Motor racing stars and fans come to see ‘Senna’ documentary film open in London.

 Stars of motor racing and entertainment turned out for a very different film premiere in London on Wednesday (June 1) while round the corner Bahraini protesters outside the Saudi Arabian embassy gave a reminder of modern problems for motor racing.
On Friday (June 3) members of the World Motorsport Council, among them the rightsholder of Formula One Bernie Ecclestone, will meet in Spain to decide if the Bahrain Grand Prix will be reinstated in the 2011 calendar after being cancelled at the start of the season because of protests and unrest in the country.

Any reinstatement would add to the congestion of the Formula One calendar at the end of the season, and some teams have expressed reservations about going to Bahrain. ‘Senna’ is the life story of Ayrton Senna, three times Formula One world champion, who died in a crash during the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, and the film is a documentary, made entirely from archive footage.

Revered to almost a god-like status in his native Brazil, Senna was handsome, a supremely gifted natural driver and a man spiritually driven by his Christian faith.

The Brazilian was F1 world champion three times; 1988, 1990 and 1991. Second in 1989 and 1993 to his main rival Alain Prost who also won the championship in 1985 and 1986, four times world champion.

Senna exhibited uncanny car-control, especially in the wet, and made audacious overtaking manoeuvres, like passing four cars on the first lap of the European Grand Prix at Donington Park in 1994 to lead the race.

His overwhelming self-belief came across to some as arrogance but his followers saw him as an almost mystic champion, the greatest racer. It is this reputation that is drawing audiences who know little of motor racing to see the film.

Terry Fullerton, 1973 world kart champion and Senna’s kart team mate in the late 1970s, raced against him when Senna arrived in Britain to race in his late teenage years. In 1994 Senna said Fullerton was the best driver he had raced against.

“The thing that I always remember was that he was very focused, very determined,” said Fullerton. “He was very gifted, he was very young, very ambitious, he was all those things. And a once in a lifeime sort of driver, that only comes along every now and then, once in a lifetime.”

Professor Sid Watkins, who treated all Formula One drivers for many years at races, compared Senna with other multiple world champions Alain Prost and Niki Lauda.

“All three were massively talented from a driving point of view. Niki, quite remarkable. Prost, never had a big accident, a pretty safe guy. Senna, pulled out of a few wrecks. The thing about Senna was his personality out of the car, very quiet, gentle, well-mannered, quite unlike he was in a motorcar,” Watkins said.

The Senna documentary is directed by Asif Kapadia with producers James Gay Rees and Manish Pandey.

The film’s director Asif Kapadia has made movies about outsiders in the past, such as ‘The Warrior’ made in Hindi, so making a documentary about a charismatic racing driver who died in 1994 was a radical departure.

“I’ve always had an interest in outsiders as characters, in their journey and people taking on a system, also their landscape where my films take place is quite important,” Kapadia said. “I’ve made films in a desert, in the North Pole, always in tough landscapes and in a weird way this fits in because this landscape is in Formula One. Very technological, very modern, very contemporary and also very dangerous. And Senna is also about a man who is taking on a system, it’s quite political Formula One, that’s what makes it different, it’s an unusual sport, and it’s about him trying to keep his route, and what was true to him while coming against various outside factors.”

Manish Pandey is the motor racing fan of the three, claiming only to have missed watching six Grands Prix since he was 13 years old.

“Of all the races I have seen the 160-odd that Senna did, they were the special ones. He was unlike any other driver who I have ever seen or I had seen before because, it is just my opinion, that he was never really driving against other people, he was always driving against himself. A very spiritual man who found great tranquility in speed and in pushing his car and himself to the absolute limit. And I think that is so rare in people. For so many it is about something materialistic about getting the right girl or whatever, but with him he actually had everything before he went into motor racing and motor racing gave him all the things he didn’t have,” he said.

For 1996 World Champion Damon Hill there are many memories, as he had to become the Williams team leader after team mate Senna was killed. He also remembered being one of those passed by Senna on that opening lap of the European Grand Prix at Donington Park in 1993.

“I was quite annoyed to be honest,” said Hill. “I think I made it too easy, but he was Ayrton Senna, and that’s what made him such a great driver. He took all the risks and relied on his instincts and it made everyone look pretty silly on that day.”

At the time of his death Senna had already passed through two stages of his career; the young driver who moved from karts to Formula Fords and Formula Three, picking up championship wins; and the Formula One driver who burst on the scene with second place at the rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix in 1984 and then went on to win three titles against his main rival Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger among others.

At the time of his death in 1994 Senna, now in his mid-thirties, was entering the third stage; having to cope with a strong threat from the young Michael Schumacher, who went on to win the championship that year and another six championships subsequently.

Eric Boullier, Lotus Renault’s team principal, said: “We always said he was a little bit magic, you know, Magic Senna. And I think this is why there is such a, not a mystery, but an interest for his way of life and of thinking and racing.”

To bring motor racing back to the present, Boullier was asked if he was looking forward to a possible return to Bahrain before the end of the year. He laughed, indicated where the protesters had been half an hour before and said, simply, “No.”

source: © Reuters