The agony and the ecstasy of legendary Formula 1 racing driver Ayrton Senna is meticulously brought to life in Asif Kapadia’s riveting and mesmerizing documentary Senna. Simultaneously, a biopic and sports picture, Kapadia’s film is unique among documentaries because its entire running length has been stitched together from archive footage taken from TV broadcasts, behind-the-scene prints and home-videos.
It’s this decision to omit talking heads plus the organic pacing and the visceral POV racing footage from inside Senna’s car that makes Kapadia’s picture feel more like an action thriller than a documentary. Strictly focusing on Senna’s career – from his debut on the F1 circuit in 1984 to his tragic death in 1993 behind the wheel at the age of 34, the doc chronicles Senna’s struggle to rise to the top of the rankings, the races that led him to his trio of world championships in 1988, 1990 and 1991, and his battles, on and off the track – against nature, faulty vehicles, the corruption and controversy behind the scenes, and most significantly, his volatile rivalry with Frenchman Alain Prost, his nemesis and one-time teammate.
Through this footage, we get the portrait of a charismatic and profoundly intelligent man who, despite his good looks and prodigal talent, remained grounded and a beacon of humility – something that’s rare among sportsmen. Utterly engaging from start to finish, Senna is a must-see film, even if you haven’t heard of F1 racing. It’s masterfully-executed cinema that ranks as the best documentary I’ve seen in years.