Senna, reviewed by Richard's F1

Nine months after the documentary made its world premiere, Australian fans will finally have their chance to see SENNA when it hits the cinemas tomorrow on August 11.

Members of the Richard’s F1 team have been fortunate enough to attend a private screening of the film in Sydney before its national release, along with the opportunity to interview the film’s director, Asif Kapadia, on the eve of the film’s VIP premiere tonight in Melbourne.

Getting this project off the ground and into the cinemas has been a painstaking process to say the least, and it’s been a challenge for the film’s makers to condense cast amounts of archival Formula One Management footage and interview film into a 106-minute documentary.

To some F1 fans, this timescale would barely touch sides given the enormity of Senna’s achievements in motorsport and the near-mythical quality his legacy now assumes after his death in 1994. But Kapadia and his team have exercised enormous restraint when making decisions over what to include and what to cut, and it’s to their immense credit that they’ve been able to do so.

These steps are crucial in making the film accessible to a mainstream audience that may not be as familiar with Formula 1, and no doubt this was a factor in the film scooping the Best Documentary Award at the Sundance Film Festival, one of many accolades SENNA has already earned.

Using home video and archival footage – with plenty of it having never been made publically available until now – SENNA charts the life and Formula 1 career of the three-time Formula 1 World Champion.

It could easily have fallen into the trap is being a ‘talking head’ style documentary, but narratives from a host of contributors – including the likes of Senna’s family, F1 commentators, his team bosses and rival drivers – used in voice-over allows the film to hum along at a decent pace without getting bogged down in its material or its subject.

We open with very grainy footage of Senna’s first international kart meeting in 1978, before we’re rapidly transported to his breakthrough near-win in teeming conditions at the Monaco Grand Prix, the first F1 race where the Senna name truly shot to prominence.

There is much to cover about Senna’s character and his well-publicised work aiding his poverty-stricken Brazilian compatriots – and this is well-covered here – but the crux of the film is his intense and bitter rivalry with Alain Prost, which started in 1988 and boiled over over the following years.

While we’ll again mention the enormous challenge the film’s makers had in deciding what to keep and what to leave on the cutting room floor, there are two important events – the pair’s forceful battle at the 1988 Portuguese GP and the restart of the 1989 San Marino GP – that are not covered when the Senna-Prost rivalry is portrayed.

While it could be argued that these incidents may not be significant enough in the context of some of the other footage the audience is shown in SENNA, including either of these incidents would no doubt have helped further balance the film’s presentation of the Senna character. Some fans (although not us) may feel that the film could feel a little one-eyed in its praise of this very complex – and certainly flawed – tragic hero of the film.

Ultimately, it is then-FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre who is cast as the film’s true villain instead of Prost, and some of the footage showing his iron-fisted rule of the sport is very insightful.

Balancing this, there are equally humorous moments in the film, and some fascinating anecdotes that help shape the audience’s perception of this very driven and intensely spiritual man.

As SENNA builds towards its inevitable and tragic conclusion, it’s heartbreaking to watch as the end approaches. Contrast this with the other footage of him throwing his car around the circuit with abandon, or with him celebrating any one of his outstanding 41 career victories, that black May Day in 1994 looms steadily, and inexorably, closer.

Its ending is tragically moving, and in spite of many people remembering Senna for his death, SENNA fulfils its remit of giving audience members a greater insight into his life as well.

It is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Using our unique ‘Chequered Flags’ rating system, we award SENNA


SENNA is released in Australian cinemas from August 11, and worldwide thereafter. Check your local listings for more information.

To read our exclusive interview with the film’s director, Asif Kapadia, click here.

CLICK HERE to return to the Richard’s F1 Media Reviews page.

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.