A high-octane bio of one of auto racing’s greatest figures, and a peek into the political pileup inside Formula One, “Senna” has the kinetic energy and tragic story arc to make it a winner, especially among NASCAR-loving regions of America. Universal’s attachment gives this twisting, turning story the equivalent of a nitro injection, but a straightaway trip to cable, perhaps via ESPN, seems its fastest track to an audience.
Helmer Asif Kapadia employs only archival footage in telling the story of the charismatic Ayrton Senna, Brazil’s national hero and a three-time Formula One world champ. Senna is pursued from his days as a teen go-cart racer, through his stint with the McLaren racing team — where he and teammate Alan Prost engaged in a near-lethal rivalry — through his tenure with Williams Renault, where his career hit its apex. Within the expertly edited archival construct, Kapadia maintains a respectful but less-than-adulatory view of Senna himself, and a caustic assessment of Formula One and its then-president Jean-Marie Balestre. Footage from an onboard camera thrillingly places the viewer in Senna’s lap, and soberingly includes the accident that claimed his life.