Senna: The Ultimate Driving Artist!
Last week, I wrote about Joyce DiDonato and that I think she is the ultimate opera singer; well, today and in a different sense, I must write about Ayrton Senna, arguably the greatest Formula One driver ever, who died tragically at Imola, during the San Marino Grand Prix in May 1994, at the age of only 34.
Ayrton Senna da Silva (his full name), as most people will know, was Brazilian and a great driver, a true racer from the age when Formula One did not have as many gadgets as it does now. He was unbelievably adored in Brazil and, some might say, strangely enough, he was equally loved in Portugal. It could be because of the language connection; after all, there are not many idols that speak Portuguese! Or it could simply be because of his naturally warm, pleasant personality (more obvious when he spoke in his native language than in English) or just his incredible skill driving a car at more than 300 Km/hour. Whatever it was, Senna has become a legend and this is not only due to his untimely death, as some cynics may say, but also to his artistry behind the wheel. Yes, artistry! Senna was an artist, a driving virtuoso that made something fiendishly difficult appear easy and within reach of any common human being!
I was always a great admirer of Senna’s skill, having grown up with a brother and a father who enjoyed motor-racing and appreciated the ability of the drivers but the reason that compelled me to write about Ayrton Senna today was the last documentary about his life and professional achievement. Yesterday, Fri, 3rd June, I went to Brighton’s The Duke of York cinema for a screening of Asif Kapadia’s brilliant documentary “Senna“. The film is made solely of archive footage (most of which has never been seen before); it is primarily in Portuguese with subtitles and it is a beautiful, moving and loving portrait of a great iconic driver. It documents exceptionally well Senna’s career, his honest, sincere self; the politics surrounding his professional rivalry with Alain Prost and the FIA; his love for Brazil and how much he gave to his people emotionally, as well as in financial terms.
Asif Kapadia manages to capture all the excitement along with all the poignant moments, particularly Senna’s moving reactions to other drivers’ accidents. It is full of dramatic tension, brilliantly edited, giving you the illusion that Kapadia was there with a film crew, which of course he was not. It makes you forget you are watching a documentary, as it is like the best of thrillers. It grips you and it does not release you until the credits roll slowly by but even then you will have footage not included in the documentary. It takes your breath away and makes you feel exhausted, as if you had been sitting with Senna in the cockpit of his car. The race sequences, often with footage from an in-car camera are electrifying and the build-up to the fatal accident is almost unbearably tense. Even though I knew of course that Senna was killed, I found myself unconsciously thinking that perhaps everything might turn out all right in the end and he would go fishing with Professor Sid Watkins (his personal friend), as if I was watching a fictional feature film.
Some people may wonder how can a person who loves opera and classical music, as I do, be so taken by somebody like Senna and a documentary about his life? Well, one thing does not exclude the other! After all, I think that everyone admires artistry, skill and virtuosity and there is plenty of all of three: in Senna, the racing driver, and in Kapadia, the film-maker. And it was Senna’s ability that inspired my novel “Vanished” whose central character is a Formula One driver. The most important thing however, is that whether you loved or loathed Senna and whether you like Formula One or not, this documentary transcends all that. It is a brilliant film, using archive footage only, no head interviews at all! It will transport you at lightening speeds into the world of a genius, a virtuoso driver, a kind human being, an impeccable professional and a racer through and through: the ultimate driving artist! Enjoy!
(Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Senna” is currently showing in selected cinemas)