A race against time, like the Great Man setting his pole position laps around the world, I race to arrange an opportunity hundreds of kilometres away in a different state.

An opportunity I wouldn’t want to miss for the world. The opportunity to view the result of Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey’s project simply named “SENNA”.


As an unabashed Ayrton Senna fan since my youth, I have been aware and awaiting with great anticipation of a local opportunity to be able to view the long awaited feature film of my idol. Very thankfully, the film was featured in the 2011 Adelaide Film Festival and made its Australian Premiere in the city where in 1993 Ayrton took his final career win. I only become aware of the film on show within a matter of days before the close of the festival on March 6. Hesitation soon became action when I saw that tickets were selling fast on Saturday afternoon on the official Adelaide film festival web site. Not wanting to miss the closest and earliest opportunity to view SENNA on the big screen, flights were very quickly arranged and booked. Less than 24 hours later, I find myself in Adelaide on a sunny morning looking forward to a real treat for my eyes and senses.

The screening took place at Piccadilly Cinemas in North Adelaide. A classic cinema set on a quiet pleasant metropolis with interesting cafes & eateries nearby, patrons were already gathering around the cinema around 1 hour before the screening, some seasoned F1 fans were in full regalia, including yours truly in an original Nacional cap and a vintage Senninha T shirt.

Aside from the F1 fanatics, many patrons were simply members of the public and film buffs who were on a Sunday afternoon outing to the movies, and many of whom were interested to see why the critics and the media are raving about with SENNA.

What started in the foyer as a small gathering became a crowd of several hundred people spilling outside the cinema onto the street corner within minutes of the screening beginning, with tickets still being sold as the crowd was waved through the barricades into the cinema. The cinema had a capacity of around 250 people, but at least another 60 plastic chairs were placed beyond the front row for additional capacity with not a single seat empty. Once the ads began, the cinema was already bursting at the seams.

SENNA begins with a prologue of Ayrton pictured in his youth in the late 1970s in a karting world championship. Ayrton narrates the soundtrack from a later interview speaking of his karting days in the 1970s as “pure driving, real racing, without money or politics”. The defining tone is set with Ayrton’s next words: “… and that makes me happy.”

The film follows the course of Ayrton’s career from his grassroots to his F1 debut with Toleman, and developing his career at Lotus and McLaren, and the fateful switch to Williams with that tragic ending; which will be all too familiar to seasoned F1 fans, especially those who worship Ayrton in his heyday.

The racing footage, many of which were deeply archived in Formula One Management (FOM)’s archives and other global TV networks, tells of what made Ayrton Senna as the best racing driver who ever lived, his ability to control wildly overpowered racing cars as if it’s an extension of his limbs beyond the car’s designed capabilities, his race craft and the ability to squeeze into the narrowest of gaps, his charismatic persona out of the cockpit and his high intellectuality and attention to detail which makes him the champion of champions of his era.

For those who are less familiar with Formula 1 or newer F1 fans who haven’t had an opportunity to watch F1 in its purest form. This is a perfect opportunity for them to experience a time when Formula 1 represented the ultimate form of circuit racing.

No Ayrton Senna story is complete without mentioning his rivalry with French World Champion Alain Prost. SENNA offers a very interesting alternative insight especially with previously unseen footage of the almost lethal war waged by both on and off the track, especially once FISA president of the era Jean Marie Balestre became involved. This is where Ayrton exhibits his determination to fight against the system for his beliefs and for what he knows is right and rightfully his. Their war rages all the way to the end of both careers when they stood on the podium of Adelaide 1993. Little did the fans, or both of them know at the time, it was also the last time both will stand on the podium and Alain will be a pallbearer in Ayrton’s funeral in a matter of months.

I have read previously that many have left the cinema with tears in their eyes after watching SENNA and I can personally vouch for that fact with many patrons in my session. I’m quite surprised that I held it together throughout the movie, although there were many moments that I had a lump in my throat and felt highly emotional, such as Brazilian GP 1991 where Ayrton scored his first home win in circumstances many considered heroic; especially when he appeared on the podium raising the Brazilian flag after almost collapsing in pain from having to drive the closing stages of the race stuck in 6th gear.

The inevitable subject of Ayrton’s death was cautiously handled with every care with Formula 1 doctor Dr Sid Watkins’ infrequent narration. The strings of emotion very much peaks at the funeral, where visions of the most important people that makes up Ayrton’s life mourning his death at the funeral is intercut with a happier moment they shared with Ayrton shown mostly in black and white. At the end, we are taken back to the beginning where Ayrton Senna, the young kart racer in his grassroots is enjoying his racing in its purity; and we were reminded once again of what drives him and his determination to enjoy what makes him happy.

SENNA is a film which will accelerate and stimulate your senses, even if you’re not a fan, and make you laugh at spur of the moment actions such as his initial reaction of winning Brazil 1991, fill you with anger with the fashion he was treated in the aftermath of Suzuka 1989, make you gasp in horror at the graphic presentation of crashes which would maim Martin Donnelly and Rubens Barrichello and kill Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton himself. Ultimately, SENNA will make you turn the waterworks on at the fashion his life is cut short at his prime and at the outpouring of grief at his homeland.

While my experience of watching SENNA is more than positive, there were some misses that SENNA could have improved upon. The onboard footage on Ayrton’s cars especially the Monaco laps seem to mismatch the soundtrack provided, as there are obvious engine sound differences in a turbo F1 car and a V10 or V12 F1 car which mismatch with the vision, especially during gear changes or braking for corners. Another glaring omission is many of Ayrton’s great moments of 1993, especially when Jo Ramirez (McLaren team coordinator at the time) was quoted to say 1993 was Ayrton’s greatest year with McLaren. The sheer dominance Ayrton displayed at Brazil and Monaco aside, that first lap of Donington 1993 where Ayrton passed no less than 5 competitors in superior cars in an underpowered McLaren Ford was sorely missed in the final cut of SENNA.

One would also wonder what it could have been had Jo Ramirez been providing the insight as he worked with both Ayrton and Alain at McLaren, or Murray Walker for he in my opinion would be able to provide a far deeper insight into Ayrton’s life as not only is Murray a highly respected and experienced commentator of Formula 1, but he has forged a deep relationship with Ayrton both on and off the track.

SENNA is the first movie screening I have been to where at the end of the movie, the audience sat silently until after the credits had rolled and the full house gave a standing ovation. It deserves that ovation everywhere it will be shown, because it is a quality. So much so that SENNA was awarded the World Cinema Audience Award (Documentary) at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

It gave me great pleasure to see the headline SENNA WINS after so many years.

SENNA deserves a much wider general release in Australian cinemas beyond the film festivals, as the film is about an outstanding individual whose life and values will inspire and drive those share the same passion, determination, values and beliefs. SENNA is also a cut above the so called Hollywood blockbusters and other mainstream movies which pales into oblivion upon comparison of content.

SENNA also took me back to the roots of the reason why I began watching Formula 1 in the first place in the late 1980s, when a highly revered Brazilian with the approach and ethics of a Samurai dominated the top echelon of motor racing powered by highly respected Honda engines. The experience of SENNA was one I very much treasure and I was glad I made the trip to Adelaide as I ticked off another unforgettable lifetime experience of satisfaction and joy; and this fine experience very much justifies the outlay and sacrifice I had to make to make this experience possible.

I was flying very high all the way home.

source: © inpitlane.com