The Senna Film

Posted on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 11:56 AM. Comments (0)

There is an aspect of human nature that tends to forgive shortcomings if they walk arm in arm with redeeming charm. People so fortunately possessed are called ‘rascals’ or ‘clever devils’. It can be the most hopeful aspect of our beings that we forgive transgressions committed with humor or style.

Ayrton Senna 1989

Ayrton Senna 1989

Film works best when celebrating that conflict. Famous movies such as To Catch a Thief, Dirty Harry, The Magnificent Seven, all pit unorthodox, even disreputable characters against the bad guys and the establishment, and we love it. A very successful feature film about two loveable train robbers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was based on real-life characters. The originals robbed and killed innocent people and were not quite as lovable, handsome or funny. When news of their violent death in South America reached the good folks back home, most breathed a sigh of relief.

Seventeen years after his death, a compelling new feature film celebrating the life of Aryton Senna, is about to reach the theatres. It has been released in Brazil and Europe and exceptionally well received. Based on rare archival film and interviews with those close to him in the sport, the filmmakers bring us their portrait of a brilliant racer who loved God, his family, his country and winning motor races.

To say that Ayrton Senna was a complex person would be an understatement. His ruthless intensity behind the wheel, his overt love of God and family, his generosity to those less fortunate, his combative relationships all made him the stuff of legend.

Formula 1 is a car vs. car, team vs. team, and at times in its history has been a country vs. country competition. Set in glamorous locations around the world, during the season these intense rivalries are renewed every two weeks. For a brief period, at its center was where Ayrton Senna needed to be. In a world where time is measured in 1000ths of a second, winners are those most often on the edge of perfection and disaster.

Not all teams or cars are equal, so winning in Formula 1 racing means having the best equipment matched to the best drivers. Each team has two cars. Theoretically the difference between them is the drivers. For a driver to lose to a competitor in a better car is no shame. However to lose to a teammate in an identical car requires explanation. Drivers generally begin their careers in lesser cars, prove their worth against other proven drivers, and if they are judged qualified they move up the ladder of better cars. Senna was exceptional and was soon paired with the then World Champion, the Frenchman Alain Prost, at McLaren Cars.

The elements of a classic tragedy were thus set. The passionate Senna’s belief in self was total. He had dominated previous teammates and intended to dominate Prost. The cerebral Prost’s proven worth and ego could not allow anyone else to win. Racing for the same team in the equal cars meant that between these two men, someone had to lose. The argument would be settled at speed.

Every sport has what participants consider sporting rules. Motorsports first competitors were generally men of means: sportsmen. Winning honorably was as important as winning. Senna and Prost did not so much race as war. In doing so, they obliged the rules keepers to either ban them or rewrite the rules. So compelling was their battle that the governing body of the sport, the FIA, changed the rules and thereby changed F1 racing forever.

Many could argue that it was not for the better.

Just as Senna’s death was mourned by his many fans, it could be argued that many fans of Formula 1 breathed a sigh of relief.

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