Senna (film)

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Senna film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAsif Kapadia
Written byManish Pandey
Produced byChris Berend
Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
James Gay-Rees
StarringAyrton Senna
Alain Prost
Frank Williams
Ron Dennis
CinematographyJake Polonsky
Edited byChris King
Gregers Sall
Music byAntonio Pinto
Distributed byUniversal Pictures (Select territories)
Océan Films (France)[1]
Release dates
  • 7 October 2010 (2010-10-07) (Suzuka, Mie)
  • 25 May 2011 (2011-05-25) (France)
  • 3 June 2011 (2011-06-03) (United Kingdom: limited)
Running time
106 minutes[2]
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Box office$10.9 million[3]

Senna is a 2010 documentary film that depicts the life and death of Brazilian motor-racing champion Ayrton Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia.[4] The film was produced by StudioCanal, Working Title Films, and Midfield Films, and was distributed by the parent company of the latter two production companies, Universal Pictures.

The film's narrative focuses on Senna's racing career in Formula One, from his debut in the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix to his death in an accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, with particular emphasis on his rivalry with fellow driver Alain Prost. It relies primarily on archival racetrack footage and home video clips provided by the Senna family, rather than retrospective video interviews, and has no formal commentary.


The film begins with Senna's arrival into Formula One during the 1984 season, briefly covering his time at Toleman and Lotus before concentrating on his time with the British team McLaren – the association that brought his rise to global fame – and becoming a World Champion. The drama of this period of his career centers on his rivalry with his team mate Alain Prost, and his political struggles with the then head of FISA Jean-Marie Balestre, climaxing during the 1989 and 1990 seasons, when Senna and Prost were involved in controversial clashes which decided the drivers' world championship title, in 1989 for Prost and in 1990 for Senna.

The film portrays the increasingly complex dynamics and tumult that characterized Senna's years as world champion, his battle to improve his sport's safety, and his reactions as he witnesses accidents and eventually the death of Austrian fellow-driver Roland Ratzenberger the day before his own. We see and hear through Senna's point of view that innovative computerization led in these years to the technological domination of the Williams cars, with Prost joining Williams and, in a fallout with Senna, refusing to be on a team with Senna anymore. The documentary reaches its finale as Prost retires and Senna takes up a champion driver spot with Williams, the Grove-based team in 1994, just as Formula One rules change, disallowing computerization, and the Williams' cars undergo rapid reconfiguration that proves fatal. In the culminating weekend of his life, at that year's San Marino Grand Prix, footage shows Senna under extreme stress, troubled as safety conditions reveal their weaknesses in one track accident after another over three consecutive days. Rubens Barrichello is injured in a crash during Friday qualifying, Ratzenberger is killed in an accident during final qualifying on 30 April, and at the start of the race JJ Lehto stalls and is hit at high speed by Pedro Lamy. The safety car is brought out, and when racing resumes, Senna crashes fatally on lap 7. The film concludes with the Senna family and his close friends from Formula One mourning his loss at his funeral.


"Senna has no talking head interviews and no authoritative commentary".[5] It is a collage of private home videos, public TV appearances, press conferences and races. "Like the pop art movement decades prior, Kapadia takes existing elements of mass culture and transforms and recontextualises them".[5] Kapadia was able to "fashion Senna's story as a live action drama rather than a posthumous documentary."[6] The film "delivers an unquestionably cinematic experience", negotiating "a diffuse line between reality and representation".[7]


A special screening of Senna was held on 7 October 2010 at the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix, at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, Japan.[8] The official world première was held at the Cinemark Theatre in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 3 November 2010.[9] It was released in Brazil on 12 November 2010 and the UK on 3 June 2011.

Home media[edit]

In Japan and Brazil, the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on 21 and 24 March 2011, respectively. On 11 October[10] it was released onto home media in the UK and was released on 6 March 2012 in the United States.

Two versions of the film were released, one in cinemas, DVD, Netflix, iTunes, and Blu-ray Disc. The other is only available in the United Kingdom in double-layered Blu-ray Disc, extending the length of the film to 162 minutes, with more interviews and insider information.

The film had a special limited box set edition, that provided the DVD of the film, a double-layered Blu-Ray Disc and a model of one of Senna's racing cars.


Critical response[edit]

Senna received critical acclaim from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 122 reviews, and an average rating of 7.92/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Even for filmgoers who aren't racing fans, Senna offers heart-pounding thrills -- and heartbreaking emotion."[11] Dan Jolin of Empire Magazine gave the film 4 stars out of 5 and stated that it is "ambitiously constructed, deeply compelling, thrilling and in no way only for those who like watching cars drive in circles".[12] Steve Rose, writing in The Guardian, also gave the film a 4 out of 5, and praised the fact that "with so much recorded footage of Formula One available, it has been possible to fashion Senna's story as a live action drama rather than a posthumous documentary. We're not so much hearing what happened in the past as seeing it happen before our eyes."[13][14]

Alain Prost was highly critical of the film and its depiction of his relationship with Senna as he felt it did not adequately explore the way their relationship changed from rivals to friends in the final months of Senna's life.[15] In an interview, Julian Jakobi, who was Senna and Prost's manager, explained that the movie understated the role of Honda in the relationship, namely, Prost was a McLaren man and Senna was a Honda man as they brought together to McLaren, and thus they had different power bases to get things done off the track.[16]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Outcome
Sundance Film Festival[17] World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary Won
Los Angeles Film Festival[18] Audience Award for Best International Feature Won
Melbourne International Film Festival[19] People's Choice Awards for Best Documentary Won
Adelaide Film Festival.[20][21] Audience Award for Best Documentary Won
BAFTA Outstanding British Film Nominated
Best Documentary Won
Best Editing Gregers Sall, Chris King Won
Writers Guild of America[22] Best Documentary Screenplay Manish Pandey Nominated


  1. ^ "Senna". Cineuropa. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  2. ^ "SENNA (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 22 February 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  3. ^ "Senna (2010)". The Numbers. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  4. ^ "Racing Doc Senna Takes Banksy Indie Route: Opens Strong, Tries to Reel in Women". Archived from the original on 3 March 2013. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  5. ^ a b Moloney, Ciara (10 May 2021). "The tragic intimacy of Asif Kapadia's archival trilogy". Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  6. ^ Rose, Steve (2 June 2011). "Senna - review". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  7. ^ Llinares, Dario (2 July 2011). "Senna: alternate take". Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  8. ^ "Senna screened at Japanese Grand Prix". Working Title Films. 14 October 2010. Archived from the original on 31 October 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
  9. ^ "Senna Premiere São Paulo Brazil". Working Title Films. 4 November 2010. Archived from the original on 31 October 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Senna". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  12. ^ "Senna". Empire Magazine. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  13. ^ Rose, Steve (3 June 2011). "Senna - review". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  14. ^ Calkin, Jessamy (20 May 2011). "Senna: The Driver Who Lit Up Formula One". London: The Telegraph.
  15. ^ Collantine, Keith (12 July 2012). "Prost explains his objections to Senna film". F1 Fanatic. Keith Collantine. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  16. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Prost and Senna's Former Manager, Julian Jakobi | Beyond The Grid | Official F1 Podcast". YouTube.
  17. ^ "Award Screening Schedule". Sundance Institute. Archived from the original on 4 February 2011. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  18. ^ "2011 Winners". Archived from the original on 30 June 2011. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
  19. ^ "People's Choice Award - Docos". 24 August 2011. Archived from the original on 31 October 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  20. ^ Buckeridge, Julian. "Audience Awards Announced". Retrieved 7 January 2012.
  21. ^ "Adelaide Film Festival". Adelaide Film Festival. 15 March 2011. Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
  22. ^ "Writers Guild Awards: Complete Winners List". The Hollywood Reporter. 19 February 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2019.

External links[edit]