The Making of Senna part 6: The perfect bad guy?

Interview

Alain Prost, Williams, Adelaide, 1993

Alain Prost, Williams, Adelaide, 1993

Alain Prost says he hasn’t watched the Senna film. He told the BBC he is “suspicious” of it.

But while Prost’s identity as Senna’s ultimate rival is not in doubt, he is arguably not the real villain of the piece.

Alain Prost

“I’m not going to watch the movie,” Prost told the BBC in an interview aired yesterday. “I have it on CD, maybe I will watch it one day.

“I have done the story myself. I know everything about the story. So it’s like when you have a nice dish, you don’t want to eat it cold, and I don’t want to answer all the questions.

“It’s a very difficult time. The way the movie is done, I am very suspicious. But I don’t want to answer more questions about that.”

Writer and an executive producer Manish Pandey met Prost, who he describes as “a very intelligent man”.

While the film has plenty to say about the rivalry between Senna and Prost, Pandey offered these thoughts on their battle for supremacy within McLaren:

“Prost was very clever. For example, people time themselves in very different ways on the circuit. So, in other words, you don?t do sectors one to three, you might do sectors three to three.

“Prost, apparently, was an absolute genius at that. I?ve very, very rarely met a man as intelligent as Alain Prost. An absolute perfectionist.”

He shared an interesting anecdote from a former tyre technician about how Senna responded to Prost putting one over him at a test session:

“[Prost] was very clever about how he would test parts. They would very seldom test together.

“This Goodyear tyre man told me that Senna turned up [at Silverstone] and he was really pissed off because there were some parts on [Prost's] car that Senna knew must have been faster and he wasn?t given them.

“Senna had been led to believe that these parts were no better but, of course, they were.”

Senna responded in kind the next time he was called on for testing:

“Apparently he turned up, put on load of parts, came back and said none of them worked.

“So that turned the tables for the next Grand Prix: Prost didn?t choose the parts, Senna bolted them on and off he went. There was that level of rivalry.”

But Prost isn’t treated as the villain of the piece: he’s the perfect rival, rather than the perfect bad guy. That role falls to someone else.

Jean-Marie Balestre

If any figure is drawn as a pantomime villain in Senna it’s the late Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA (now the FIA) until 1991.

“With Balestre you have the perfect bad guy” says Pandey. “He?s French – Vichy-French – with a black leather jacket, black shirt done up to here and likes to wear his FIA badge on his left arm like a swastika.

“If I?d written that you?d say ‘no-one?s going to believe this ?ǣ go and write me a better villain!’”

Balestre’s autocratic, table-thumping style speaks for itself – he is seen telling the drivers at one briefing “the best decision is my decision!”

Pandey says: “We could have been much tougher on him.”

He refers to an incident at Interlagos in 1990, following the controversial conclusion to the 1989 championship, where Balestre reacted to abuse from the crowd saying: “This is our championship, if you don?t want it we don?t have to give it to you, you need to learn some manners.”

Balestre’s perceived closeness to Prost was the subject of much speculation at the time: “I think he was definitely biased, and part of his bias was a French bias ?ǣ it wasn?t necessarily [just] Alain.

“You have a championship which has got rules in French, at that time, the Concorde Agreement is in French, signed in Paris, the FIA and FISA were in Paris. [Until 1985] there had never been a French world champion.”

In 1988 Senna won his first world championship despite Prost having a higher total points score. Prost had to discard more points under the “best 11 scores” rule.

In Pandey’s view, that rule had been introduced after Prost narrowly lost the 1984 title to his team mate:

“Prost had a real problem with the ‘best 11′ rule. The rule came in after 1984 when he?d won seven races to [Niki] Lauda’s four or five. The ??best 11?? rule was put in to stop consistency being the key to a championship.”

Pandey describes Balestre as someone who “[loved] acting up and playing up”.

“But people have looked back on his presidency and said ‘maybe it wasn?t that bad at all’. He did care very passionately about Senna.

“He was definitely someone who championed the drivers. Bernie [Ecclestone] said to us that he really cared about the drivers.

“He was the guy who banned [ground effect] skirts because he felt they were dangerous.”

Balestre died three years ago, but would Pandey feel comfortable if he was able to watch the film? On balance, he says: “I think we got it right”.

“If he was alive I think I?d be able to sit in a room and say ‘that?s how it was.’”

Senna opens in the UK on today. If you’ve seen the film and have a view to share on how it treats Prost and Balestre, please share it in the comments.

“The Making of Senna” continues tomorrow.

To ensure you don’t miss an instalment subscribe to F1 Fanatic for free via RSS, Twitter or our email subscription service. Click here for more information.

See the official website for more information on the film and the official Facebook page for a list of cinemas that are showing it.

Senna movie

Browse all articles on the Senna movie

Image ?? Williams/LAT

Advert | Go Ad-free

76 comments on The Making of Senna part 6: The perfect bad guy?

  1. There is an utterly despicable villain in “Senna”. Someone so abhorrent and repulsive, he made me cringe everytime he showed up on the screen, and totally ruined my moviegoing experience. Someone to loathe forever. And he is not Balestre, not Prost, not even Senna.

    And most unfortunately, this individual is still around. And he wasn’t racing Kimi.

    • David A said on 3rd June 2011, 22:23

      I know we all don’t like Ecclestone, but wow.

      • Well I do like Ecclestone. And wasn’t writing about him of course.

        • David A said on 3rd June 2011, 23:58

          Ah, Mosely is technically still around (alive) but has been ousted from his job :)

          • Neither Bernie nor Max ever said they were not racing Kimi, that was Ron Dennis. And he’s quite still around, as CEO of McL. No longer team principal, thank goodness.

  2. mantolwen (@mantolwen) said on 3rd June 2011, 22:29

    Having just watched Senna, my opinion is that Prost is not portrayed as negatively as people are claiming. He is Senna’s rival, but not portrayed as a bad man, just as someone whose style and determination clashed with Senna’s. When you have two guys who both desperately want the championship, you can’t have them in the same team. It doesn’t work. I think that’s what really came across.

  3. kristy said on 3rd June 2011, 23:36

    i watched the movie and would give it 4 out of 10, it doesnt deserve the attention sites like this website are giving it. because senna is dead, the movie relies on this “dead hero” symbol to create its plot. but sennas hero is more then it really is worth, which is unfortunate to guys like prost. senna created one of the worst moments in the history of modern sport when he unsportsmanly like and spitefully took out prost from the 1990 championship for what he in his mind felt was retribution for 1989 (in which prost did nothing wrong). he should have been excluded from the 1990 championship, he fooled no-one, you dont have to even be a racing car driver to see senna took out prost on purpose risking serious injury to both. this was the moment that showed the true colours of senna, win at all costs, which is unsportsman like and selfish. i turned the movie off when they played this moment and its aftermath and still portrayed senna as the hero for doing this.

    • Olivier said on 4th June 2011, 1:03

      Prost of course did it on purpose. He is as guilty as Senna was in ’90. The difference is that Senna accepted he ran into Prost …

    • eddie said on 4th June 2011, 2:44

      Kristy, in 1990 Senna had confirmed with the stewards that pole position would be on the left side of the grid as this is where the grip was and NOT the right side which was dirty. He had told the stewards that if this was not the case, he would not go for pole position but for second place to get the grip advantage. When Senna got pole position Balestre overruled the stewards and made him start from the dirty side awarding the grip advantage to Prost. For that reason Senna decided that he would be first through the first corner no matter what. The problem was Balestre not Prost (although Prost rushed to Balestre to disqualify Senna in 89).

    • RBAlonso (@rbalonso) said on 7th June 2011, 9:17

      Kirsty, Senna is portrayed as a hero due to his character. His morales would not allow him to again be the victim of another FISA ruling. That said, Senna admitted he took no pride in Suzuka 1990. For anyone who watched the 89 season after Imola will know that Prost deliberately turned in on Senna in Suzuka 89. Senna stood up for what he believed in and, whether you like it or not, that is what idols and heros are acclaimed for.

  4. gilvan said on 4th June 2011, 3:03

    I have just watched the film, and must say it was great. I, as a 20+ years formula 1 fan, just wished I could get hold of that initial 5 hours cut of the film. I would pay good money for that. I don’t think Prost was shown in a bad light at all, he was Senna’s nemesis, pure and simple, not a bad person at all, just someone incredibly talented who wanted to win too. Both are motor racing legends, and having been at the Brazilian Grand prix in 91, 92 and 93 I must admit it brought back great memories, from queueing hours to get into the circuit, being chased down by security after sneaking into the restricted area and the sheer emotion when on the slowing down lap after having won the race in 91, Senna stopped right in front of where me and dad were sitting (sector G). I wanted to run and jump the fence into the track like everyone else was doing, but dad wouldn’t let me (I was just 11 years old).

  5. AJB said on 4th June 2011, 22:45

    Having seen the film I think that while Prost isn’t really protrayed as a cartoon villain he does deserve a bit more respect than is shown – maybe he didn’t have quite the same swashbuckling speed as Senna but in terms of temperament Prost had the edge. The movie uses an awkward TV interview to introduce us to Prost and he comes across as looking cocky and a stereotypical French seducer – perhaps they could’ve at least used the old Boisnard on baord film of Prost in Renault days at Monaco to introduce him (another minor complaint is we never see any other driver’s on board camera). The director gives good technical reasons why Senna’s sweve at Prost in Estoril 88 is omitted but it does remove some of the context from Suzuka 89 – it just looks like Prost spitefully turns in and then whines to the stewards. All the more suprising when they’ve got Richard Williams on the voiceover and his book explains the psychology of the situation so much better.
    Still, minor quibbles really. It’s still a great movie. It even shut up the row of drunken ‘lads’ a few rows back who were joking before it began about ‘I wonder how it’s going to end???’ Hearing the muttered ‘oooh Jeeezzz’ from them when Barrichello hit the barrier confirmed that the film had done its job.

  6. John said on 5th June 2011, 1:05

    They have actually cut and pasted audio transcripts together into sentences and physically put words into Prosts mouth. This is even in the interview version of the movie (at 2h42m).

    As an example, when the movie gets to 1993 and we hear Prost saying all he wanted was a clause in the contract to prevent Senna being his teamate, there is a crude addition to the end of the sentence of:

    “because I wanted to be world champion, I did not want to lose the opportunity”. Where infact that last part Prost said in describing his timing in telling Williams his decision to retire at the Estoril GP in 93.

    It amazes me that they would paint Prost so badly. Like a childrens cartoons villian.

  7. Gaston (@golarrazabal) said on 5th June 2011, 6:32

    I think it is fair to say that the movie is definitely not sympathetic to Prost, but neither does it paint him as a bad person. In particular, I think that those few seconds Prost gets towards the end of the film are pivotal to make his role come full circle, in the sense that it makes clear that any negative vibe about him in the film was the natural result of his fierce rivalry with Senna, but not because he was evil or because he meant Senna any harm.

    Ironically, watching the movie motivated me to learn more about Prost. After doing some research I think I appreciate better his achievements, as well as his point of view regarding his rivalry with Senna. I can certainly see a point to the argument that Senna was sometimes too aggressive towards other drivers, a point that was unfortunately glossed over in the film.

    I found this interview with Prost (from 1998) to be quite interesting: http://www.prostfan.com/senna2.htm

    • ESLKid75 said on 5th June 2011, 9:13

      What an awesome AWESOME interview. Thanks so much for sharing this link. I was a Prost fan at the time, and HATED Senna, but cried like a baby when he died on my 19th birthday. This interview – I think – captures the essence of their love/hate relationship. Awesome stuff…

  8. jimmy booth said on 5th June 2011, 14:01

    i was born at the end of 1994 so i didnt get to see senna race which for me is strange because i cant think why i like him so much all my life but i went on friday the first viewing in london and i thought it was soo good i couldnt really say anything abt it i had no words for it just a masterpiece !

  9. vjanik said on 6th June 2011, 10:31

    Before I wathed the Senna film i heard a lot about how badly Prost is portrayed in it.

    Now having seen it i dont know what everyone is on about. I actually felt Prost was the good guy in the film.

  10. RBAlonso (@rbalonso) said on 7th June 2011, 9:34

    I idolise Senna and wanted to wait until a cinema release to fully appreciate this film. I think that the film lacks a good deal of Senna’s earlier life and experiences ie. Rise to F1, his wife, the death of Villeneuve, despair at Kart championship, Nurburgring Saloon Race 1984 etc etc. I could harp on all day about what I think should be in the film and how they shaped him into the man he would become,. But, then again, the film would be closer to 10 hours.

    I thought that the portrayal of Prost is genuine. He is an incredibly nice man. I, as a Senna fan, was almost taught to despise Prost and anything connected to him. However, by belittling Prost, one of the greatest drivers of all time, you immediately belittle Senna. I think because of that, I regard Prost as a motor racing legend. The film does show Prost saying things in anger, but I knew that going into it, this was, after all the fiercest rivalry in F1 history. But, there are jovial moments with Prost that prove that he is a great character and the perfect Senna rival.

    If he is suspicious, he needn’t worry because Balestre is proven to be the corrupt mind leading the story. Some of his decision’s appeared to come out of pure bias and I think he will be remembered more as a problem to Senna than as a F1 legend in his own right. And there, lies the power of the hero that is Ayrton Senna da Silva.

  11. RBAlonso said on 7th June 2011, 14:07

    I idolise Senna and wanted to wait until a cinema release to fully appreciate this film. I think that the film lacks a good deal of Senna’s earlier life and experiences ie. Rise to F1, his wife, the death of Villeneuve, despair at Kart championship, Nurburgring Saloon Race 1984, Berger etc etc. I could harp on all day about what I think should be in the film and how they shaped him into the man he would become,. But, then again, the film would be closer to 10 hours.

    I thought that the portrayal of Prost is genuine. He is an incredibly nice man. I, as a Senna fan, was almost taught to despise Prost and anything connected to him. However, by belittling Prost, one of the greatest drivers of all time, you immediately belittle Senna. I think because of that, I regard Prost as a motor racing legend. The film does show Prost saying things in anger, but I knew that going into it, this was, after all the fiercest rivalry in F1 history. But, there are jovial moments with Prost that prove that he is a great character and the perfect Senna rival.

    If he is suspicious, he needn’t worry because Balestre is proven to be the corrupt mind leading the story. Some of his decision’s are suspect and I think he will be remembered more as a problem to Senna than as a F1 legend in his own right.

    And there, lies the power of the hero that is Ayrton Senna da Silva.

  12. joanne. said on 23rd November 2011, 8:56

    Whilst flicking through the channels on a long tedious flight from Delhi to Dubai i came across the film ‘Senna’. I am a female that has never had an interest in motor racing and at the age of 39 can honestly say i have never watched a single formula 1 race. I only know Lewis Hamiltons name because of who he is dating! I flicked across to the film ‘senna’ on this flight because i was having a blonde moment and thought it was going to be about the actress sienna mills, but from the very first minute i was completely hooked ! I went into the film with a completely unbiased view and actually came out of LOVING both drivers. I dont think it portrayed alan prost as a villian AT ALL but just as Sennas greatest rival. I dont think it depicted Balastre as a villian either, just as someone that had a job to do! The only thing i would have liked to see on the film is an interview with Alan Prost after Sennas death. (when i started watching this film i didnt know that senna was dead so was fully expecting him to walk away from the crash) The film had depicted their rivally so well that it was SO VERY OBVIOUS that Alan Prost would have been completely destroyed over Sennas death and yes i think seeing it would have helped people understand that behind a close rivaly is two people that are actually in a relationship of sorts where there is no villian or victim just a mutual desire to win underneath a deep respect of each others capabilities. I absolutely loved the film and have only stumbled across this forum because i came onto the internet with a desire to find out more about these two characters. I was moved, touched and in tears by the time this film had finished – Well done to everyone involved in making it. Formula 1 has gained another fan ! x

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.