by NEVIL GIBSON
Brazilian racing car driver Ayrton Senna sought perfection in challenging the world’s best Formula 1 circuits — and publicly linked his success with his closeness to God.
“If you have God on your side, everything becomes clear,” he once said.
His religious commitment is central to much that appears about him in Senna (Universal), a remarkable documentary assembled from archive and home movie footage, as well more recent interviews with others who knew him during his final decade.
Senna’s search for perfection and his spiritual values started early — he first competed internationally in go-karts. He attracted attention in the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix where he sliced through the field to catch leader Alain Prost just as the race was stopped because of rain.
Senna was like no other driver in the wet, achieving speeds and taking risks that earned him legendary status — and not just for his daring and risk-taking.
He clashed with Prost on many occasions, both on and off the track, and these are well documented with rarely seen material taken in drivers’ meetings and unguarded moments of reflection.
Although Senna saw Prost as his enemy and accused him of actively trying to thwart his career, Prost’s own version of events balance the picture. Prost was a sophisticated master of Formula 1 politics, and particularly its then president, Jean Marie Balestre. Senna was always the brilliant and impulsive outsider.
In some riveting scenes, Senna joins the then dominant McLaren team on the condition Prost isn’t there (he later left for Ferrari). But Prost’s decision proves fortuitous — McLaren was banned from using the computerised equipment that had given it the edge.
The rivalry reached its nadir in 1989 when Senna was accused of causing a collision in the Japanese Grand Prix and was disqualified. Senna’s greatest moment was winning the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix in front of an adoring home crowd, which had elevated him to national hero status.
He drove the final laps under considerable physical stress, with his gearbox stuck and his arms almost shattered holding on to the steering wheel.
Senna came from a wealthy family, but Brazil at the time was mired in poverty and endless political crises. He cemented his popularity with great acts of philanthropy.
In his later recollections, Prost cautions that Senna’s deep convictions gave him a belief in his infallibility. In a telling scene, Senna is shown having premonitions of his death amid a controversy over whether the computer ban had made the cars less safe and after a driver is killed in a crash qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.
Senna’s own death comes abruptly the next day from still-unexplained causes when he fails to take a corner and crashes into a barrier.
Senna, which is cut down from a much longer non-English version, is a tribute to a complex and charismatic man. It has appeal well beyond those interested in motor racing. 104 minutes.