3 Things I Learned from the Senna Movie
As much as I love Formula One, I have to admit I only started watching it in 2000. I’ve always been into motor sport, but as many of my fellow Americans know, exposure is low here, so it’s the sort of thing you either stumble onto (which is much easier these days with the internet, expanded cable, satellite TV, etc.), or someone shows you. I was lucky enough to have someone show me F1 racing, and I was hooked from day one.
The above stated, everything I know about Formula One in the 1990’s, and more specifically about Ayrton Senna, was learned from the internet. For the last 11+ years I’ve spent considerable time between races and in the off-season scouring F1 sites, Wikipedia, and YouTube to learn everything I can about the rich history of the sport I love.
But the internet – even with all the wonderful written content, amazing photos and infinite video clips – can only paint part of the picture for you. Seeing something unfold on the big screen that you’ve only read about from various perspectives shines a whole new light on things. From watching the body language between Prost and Senna to seeing the tears of Ayrton’s fellow drivers that fateful day at Imola — seeing SENNA on the big screen taught me some things (while reminding me of others) that I would have never fully realized without the aid of this fantastic film.
1. Senna’s commitment was awe-inspiring, and occasionally, downright frightening
I had read as much already, but to actually see Senna driving like a man possessed in his damaged MP4/5 in pursuit of Alessandro Nannini in the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix was absolutely thrilling; even though I knew the outcome of both the race and the championship. With deranged front-wing and all, you could feel that Senna setting off again was not a move of desperation, but rather Senna going after what he felt was his birthright. You can read the words all day long; but actually watching the driving, the demeanor, and even the more candid shots with fellow drivers, friends and family all highlight the determination and commitment that made Senna stand alone in his era.
2. Prost was a bit of a dick at times
As the only man with 4 F1 World Titles to his name today, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for “The Professor”. While most fans seem to side with either Prost or Senna, I choose to admire both for who they were and what they accomplished in their careers (admittedly, this probably wouldn’t have been so easy if you were watching them race during the period – particularly if you happened to be Brazilian). Not too surprising for a guy whose favorite current drivers are Hamilton and Alonso; I don’t get too wrapped up in intra-team battles, particularly those where the F1 media themselves tend to pick sides.
With that said, seeing Alain Prost rub elbows with FISA president Jean Marie Balestre while fully embattled with Senna for the championship does distort the image of Prost I’d always had in my head. I already knew about the Williams contract that stipulated that Senna could not be his teammate for 1993, and always thought this showed a bit of cowardice on Prost’s part, but seeing things like Prost trudging off the the race stewards office after each perceived injustice was a side of him I’d never have known without the film. I am very happy that the film came full circle in the end, however, to show that Prost was both a Paul Bearer at Senna’s funeral, as well as a trustee for the Senna Foundation.
3. Ron Dennis still has redeeming qualities I’ve yet to uncover
I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate feeling for Mr. Dennis. When he was basically a father figure to twice World Champion Mika Hakkinen for almost the duration of the Finn’s career, I always thought to myself, “What a great guy. I’d love for my son to drive for Ron some day”. Seeing Dennis come to tears as Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line in Malaysia for his first F1 victory was another “I like Ron” moment for me. Soft-spoken, yet intense. Pragmatic, yet emotional. I have always admired Ron Dennis.
Then the 2007 World Championship came along, a brand-new driver line-up of Alonso and Hamilton, and everything went to hell; including my feelings for the McLaren team principal. To be short about it, I saw a favoritism for Hamilton and a mistreatment of Fernando Alonso that completely turned me off. The only great thing Ron did in this year was a quote he had while in Paris for the Spygate hearings involving stolen Ferrari technical data:
We have the best car, and we have the best drivers, and it’s our intention to win the World Championship.
Genius. What a great line that was. Unfortunately for Ron, then-Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen famously swooped in and took the World Championship in 2007 by a single point.
Having watched Ron Dennis for the last 11 years, I’ve learned quite a few things about the man’s demeanor, how he runs an F1 team, and how he treats his drivers. So what came as a bit of a surprise to me when I saw the Senna film was how fairly he not only spoke about Prost and Senna, but how fairly he seemed to treat them as teammates at McLaren. Listening to Ron talk about both drivers, he seemed equally impressed with both men, and I get the feeling he truly wanted the partnership to work out (it certainly had more time to grow than the Hamilton / Alonso partnership). Sure, I’ve read things to the contrary from Prost and Senna fans alike, but as far as what the film shows and where the story goes, I was very impressed with how impartial and patient Ron was. For me, he was back to the Ron Dennis I knew and admired when I first started watching Formula One.
At the end of the day, I’m not quite naive enough to let a documentary change the thoughts and opinions I’ve had about these colorful and interesting people in my years of watching F1 — Senna could be a bit of a bully, Prost even at his worst was a driving genius, and Ron is only human and has probably done many dastardly deeds I’ve never heard about — but I’m very grateful for this film for showing me a side of these 3 magnificent people that I would have never otherwise considered.