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A Look at a Legend

August 12, 2011 by Matt

Ayrton Senna Helmet

Senna, the much-anticipated new documentary chronicling scenes from the life of the Formula 1 racing giant, opens today.

I’d like very much to see it. I’ve always been an F1 fan (chalk it up to having lived in Europe for a time, where the sport is huge), but the prime of my interest spans from ’87 to around ’94, a period of time neatly bookended by my two trips to the Monaco Grand Prix. I only observed the qualifying sessions, and not the actual race itself, but the noises, the smells, the mix of technology, speed and glamor weren’t lost on me. In spite of the fact that ’87 to ’94 happens to coincide nearly perfectly with Senna’s heyday, from his first solid seasons to his untimely death at the ’94 San Marino Grand Prix, for whatever reason, I was never a huge fan. Much like Michael Schumacher at his peak, Senna was always the “bad guy;” I rooted for his challengers, from Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell to Damon Hill and especially Gerhard Berger.

Formula 1 has lost it way in recent years, and even though interpersonal drama has always been an integral part of the sport, the past decade or so have seen that spectacle increasingly trained on the technical aspects of the cars—which for me really is the main draw. The formula of regulations which gives the series its name has grown so restrictive and so rigidity focused on micromanaging the engineering decisions in order to produce a “spectator-friendly” outcome that the sport is quickly degenerating into a NASCAR-like “single car” straightjacket for would-be innovators.

To be sure, the creative lengths engineers go to in order to extract maximum performance within the bounds of the rulebook will always excite the imagination. I just wish they were given more free rein to create cars of the caliber of the truly spectacular F1 racers of the past. Let new drivers of Senna’s brilliance tame the machines.

Filed under: Formula 1, Media, Racing

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