I watched this Ayrton Senna documentary (“Senna”, directed by Asif Kapida). The last sports documentary I watched was about Arkle. Most of that DVD was people saying “there’ll never be another horse like Arkle”. The best part was Arkle’s rivalry with Mill House.
Well, that rivalry was nothing in comparison to Senna’s rivalry with Frenchman Alain Prost. This part of the story – horrible to live for the two men – is so beautiful to watch. F1 television stats went through the roof at the time. The two men were on the same team – but they always had to beat each other (I don’t know how that works). Finally they break, maybe forever, never to speak to one another again. Prost is more worldly, plays the politics in the sport. The head of the F1 association is French, and this is key to an infamous decision against Senna in Japan, where the hero, against the odds, returns to the race to win it, only to find himself disqualified afterwards on a technicality. At that point, the name Bellastre is one that you think should be the name of at least one villain in every children’s story.
And later on, when Senna is the three time champion, a new car on a rival team appears. The new car is fitted with electronics and a different kind of suspension – it doesn’t matter who drives it, it won’t turn over, and it can’t lose. The champion is beaten by technology. And who steps in to drive that car? His old rival, Prost. So what does Senna have to do? Leave his faithful team, leave the fatherly Ron Dennis, and sign up to the new team. He leaves McLaren for Williams.
But once the new season starts, the officials ban certain aspects of the Williams car which made the car so great. Shorn of these advantages, it even seems to be inferior to his old car. Now the car feels like the lure of the treasure, some illusion over the rainbow. It spins. It turns over. It can’t be controlled like his other cars. The hero can’t turn back, but he shouldn’t go forward.
On the weekend he is to be killed, his F1 doctor says to him: “You love fishing. I love fishing. Let’s retire and go fishing.” Senna says: “I can’t retire.”
On the Sunday morning Senna, who sometimes entered into a mystical state when driving – his unconscious would take over and he would drive in a higher state of consciousness, where he felt close to God – Senna asks God to talk to him. He opens the Bible at a random page and his finger lands on a line that says “I will give you the greatest gift of all. Myself.”
And then the documentary moves you like nothing else – the music (by Antonio Pinto) – and the footage – they have footage of every single person whose reaction you want to see. Prost is there that day, commentating. Ron Dennis is there. Ayrton’s mother. Maybe even Bellastre. And Aryton himself, sitting in the car, with such a play of emotions across his face, “as if he knows”, you can’t help saying to yourself, even though, maybe, by this stage, you’re just swept up in it, and you’re being trashy. Senna – who looks like James Dean – or like James Franco playing James Dean…but with this documentary you don’t need Hollywood.