Famed Formula One driver and his beliefs star in new movie
Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna died in a racing accident in 1994.
August 25th, 2011
12:27 PM ET

Famed Formula One driver and his beliefs star in new movie

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."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Brazil • Sports

soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. Pinky

    'Senna' touches very briefly on his religous beliefs and how he felt personally [close to God] whilst driving. He remains one of the most talented race care drivers to ever step behind the wheel, whatever floated his boat to reach that status is entirely his business, not yours. I did not see evidence of him pushing what he believed on others nor is it a complete GodFest, he acknowledges this vocally in an interview, he knew he was not immortal. What I did see was fantastic racing footage, raw, heated conversations regarding his strong opinions on increasing driver safey, heard an amazing soudtrack and saw home videos of a man who was tuly adored by his family, fans and country. Go see the movie!

    August 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  2. the king of monaco

    i am a brazilaian who woke up early mornings on sun. race days ( no tivo back then) to watch f1 since late 70s...and will still go see the movie, however have to agrre w/ some folks above, if god existed, why would he let a person that helped the poor so much and would still continium to do so, die in such a young age. Senna died because a mechanical failure..that is final...but the producer had to show his believe in god..so when they start showing all that nonsense lets just go to the bathroom and come back in a few 🙂

    August 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  3. Xenia

    I understand his passion, but not a best vocation choice for Christians just as any violent sports. There are a lot of things that are permitted to Christians but some of them Christians must quickly grow out of. What's life expectancy of F1 drivers?

    August 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  4. N Harney

    I was going to see the movie because I'm an F-1 fan, but if the emphasis is is his religion, I'll pass. If his god was so appreciative of Senna's worship why did he let him die at 34?

    August 28, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • Robert Sutherland

      If you were a true Senna and F1 fan you'd be interested in learning what made him the person he was. His faith played a significant part in that. As I said on my previous posting, God had nothing to do with his death. God gave us a free will to make our own choices, we decide the risks. It always amuses me that people with no faith seem to believe they shouldn't be required to bare any responsibility for their actions. Lets just take the easy way out and blame God shall we.

      August 28, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • S Bergquist

      Harney is posing the ontological argument, but since he agrees with me that all supernatural gods are imaginary, Sutherland needs to demonstrate that the supernatural exists, which zero people have done. Zero, none, nada. If prayer worked, how come amputees have never had their limbs restored, or people with missing eyeballs, had them restored?? Not one, ever. Never has prayer demonstrably worked, versus chance. Also, "free will" is a fiction, it doesn't exist, same as "North of the North Pole", where Santa Claus lives. You can make words go together in English, like "married bachelors" and "free will" but they are meaningless. It's too bad a great subject like Senna had to be tied to religion, even if he was religious. I think I'll simply wait until the DVD comes out so I can fast forward through the garbage about non-reality and religion.

      August 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  5. N Harney

    A lot of good his religious beliefs did him. His god certainly appreciated his worship to allow him to die at 34. I was going to see the movie because I'm an F1 fan, but if the emphasis is on religion, I'll pass.

    August 28, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  6. Ya No

    I thought this article was about the film of Ayrton Senna's life and racing career. Turned into a raving religious free-for-all. I fully expect to see someone blame President Obama, or Al Qaeda for his accident at Imola. If you demand a villain, you don't need to look any further than Bernie Ecclestone – who loves money and power, and apparently nothing else.

    August 28, 2011 at 12:54 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.