Senna – the movie

I was fortunate to get an invitation to a preview screening of  “SENNA the movie” last night at the IFI in Dublin.  Apart from being put off by media “hype” prior to the release of this film, I’m generally a bit sceptical of documentaries which have a tendency to rehash old facts and images in order to produce something labelled as “new and revealing”; only to find it has been done to promote (and sell) the movie along with a controversial and unfounded “new spin” on the story.  In the case of “SENNA the movie”, this was absolutely not the case.  I was pleasantly surprised by the objective and open way in which this human drama was handled by the films director; Asif Kapadia – it’s a wonderful piece of film making about this very complex man.  The film concentrates on the period from 1988 (when Senna joined McLaren) up to his untimely death in ’94.   With the help of previously unseen footage of Senna off the track (enjoying time with his family or talking to interviewers about his approach to the sport) it allows the viewer to form their own opinions and draw their own conclusions about why he was so passionate about driving a racing car.  For my money, he came across as a very sensitive individual and in some sense a person who because of his commitment and passion to be the very best at what he did, he conveyed a certain fragility – at times he appeared to be on the verge of tears.    This morning on the Tubridy show (RTE -Irish Radio) Dave Fanning was discussing the movie with David Kennedy (a former F1 driver) and I was very saddened and astounded by Davids remarks.  His view was that Senna had taken his obsessiveness with winning to the “next level”  and he explained that while F1 drivers make a “pact with the devil” by being prepared to kill themselves, Senna (by taking it to the next level) was prepared to kill other drivers in order to win”!  I found this statement unbelieveable and very saddening and not at all in keeping with Sennas warm almost “boyish” character which came across very strongly in the movie.  No one would disagree with the statement that  “Senna had an obsessiveness about being the best driver in the world”, but it also comes across very strongly in the movie that he was obsessed about driver safety.   This is borne out by the wonderful footage from the driver briefings with Senna pushing Balestre and his gang to make track changes in order to improve safety.  The most compelling evidence of his concern for other drivers comes across in the footage from the actual week-end on which Senna himself was killed.    Rubens barichello had a dreadful accident on the Friday practice and poor Roland Ratzenberger perished in an equally awful impact the following day and on both occasions Senna made it his business to visit the crash sites with the rescuers and he also spent lots of time talking through each incident with Dr. Sid Watkins (the F1 medical director) in an effort to understand what happened on each occasion.  Seeing Senna in the Williams pits that week-end looking up at the monitor as both incidents unfolded and becoming visibly upset himself was very unsettling for the audience.   The sight of Senna being upset by these event seemed to shake everyone around him – the Williams team knowing how he felt were fully expecting him not to race the next day and in fact, Dr. Sid Watkins advised him to take a break and go home.  The concern and behaviour Senna showed that week-end in particular, were hardly the actions of a man who had “no regard for the lives of his fellow competitors” as Kennedy puts it.  I would hate to think that any aspect of Kennedys opinion could take root in the rich lexicon of Senna history, and for those of you who might remain unconvinced about any aspect of Sennas flawed character (aren’t we all?) then perhaps a viewing of the film will provide a helpful insight.  In the meantime, I would hope, that having had time to reflect on his comments David Kennedy (if given another chance) would rephrase his comments about a much loved and idolised individual who in persuit of his own passion was so often misunderstood.   Finally, I came across a photo I took in the Donnington motor museum last year.   It’s a picture of Senna sitting on a tow truck with his Williams car, having had problems with it in testing. In the bottom right hand corner the small print shows this incident happened in March 1994 at….. Imola!

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