You can’t help but wonder what would happen if professional racing driver Ayrton Senna had survived his fatal crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
His short-lived career was already a huge feat to accomplish, from having won the World Championship three times to be one of the few racers who were brave enough to challenge the politics of his industry.
When a reporter asked him during a press conference of his most memorable race, he recalled his early days as a go-kart racer. He remembered his first competitive race outside his home country Brazil, to which he described was unlike the thing he will be doing in Formula One.
“[The race] has no politics, no money. It was all pure racing,” Senna replied.
For a racer as young as Senna — in his mid-‘20s — being pitted against his much older peers is a big leap. He continued to embrace the humble dynamics of his past despite the politicized nature of the professional racing field.
Asif Kapadia’s documentary Senna is an apt highlight of this youthful energy, an apt exploration of Ayrton Senna’s celebrated victories as an athlete who continued to push the borders and trappings of his institution.
Senna’s infamous rivalry with his former McLaren teammate Alain Prost become one of the beating hearts of the documentary; a tense, at times cinematic, battle between two contrasting forces that turns into a more than a race towards the finish line.
Their long duel was an important turning ground for Senna, a crucial driving force to mature in his sport. It’s an interesting relationship in which the film could’ve latched onto for more minutes.
What made Senna, the documentary, such a gripping film is how every footage was edited as if it was a live-action drama. Rarely do the documentary positioned itself to the past, and was dedicated to following Senna as he lives with his present.
There are generous amounts of footage of Ayrton Senna in his big races; the camera strapped inside the car facing front as if we are looking through his POV in these important moments. It confines you at the moment, allowing to feel the heart of its engine and the driver’s adrenaline. These sequences are also the few moments wherein we truly see Senna in his natural light as if his life belongs inside his vehicle.
Senna is an imperfect documentary. It wasn’t able to achieve a complete picture of Ayrton Senna’s larger-than-life personality. He is more than his Grand Prix trophies and the other things the documentary has presented. However, the documentary is an achievement solely for its stylistic choices and respect for the subject. This is, without a doubt, a beautifully-made tribute that embodies Senna’s adventurousness.