The Ayrton Senna documentary is now available for purchase on DVD in North America (finally!). Davin reviewed this movie here at StartingGrid during its theatrical release. While I agree with all the criticisms Davin had about the film overlooking Senna’s exploits in the lesser formulas and particularly Senna’s input in the development of the Honda/Acura NSX (a car equal to the Ford GT40 for its impact on the established exotic car makers), I cannot give this film anything less than an enthusiastic “two thumbs up”. What can I say?
Ayrton Senna is my hero and will always be the best driver that ever was to me. The Senna documentary is a great piece of film making that will hopefully share Ayrton’s Promethean driving talent with generations to come.
Let’s commemorate his memory with some pictures my friend Alan Dahl shot at Imola in 1994. Alan was there visiting an autocross friend who found himself working for Scuderia Ferrari as a computer programmer (talk about a dream job! “I’m a programmer for the Ferrari F1 team, you?”). I’ve shared some of Alan’s work before.
That lede photo may be one of the last ever taken of Senna. It appears to show the end of lap 6 (the first 5 laps were run under caution – behind the safety car) where Senna is powering out of Variente Bassa onto the starting line straight under full throttle ahead of Michael Schumacher and Gerhard Berger. He would reach nearly 200 miles per hour before the mechanical failure happened that pitched him off the track into a fatal crash at the Tamburello corner.
I was watching this race on television and remained hopeful that Senna was merely injured. According to Alan, that Senna was gravely injured was not evident at the track; they only found out when they got home and read the RAI teletext. The helicopter that landed on the track was out of view of most fans and the track hospital’s helicopter (visible in the photo below) did not move.
The ripples of Senna’s passing were immediate; I cried my eyes out and Ferrari pulled an emotionally distraught Gerhard Berger (a close friend of Senna’s) from his perfectly functional race car with the plausible deniability protecting excuse of “suspension damage” while Gerhard was in a podium finishing position. Berger’s teammate that day was Ferrari test driver Nicola Larini, who was filling in for Jean Alesi. Larini had extensive experience testing the Ferrari F1 car at Imola and knew the track better than anyone. Nicola Larini would finish second, the only podium finish of his F1 career.
The race would eventually be won by Michael Schumacher who said he, “couldn’t feel satisfied, couldn’t feel happy” about the victory. This was Formula 1’s darkest day in the modern era. The drivers and fans all felt secure in the technology of the cars to protect the drivers. Senna’s crash was a shocking slap of the reality of the danger posed by driving a racing car at nearly 200 miles per hour.
Racing safety has improved markedly since Senna’s crash. While Senna hated the speed limiting chicanes added to classic race tracks in an effort to limit speeds (and is spitting from heaven at the thought of any chicane being named for him), he did appreciate the need to protect racing drivers as much as possible. While the HANS device I wear in my LeMons car may not have prevented Senna’s death, it has saved many drivers’ lives, which Ayrton Senna would be highly supportive of.
If you are a racing fan, like the NSX, or appreciate the passionate pursuit of a man’s dream buy a copy of Senna. When anyone asks you why racing or wrenching on your project car is important to you, hand then this DVD.