The infamous events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix means the majority of people who watch Senna will do so knowing how it ends.

So how were the film’s producers to handle the unavoidably tragic outcome of the film? There were differing views on how best to do it, as writer Manish Pandey explained:

“It was the hardest, hardest part of the film to make. Everyone knows the end of this film.

“One of the things that I felt very strongly about – and James [Gay-Rees, executive producer] did, too – was that no matter who came on this journey we wanted you to forget that he died.

“I remember arguing with a few people who said, ‘well, that’s bollocks – everyone knows he died so we should start the film with it’.

“But I think you’re immediately on the back foot then. You’re going to go see this film and through every single thing that you see you’re thinking ‘he’s going to die’.

“It won’t leave you – certainly not for 100 minutes”.

He described the events of the weekend as “powerful and tragic”, adding: “I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen such a culmination of events before or since in Formula 1.

“I remember watching Gilles Villeneuve die, looking through a Rediffusion shop window at a TV while Grandstand was on, standing there feeling completely shocked.

“But Imola was always just going to be dynamite because everything that happened was just so awful”.

Setting the scene

The film runs chronologically, with Imola and Senna’s funeral as its conclusion. After the Senna-Prost years the film moves on quite briskly to the events of 1994. Pandey describes how they set the scene for the film’s denouement:

“We saw the original footage of him arriving on Thursday and he’s preoccupied, he has a funny exchange with Galvao Bueno walking up the pit lane. You see he’s frustrated.

“The Italian journalists want to know if Senna suspects something’s going on at Benetton and he enigmatically says ‘one cannot speak of things which one cannot prove’.

“So the idea is on Thursday he’s already really troubled by what’s going on in Formula 1. He’s lost for two years in a row and it wasn’t his fault.

“Now everybody thinks he’s got the best car. Everybody knows he’s got the best engine, he should be walking it, instead he hasn’t finished the first two races and he’s never had a season like that.

“You’re telling a sad tale now and I think the biggest challenge there is to continue the theme of the previous two years. He hasn’t suddenly become a rubbish driver, he hasn’t suddenly been trounced by a guy who he beat 5-1 with the same engine the year before”.
Editing Imola 1994

But inevitably the need to manage the length of film and amount of FOM footage used meant the sequence had to be carefully edited. Pandey described some of the footage that was left on the cutting room floor:

“The original Imola [sequence] was more than double the length that you see now.

“I remember one shot I felt so sad to lose. On Saturday Senna is standing in the Williams garage and the camera just happened to catch him behind, and he’s watching JJ Lehto, a point-of-view shot, and Lehto’s going through Tamburello.

“So you’re Senna, looking at Tamburello, from a driver’s point of view shot on a monitor. Even talking about that now just gives me goosebumps: you’re looking at Senna looking at where he’s going to die in 24 hours.

“That’s the kind of decision that had to be made that gave us the minutes that we could then invest.”

A second editor was brought in to help make the tough decisions about what to cut, “just fillet everything out”, as Pandey says, “because every frame you’re seeing now is ten times more powerful than all the frames you’ve seen”.

One shot that was left in shows Senna reporting back to the team on the changes they made to the FW16 that weekend in an attempt to cure its chronic handling problems:

“When we went to FOM and we looked at the archive for the first time. We saw this footage of a conversation with Adrian Newey and David Brown.

“[Senna says] ‘the car is…’ and he bites his tongue, looks away, and then he has to make eye contact and says ‘…worse’.

“Paddy Lowe, from McLaren, saw the film and said “believe me we’ve all been there. The driver comes back, and you ask what’s going on and he says ‘well it’s oversteering and understeering’.”

“I have to be honest with you, it was very painful watching all of that and deciding just how little, in a way, we could get away with”.

That still left the problem of dealing with the most harrowing moment of all – Senna’s death. The next instalment of “The Making of Senna” looks at how that was done.

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