I just watched the Asian premiere in Singapore of the docu-feature on Ayrton Senna (written by Manish Pandey and directed by BAFTA winner Asif Kapadia), a film I have been waiting to watch for more than a year. Senna is billed as the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, but to me across all categories of motor racing as well.


Senna was fiercely competitive and when he was alive, I actually rooted for his competitors even though I grudgingly admired him (I became a huge fan after his untimely death).

One article I remember reading a year before he died in a horrific crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 was his description of racing until he reached a plateau. When he was at that level, all his actions became automatic, a spiritual experience which he attribute to a greater Force taking over.

Despite his imperfections, Senna was a devout Catholic, a man who was deeply affected by the suffering poor in his country Brazil, especially homeless children, and donated a large part of his fortune towards their care — a fact that became known only after his death and up till today is still funding them.

In the weekend that he died, his compatriot, Rubens Barrichello, suffered a horrible crash during practice on Friday but survived. Austrian Roland Ratzenberger wasn’t so lucky and died in an accident during qualifying the next day. It deeply affected Senna and while he usually waved a Brazilian flag after each victory to lift the spirits of his countrymen, he decided to do so with an Austrian flag should he win the San Marino Grand Prix on Sunday. But that was not to be because Senna himself was killed in a crash that day on the 7th lap and they found the Austrian flag tucked at the side of his seat. The morning before he died he revived the Grand Prix Drivers Association to improve safety for racing drivers and that effort resulted in no deaths after Senna’s own.

An indication of his concern for his fellow drivers, Senna stopped his car during practice to come to the aid of Frenchman Eric Comas who lost consciousness in the middle of the track after a crash at the 1992 Belgium Grand Prix when others left that responsibility to track marshals.

Amid criticism of his driving style and spirituality, this is one of his best quotes:

“Just because I believe in God, just because I have faith in God, it doesn’t mean that I’m immune. It doesn’t mean that I’m immortal” (1989).

Troubled by the disasters in the first two days at San Marino in the wake of speculation he might not race because he was devastated by Ratzinger’s death, his sister recalled he sought strength from the Bible — a book he was fond of reading on the plane travelling to every race — on the fateful morning before he crashed in the race:

“Faced with a night of turmoil, of conflict, no one knew what his decision would be on Sunday morning, on race day … ’On that final morning, he woke and opened his Bible and read a text,’ explained Viviane ‘that he would receive the greatest gift of all which was God, Himself’.”

If you have the chance, catch the docu-movie. I believe you can download it for a price.

Ian from Singapore