Only a few drivers’ names are mentioned when discussing who is the greatest racecar driver in history. Aryton Senna, Brazil’s national hero and three-time Formula One World Champion, is the only driver ever named that by his peers. Fifteen years after his untimely death at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, 217 current and former F1 drivers named Senna as the greatest Formula One driver in a poll conducted by Autosport Magazine. Now, Universal Pictures has released an engrossing documentary film SENNA honoring the remarkable story of a true racing hero.
Born in 1960 in a barrio of Saão Paulo, Senna started kart racing in Brazil as a youngster. His love of motor racing led him to Europe to pursue a career in Formula One. The charismatic Brazilian made his debut for the Toleman-Hart F1 team in 1984 and posted his first of 65 career pole positions with a win in 1985 for Lotus-Renault in the Portuguese Grand Prix. In 1988, Senna joined French F1 driver Alain Prost at McLaren-Honda. Although an intense rivalry existed between the two, they won all but one of the sixteen Grand Prix races that year. The vibrant Senna went on to claim his first of three World Championships and proved himself to be one of the quickest drivers ever in adverse, wet track conditions.
The fierce competition between the two McLaren drivers peaked during the 1989 season as both battled for the number seat and the World title. During the penultimate race of the season at Suzuka, Japan, Prost and Senna would lock wheels and spin off an escape road. Senna would restart and claim the win but was later disqualified for cutting the track when he restarted using the escape route. The DQ gave Prost the F1 championship before the Frenchman left for a seat at Ferrari in 1990. Senna and Prost would continue their bitter rivalry on separate teams with Senna winning the World Championship in 1990 and 1991.
After Prost reluctantly retired at the beginning of the 1994 season, Senna became perturbed with Formula One’s leadership over regulation changes that banned active suspension and traction control. During Friday practice at Imola, Senna’s good friend Rubens Barrichello crashed breaking his arm followed by a fatal accident to Roland Ratzenberger during Saturday’s qualification round. On the morning of the final race of Senna’s career, he met with fellow drivers to establish the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association in hopes of enacting safety changes. While leading the San Marino GP, Senna’s Williams FW16 left the track at the high-speed Tamburello corner. The 34-year old Senna was killed when his car struck the Armco barrier head on.
An estimated three million people lined the streets of Saão Paulo for Senna’s funeral. Career rival Prost would serve as one of Senna’s pallbearers along with Rubens Barrichello, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart. The Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning. After the Brazilian’s state funeral, it was discovered that the benevolent Senna had left a large portion of the $400 million fortune to the Aryton Senna Institute to develop social programs aimed at offering kids from low-income backgrounds an opportunity to develop their full potential as future citizens.
Although not originally intended for release in the United States, the film’s success at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, caused the studios to reconsider a U.S. debut which is scheduled for mid-August of this year. Chief film critic Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Sometimes a documentary will unexpectedly grab you by the throat, not giving you a second to breathe. That’s the way it was with SENNA. E3 Spark Plugs encourages all of our devoted racing fans to watch for the release of SENNA. No one should miss this moving tribute to the thirty-four year old Brazilian hero who will forever be remembered as the “Greatest Driver Who Ever Lived”.