Tuesday, 2 August 2011


In the hushed dark, there are tears streaming down my cheeks. A small part of my brain urges me to wipe them away. Someone might see. But I can't. My hands are clawed around the armrests of my chair. I blink - for the first time in minutes, it seems - to clear my smeared vision. Nobody's looking at me, anyway.

All three hundred of us are riveted to the big screen, where a long-ago nightmare is playing out. We all know how it ends. Some of us want to tear ourselves away. But we're helpless against the tide of images, of memories.

The weekend of 1 May 1994 was among the darkest in Formula One's history. It began with a lucky escape for a future star and ended with the untimely death of the most iconic racing driver the world has ever known. I was just twenty at the time. Too young to remember the bad old days, completely unprepared for the tragedy which struck the sport I loved. Two violent deaths in as many days shook the world. Motorsport changed forever that weekend, and me with it.

Ever since the news of a feature-length documentary on Ayrton Senna broke, I'd known that I'd have to live through Imola '94 again. I expected it to be tough to watch, and it was. But it was worth it and then some.

Asif Kapadia's film is a masterpiece, nothing less. There are no talking heads, no narrators. Just the magnetic charisma of Senna himself, backed up by a fascinating cast of real-life characters both familiar and new. Through 106 breathtaking minutes, you're swept from the heady days of Senna's early career in karting, to his near-vertical rise to Formula One, through the magic of his first win at Estoril in 1985, the three championships that followed, to Tamburello on 1 May 1994.

There are familiar scenes, footage that has become part of motorsport folklore - but not nearly as much as you might think. Most has never been seen before, and the insight it gives into Senna and the world he inhabited is at turns fascinating, comic, thrilling, and tragic. It's beautifully crafted into a true story that plays like an epic.

Crucially, it crosses the boundary from niche to mainstream - you don't have to be a motorsport fan to enjoy it. My three companions - none with more than a passing interest in F1 - were as enthralled as I was.

See it.

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