Senna Doc of the Week


Almost a quarter of a century on from his untimely death, Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna remains a national hero in his homeland and a true legend of his sport. A complex character – passionate, fearless and deeply spiritual - this is the story of the triple world champion who died tragically at Imola on May 1st 1994 at the age of just 34. eir sport 1, Mon, Nov 13th 21.30

Few drivers have matched the impact that Ayrton Senna had upon Formula One. A precocious talent, he took the sport by storm and, over the course of a single decade between his debut in 1984 and death in 1994, cemented his reputation as one of the greatest racing drivers ever to sit behind a wheel.

Directed by Asif Kapadia, who also helmed Amy, a documentary on the late singer Amy Winehouse, Senna chronologically chart’s the Brazilian’s career from his Formula One debut with the Toleman team back in 1984 until the tragedy of Imola ten years later. Its trump card is the abundance of hair-raising live action footage which shows just how exciting Formula One was at the time. This is interspersed with contemporary interviews with all the main protagonists, including Senna himself, Lotus chief Ron Dennis and main rival Alain Prost amongst others.

It’s an exhilarating journey from start to finish. Senna is a passionate man. He cares about what he does and those around him, but he also has a ruthless streak that all great competitors have. He wants to win and will do almost anything he can to achieve that aim. It’s a paradox that is not uncommon among great sportspeople.

One to watch

Backed by an exciting soundtrack and plenty of engine noise, Senna opens with the Brazilian’s debut season in Formula One in 1984. It then moves quickly on to his time with Lotus where he won six races in three seasons. He joined McLaren in 1988 to partner two-time world champion Alain Prost. It was a heady combination, a drama within a drama, as these two big characters fought for supremacy on the track.

Rarely before or since has Formula One seen a rivalry that pushed both parties so close to the edge. Senna won the championship in his debut season with McLaren with a record eight wins off 13 pole positions (also a record). But the tensions were never far from the surface and the pair were involved in controversial incidents in both 1989 and 1990 that ultimately decided the destination of the championship – first for Prost and then for Senna. Strangely enough, both happened at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka as Prost forced the Brazilian out late on in 1989 before Senna reciprocated at the opening corner the following year. There was clearly no love lost between the pair, but they did eventually reconcile following Prost’s retirement in 1993.


We get to see all the hair-raising action from the track and hear the reaction of both men in the immediate aftermath. It’s a first-hand experience - all very raw and emotional, authentic and real. It’s a human tale that will appeal to everyone, not just those with a passing interest in motorsport.

Senna won the title for a third time in 1991. Prost had moved on to Williams by then. McLaren was becoming increasingly uncompetitive compared to the technologically-advanced UK-based outfit and Senna himself was keen to go there as the Frenchman opted to take a sabbatical the following year. However, Prost had a clause in his contract preventing Williams from signing his former team-mate and his return the following year scuppered any hopes of a deal being signed.

It wasn’t until the 1994 season and Prost’s retirement that Senna finally got the move he craved, but the rules had changed and Williams was now at a disadvantage as much of the technology it had used was no longer unavailable to them. The result was a poor start to the campaign for the Brazilian who endured his worst ever start to a championship with no points from the opening two races. In the meantime, he had become increasingly outspoken about the need for improved safety in the sport, something which often left him at loggerheads with the Formula One authorities.


The documentary reaches its climax with the events leading up to the fatal crash at Imola in the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1st 1994. Senna is seen to be under massive stress leading up to the race as he continues his running battle with the authorities over safety concerns. He is distraught after witnessing Rubens Barrichello sustain serious injuries in a crash during practice followed by the death of Roland Ratzenberger in another crash in the final qualifying session the next day.

When the main race finally starts a collision at the opening corner sees the safety car deployed as marshals try to clear the track. Upon resumption Senna’s car inexplicably leaves the track at the Tamburello corner on lap seven and heads straight into a concrete wall at 190mph. He is killed instantly. It later emerges that his steering column had snapped.

The documentary ends with his funeral as his family and friends mourn the passing of one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula One.

Images: Getty

There are plenty of great documentaries to watch out for on the eir Sport pack every week. From football to golf, GAA, rugby, athletics and beyond, we’ve got something for everyone. Watch out next week for another fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the sporting world or go to for more sports news and stories or to find out more about how we're setting sport free.

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