I never saw Ayrton Senna race.
I cried 17 years later when I saw SENNA – the documentary that revealed Senna as so much more than just the driver – this now at 22.
Do the math and had I seen the accident at the time, aged 5, I don't know if my passion for this sport would have increased or ended completely.
To me, Ayrton Senna was a myth.
One of the first things I learned from family members growing up watching the sport was how Ayrton Senna was a god among men.
Someone with a drive so innate to push himself to a level no one could equal. Someone who found tenths of a second in the most remote places on circuits. Someone so focused on winning, not just for himself, but his home country of Brazil in a dire period.
But most of all, I always read and heard he was the greatest driver who had ever lived. Sure, Gilles Villeneuve was revealed much in the same light – a gifted specimen taken far too soon and with a masterstroke of genius in extracting the maximum out of inferior machinery. But he wasn't Senna.
SENNA, at which I was one of more than 140 people treated to an early screening thanks to Mazda, shows exactly that “god among men” mentality. Yet, at the same point, Senna the driver is still humanized. That's largely thanks to the active partnership of the Senna family in making the picture, Formula 1 Administration and FOM releasing hours of footage, and director Asif Kapadia and his crew editing and putting the pieces together.
On track, Senna was often ruthless, cunning and determined to win at all costs. At one point in the movie, Senna confronted Sir Jackie Stewart when asked about his aggressive nature and his propensity for getting into accidents.
He replied he had won the most races within the three-year period from 1988 to 1990 and those first two World Championships; what he was doing was the essence of motor racing and competing to win.
It revealed much more about Senna to go toe to toe with Stewart, whose own legacy in this sport is the duality of his three World Championships and a push for greater safety from the especially dangerous days of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
He survived a period where a lesser caliber of driver or human, for that matter, might have folded under the political firestorm from 1989 through 1991. The period depicts Senna's arch-nemesis on track, Alain Prost, and a Prost ally through those three seasons in FISA, President Jean-Marie Balestre.
I find it stupefying that Prost turned into Senna when taking the chicane at Suzuka in '89 and was done on the spot, yet Senna was penalized following the aftermath.
After resuming with a broken wing, pitting, and then catching and passing Alessandro Nannini for the win, the post-race stewards meeting would condemn Senna's actions for resuming without taking the chicane.
Senna admitted he was, to put it mildly, “compromised” by the stewards, but fought on. Drivers listened and took notice when he raised the concern about tire barriers at chicanes later on, much to the dismay of Balestre and Roland Bruynseraede, the F1 race director at the time. Balestre's line of “the best decision is my decision” verged on being undercut by Senna's undeniable clout.