August 25th, 2011
12:27 PM ET
By Gabe LaMonica, CNN
(CNN) - To the world he gave a glimpse of greatness, to Brazil he gave hope, and to God he attributed everything.
On May 1, 1994, a day that was followed by three days of national mourning in Brazil, Ayrton Senna died behind the wheel of a Formula One vehicle when his car slammed into a wall off a high-speed turn on the track in Imola, Italy. He was 34 when he was killed while leading the San Marino Grand Prix.
His legacy as one of the world's greatest race car drivers in history lives on in a film directed by Asif Kapadia.
"Senna" is a drama in the guise of a documentary film. Manish Pandey, the film's executive producer and screenwriter, noted recently how difficult it was to get off the ground.
"Bernie is famous for: When you shake his hand you have a deal," says Pandey, referring to the deal the filmmakers finally struck with Bernie Ecclestone, the chief of Formula One racing, for mountains of F1 footage.
Ecclestone is also famous for his off-the-cuff remarks about Hitler, tobacco and women. He is an extravagant and unparalleled figure in the entrenched world of Formula One racing, not known for his scruples, but "something told me," says Pandey, "that in his heart he wanted to see this film made ... and there were big tectonic plates moving beneath us ... we were at the right place at the right time to an extent."
But getting "the Senna family on board," was by far the "most difficult part," says Pandey. The family had been approached some "12 times a year every year since Senna died."
"Ayrton was so charismatic and such a huge hero ... everyone wanted their slice of him after he died," says Pandey. "My approach was that I loved the guy," he says. "He was my hero when I was a teenager (and I'm also pretty encyclopedic about Formula One)."
About Senna, Pandey says that, "He could produce a kind of heaven on earth for himself by becoming one with the car." In the end it was his car, a "nervous" Williams-Renault, which killed him. Senna was a "Sunday Catholic," says Pandey, "he went to church on Sundays and that was fine ... but he found God in humiliating failure rather than massive triumphs."
"I'm not a Catholic, I'm a Hindu," says Pandey, "so we don't share biblically our belief, but we absolutely share it spiritually ... (Senna) had this otherworldliness, this intensity about him ... he was like a Shaolin monk that drives a car rather than hits drums for a living."
Ayrton Senna, a Brazilian, invaded the then-French-dominated world of Formula One racing in the midst of outstanding macroeconomic instability in Brazil and hyperinflation that in 1990 reached 1,509%.
A fan, caught on camera mourning among groups of hysterical people in the street during the aftermath of Senna's death, notes in the film that, "In Brazil we have no food, no education, and no health, but we did have a little hope, and now that hope is gone."
"Nothing can separate me from the love of God," reads the epitaph on Senna's tombstone. He was a triple world champion who, according to Pandey, was, "an act of God, his life was an act of God, and his death was an act of God."
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