“Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie reviewed

F1 reviews

“Senna” opened in Japan two months ago but British fans will have to wait until June to see the film on big screen.

Luckily I had the chance to attend a private screening of the film in London yesterday where I also spoke to the film’s author and co-executive producer Manish Pandey.

In making “Senna” the producers had access to Formula One Management’s extensive video archive. That vast amount of material has been condensed into a film which lasts little longer than a Grand Prix.

I’m sure that, like myself, many F1 Fanatic readers would have been happy to watch a Lord of the Rings-style three-part epic. But exerting discipline over what to include and what to cut has clearly been to the film’s benefit, and not just in terms of making it suitable for a mainstream audience.

“Senna” tells the story of his life and F1 career through original footage, much of it never before seen. It avoids the dry documentary style of talking head interviews, using instead voice-overs from several contributors plus clips from television commentaries.

Thanks to this approach the film moves along rapidly, introducing Senna with his breakthrough performance at Monte-Carlo in 1984 and speeding through to the onset of his rivalry with Alain Prost in 1988.

Although the film has plenty to say about Senna’s character, his charitable work and, of course, his death, his bitter battle with Prost is the film’s principle focus.

Poster for "Senna" - The Ayrton Senna movie

While no one should underestimate the difficulty the producers had in choosing what to leave out of the film, the decision to skip over some events inevitably shapes the film’s view of the main figures.

Two important moments in the rising hostility between Senna and Prost are omitted. These are their wheel-to-wheel battle at Estoril in 1988 and the row that erupted over the restart at Imola in 1989.

Perhaps these weren’t thought significant enough to include, but putting them in might have helped to balance the film’s view of Senna, which verges on the saintly at times.

It is not Prost but FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre who is ultimately portrayed as the villain, and the glimpses of his heavy-handed and partisan interventions do him no favours at all.

As well as these controversial episodes there are moments of great humour, none of which I’m going to spoil by giving them away here.

For a lifelong Formula 1 fan who discovered the sport at the height of the Senna-Prost war, the film is a treasure trove of fascinating moments from a great era.

Telling a story which most people already know the end of presents problems of its own. Watching “Senna”, you know what’s coming – and you don’t want it to get there. You just want to watch the black-and-gold Lotus dancing its way around Adelaide in 1985. And you want to see more of the remarkable behind-the-scenes footage of his first home win at Brazil in 1991.

The film reaches a poignant and moving conclusion. It’s impossible to re-watch the events of that Imola weekend without feeling heavy-hearted and the final sequence strikes an emotional chord.

As Manish wrote here in October: “Many non-F1 people know [Senna] because of his death: hopefully, they will now have some insight into his life.”

“Senna” accomplishes that brilliantly. Quite simply it’s the greatest film about motor racing I have ever seen.

F1 Fanatic rating out of five

Rating five out of five

Buy Senna (UK, Blu-ray, region free)

Buy Senna (UK, DVD)

Buy Senna (USA, Blu-ray)

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“Senna” opens in the UK on June 3rd, 2011. It has already opened in some regions including Japan and Brazil. Please share information on when it opens in your area in the comments.

“Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie trailer

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109 comments on “Senna” – the Ayrton Senna movie reviewed

  1. Rhys Coles said on 16th December 2010, 20:44

    I really really can not wait for this….bring on June!!

  2. tharris19 said on 16th December 2010, 21:24

    I have two favorite drivers, Senna and Sterling Moss different and times and for different reasons. I would think that a documentary on Moss would nearly as interesting as the one on Senna.
    Both men have presence in abundance and like all artist, are experts with the tools of their arts. I watch Moss manipulate oversteer in sports cars and F1 cars and it sends chill down my spin. I watch Senna Challenge gravity and the edge and I feel my own gut tighten as enters and exits turns on the absolute limits.
    The closest I have seen to these two drivers is Hamilton but he is not there yet because “there” is a very special place where only the best resides.

  3. Mateus01 said on 17th December 2010, 0:54

    I have seen it twice here in brazil. I think its a great movie, theres a lot of never before seen footage, interesting stuff… Every F1 fan should watch it, its great to see F1 on the big screen.

  4. Great review, Keith. I just disagree with the “saintly” part a bit. For me the most inpressive thing was how obsessively sought for overcoming himself and whatever challenge he had in front of him.
    Being a teenager when everything happened, I HAD this saintity vision of him, which the movie moulded into a more realistic view. Most impressive was how his tough driving was a reflection of his tough character outside the track.

  5. Pink Peril said on 17th December 2010, 2:21

    I have been scouring the papers & websites for an Australian release date but no luck yet, if anyone knows anything more definitive than 2011, please let us know. I guess, at least ‘2011’ is not that far away anymore.

    I am really looking forward to seeing this movie, I only started watching F1 in ’98, so I missed the Senna years. But it is impossible not to have absorbed the impact he had on the sport. I got a slight taste of what this movie is likely to be like with Top Gear’s story earlier this year about Senna, which was icredibly powerful (and most un-Top Gear-like) for such a short story. And although I already know the ending, I am really keen to see it.

  6. kowalsky said on 17th December 2010, 9:12

    i started watching f1 in 1981, when senna just arrived from brazil. The first news i had about his existence was the f3 race at silverstone in 1983, in a podium picture at the granprix magazine because alen berg had some publicity from them, and had finished third. When he entered f1 the next year, there were so many great drivers that i didn’t pay much attention to him, and then came monaco, Where he almost won. That was pretty clear. He was good. But how good. That was answered to me, at the podium at brands hatch when he finished third to lauda and warwick, and told them the next time i’ll bit you.
    I was lucky enough to watch his first victory at estoril in 1985. But it should have been the second one, because monaco was taken from him in a ridiculos decision.
    When he died, he was not at his peak. Even though he was still fast, his mind was no longer as focused on the sport as before. So i think he was never going to be back at his maximun level, what i consider was in 1990. That season he had maximun commitment, and the anger to right the wrongs balestre had done the year before. Without a doubt the best era i have ever watched in f1, and with the path f1 is taking, something we will never see again. Without a doubt the most exciting driver the world has vever seen, in the most difficult cars to drive in the history of the sport. With a level of danger that no longer exists.

  7. vjanik said on 17th December 2010, 9:13

    I read somewhere that they will be releasing the film throughout the year always in conjunction with a GP. not sure though about the countries without a GP

  8. TED BELL said on 17th December 2010, 10:11


    Still overated after all of these years. Willing to run over the edge on a regular basis cost him his life. Often his tatics behind the wheel were not only a danger to himself but also to the others that he raced against. Truth be told that his rivals at the time simply chose not to ride the edge of danger as Senna often did and for that reason he now has been immortalized. Sure I was bothered by his death but at the time I wondered for years when he would end up going to far. Some of you will blame the car, some of you will continue to be caught up in his reputation and there are a few of us who say “good driver” in the “best car” who lost his life pursuing the edge where some live and some die. Overated then and overated today.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th December 2010, 10:22

      Willing to run over the edge on a regular basis cost him his life.

      I still find it hard to believe it was a driver error. The type of corner, the manner in which the car went off and what little evidence there is suggests to me there was some kind of car problem.

      Your eagerness to have a go at a dead man certainly hasn’t won me over to your point of view.

      • kowalsky said on 17th December 2010, 18:29

        heresy again!!! where were you guys when he was winning races? The fact is that you look at senna from today’s point of view. In the eighties that kind of racing was considered acceptable. Please use your brains when you make this kind of comments to a true legend. You might upset people.
        Now everybody praises prost, but if you were following the great brazilian, when he was alive, you would think otherwise. Prost was so boring and unexciting, that just remembering him, makes me sick.

        • I find it tiring that to push Senna up, one feels it necessary to push Prost down. Without Prost, there is no Senna legend.

          • kowalsky said on 18th December 2010, 8:13

            i don’t agree. The legend would be there, just not as bright. To make a title more precious, you must look at the competition.And senna not only had prost to fight against. There was lauda, rosberg, piquet, mansell, schumacher. If you had seen senna on a qualifier during the turbo days, you would know what i am talking about.

      • Kenny said on 2nd February 2011, 13:45

        He’s expressing his opinion of a racing driver…what difference does it make if the driver is alive or dead?

    • Gubstar said on 17th December 2010, 11:01

      You are completely clueless!! Perhaps you should go and ask Mr M Schumacher/Moss/Stewart whether they think Ayrton was overrated!! “Good driver in the best car” eh??? Perhaps you didnt see his performances in 84/85/86/87 and 92/93 & the start of 94!!!

      • Speckled Jim said on 17th December 2010, 13:05

        Totally right Gubstar.

        Even the people who HATE Senna dont call him overated! 3 World titles doesn’t even scratch the surface. Get yourself on you tube Ted, there is plenty of footage of Senna. Some of him defying the sport yes, but mostly of him defying physics!

    • is mr Ted Bell an automated troll or does he really exist?

      answering to such a troll is an offense to Ayrton’s memory

  9. antonyob said on 17th December 2010, 10:20

    bit harsh Ted! Motor racing is inherently dangerous, still is, but in F1 they basically have the space shuttle protecting them. The fact Senna pushed the edges of acceptable driving is both a criticism of him and a compliment. If everyone sat there at 8 tenths it would be a pretty dull sport.

    All individuals are flawed, the fact most people gloss over these when someone dies prematurely is a mark of respect. Im not sure he was over rated when he drove but certainly the media was less critical then.

    The tragedy of that Monaco race when Senna came to the race worlds attention was that the guy behind Senna was closing him down quicker than Senna was closing down Prost. Unfortunately the fearless Stefan bellof died at Spa overtaking at eau rouge (of all places) and we never got to see what he really had.

  10. Chris Powell said on 17th December 2010, 13:09

    Nice troll TED. Fact is Senna was a fearless true racing driver that achieved greatness anything else to be said about him is irrelevant. RIP Senna!

    • TED BELL said on 18th December 2010, 19:25

      Quite being so emotional and take a reality check.Your manlove died while in the lead from a car failure. It would have been greatness if this had happened in a spectacular moment of overtaking or going for points in a championship setting. Instead he bought the farm while in the lead. How irrelevant is that?? Such a loss as he had the potential for becoming something special.

  11. antonyob said on 17th December 2010, 14:52

    “offense” or “offence.” Either way you’re talking melodramatic rubbish

    • rubbish or not, he is the troll and you are a subtroll spell checker

      fact is though that Ayrton Senna never had the best car and even if he had for 2 seasons 88-89, he had to share it with a 4 times world champion

  12. jose arellano said on 17th December 2010, 19:47

    soon enough we would be able to download it from the internet…. but what i really want its wachtit on the cinema!

  13. “Senna opened in Japan two months ago”
    In Brazil too.


  14. I’m Brazilian and went to cinema twice to see our great hero. In fact, I found myself sobbing even harder in the second time.
    As a fan, I’ve felt that the film flowed extremely fast, in part due to the pleasure I felt watching it, but also because I missed some episodes I thought it’d be included.
    But I understand that this film is not intended to be a just-F1-hardcore-fans-oriented-only film. Instead, it is a good chance to people feel closer to Senna.

  15. Yes, Senna was a great driver. I think he is overrated slightly. But that’s not the issue for me. I think THE OTHERS are underrated on his account. He was a great persona and amazing driver. But for me not the greatest. For me Stewart, Prost, Lauda and a few more are on the same level as he was. Acctually I rate them higher.
    What is a true racer? The one who fearlessly and sometimes carelessly goes for every gap, even if it exist only in his own mind? Don’t think so. Don’t know who said this but Racing is not about who goes go fastest in a lap, or pedal to the metal all through out the race, butto win the race driving as slow as you can. That’s true art of driving. Everybody are fast in F1.
    Senna was great qualifier, yes. And he improved his race setups over the years. But to put this into perspective; most people are forgetting that in the 80’s (at least untill 1988 season ) qualifying wasn’t that important. It was more important to set your car for the race. And we all know that true masters of that were Lauda and Prost. Prost learned that from Lauda, and Ayrton learned that from Prost. Like it or not. And that’s the truth. Wining a race is more important than qualifying.
    I can’t wait to see the movie.
    R.I.P. Ayrton

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