz in the rain and wind, even when he roughly pulled his balaclava and helmet off. I just look at my helmet and my hair goes limp, flat, and frizzy in anticipation.
As an aside, I have watched a couple of shows recently that mention how sport has changed from being pure sport with very little money, politics, or fame to huge salaries and epic stardom. Two of these were Untold, about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, as well as When Football Changed Forever (see below). In the Senna documentary, Ayrton mentioned the pure sport of go-karting in contrast to the politics and money of Formula 1.