The Making of Senna part 7: Imola 1994


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Ayrton Senna, Williams, Imola, 1994

The infamous events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix means the majority of people who watch Senna will do so knowing how it ends.

So how were the film’s producers to handle the unavoidably tragic outcome of the film?

There were differing views on how best to do it, as writer Manish Pandey explained:

“It was the hardest, hardest part of the film to make. Everyone knows the end of this film.

“One of the things that I felt very strongly about – and James [Gay-Rees, executive producer] did, too – was that no matter who came on this journey we wanted you to forget that he died.

“I remember arguing with a few people who said, ‘well, that’ bollocks – everyone knows he died so we should start the film with it’.

“But I think you’re immediately on the back foot then. You’re going to go see this film and through every single thing that you see you’re thinking ‘he’ going to die’.

“It won’t leave you – certainly not for 100 minutes”.

He described the events of the weekend as “powerful and tragic”, adding: “I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen such a culmination of events before or since in Formula 1.

“I remember watching Gilles Villeneuve die, looking through a Rediffusion shop window at a TV while Grandstand was on, standing there feeling completely shocked.

“But Imola was always just going to be dynamite because everything that happened was just so awful”.

Setting the scene

The film runs chronologically, with Imola and Senna’s funeral as its conclusion. After the Senna-Prost years the film moves on quite briskly to the events of 1994.

Pandey describes how they set the scene for the film’s denouement:

“We saw the original footage of him arriving on Thursday and he’ preoccupied, he has a funny exchange with Galvao Bueno walking up the pit lane. You see he’ frustrated.

“The Italian journalists want to know if Senna suspects something’ going on at Benetton and he enigmatically says ‘one cannot speak of things which one cannot prove’.

“So the idea is on Thursday he’ already really troubled by what’ going on in Formula 1. He’ lost for two years in a row and it wasn’t his fault.

“Now everybody thinks he’ got the best car. Everybody knows he’ got the best engine, he should be walking it, instead he hasn’t finished the first two races and he’ never had a season like that.

“You’re telling a sad tale now and I think the biggest challenge there is to continue the theme of the previous two years. He hasn’t suddenly become a rubbish driver, he hasn’t suddenly been trounced by a guy who he beat 5-1 with the same engine the year before”.

Editing Imola 1994

But inevitably the need to manage the length of film and amount of FOM footage used meant the sequence had to be carefully edited. Pandey described some of the footage that was left on the cutting room floor:

“The original Imola [sequence] was more than double the length that you see now.

“I remember one shot I felt so sad to lose. On Saturday Senna is standing in the Williams garage and the camera just happened to catch him behind, and he’ watching JJ Lehto, a point-of-view shot, and Lehto’ going through Tamburello.

“So you’re Senna, looking at Tamburello, from a driver’ point of view shot on a monitor. Even talking about that now just gives me goosebumps: you’re looking at Senna looking at where he’ going to die in 24 hours.

“That’ the kind of decision that had to be made that gave us the minutes that we could then invest.”

A second editor was brought in to help make the tough decisions about what to cut, “just fillet everything out”, as Pandey says, “because every frame you’re seeing now is ten times more powerful than all the frames you’ve seen”.

One shot that was left in shows Senna reporting back to the team on the changes they made to the FW16 that weekend in an attempt to cure its chronic handling problems:

“When we went to FOM and we looked at the archive for the first time. We saw this footage of a conversation with Adrian Newey and David Brown.

“[Senna says] ‘the car is…’ and he bites his tongue, looks away, and then he has to make eye contact and says ‘…worse’.

“Paddy Lowe, from McLaren, saw the film and said “believe me we’ve all been there. The driver comes back, and you ask what’ going on and he says ‘well it’s oversteering and understeering’.”

“I have to be honest with you, it was very painful watching all of that and deciding just how little, in a way, we could get away with”.

That still left the problem of dealing with the most harrowing moment of all – Senna’s death. The next instalment of “The Making of Senna” looks at how that was done.

“The Making of Senna” continues tomorrow.

To ensure you don’t miss an instalment subscribe to F1 Fanatic for free via RSS, Twitter or our email subscription service. Click here for more information.

See the official website for more information on the film and the official Facebook page for a list of cinemas that are showing it.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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40 comments on “The Making of Senna part 7: Imola 1994”

  1. Without cinema time constraints, I’m sure they would have included the whole lot. :(

    1. Perhaps a Director’s Cut DVD will be made with the extra bits in.

      On a good news note; the small independent cinema in Bath is showing Senna so I’ve got my ticket ready to see it at 18:30 tomorrow!!

      1. I might be going there tomorrow too!

    2. Maybe I have been reading “wrongly” into Pandey’s comments, but I believe FOM was charging a substantial fee by the frame for every film clip that was used in SENNA.

      1. Hard to tell about a fee, but Bernie was certainly going to give up as little footage as possible here.

        1. inaglasshouse
          4th June 2011, 21:08

          No, I don’t think you are correct.
          I went to the screening in Soho last night, which included a Q&A with the producer and director. Manish Pandey made clear that Bernie was extremely accommodating, including giving access to his archive and allowing the deal to be re-negotiated (in a non-punitive way) when the film makers realised they needed more footage. More footage because the original intention had been to include “talking heads”, but they later decided a more powerful approach was to use only footage taken contemporaneously with events (no post-analysis).
          So let’s all say thanks to kind Bernie!
          Cheers, Richard.

          1. In this interview with Asif Kapadia is something about originally being limited to 40 minutes and paying GBP 30.000 per minute over that.

            Very nice read as well.

          2. Presumably that’s £30,000 per minute?

        2. Exactly (I do not have the Symbol for the British Pound on my Czech keybord. Does have nice extra characters though).

  2. I saw “Senna” yesterday and it was one of the most absorbing, engaging and harrowing films I’ve seen in a long, long while. You spend the film almost forgetting that he did died, and the scenes of Imola 1994 then remind you of how dark that weekend was.

    The story builds on this crescendo of immortality, of a demi god mesmerizing the world, of this clear genius, and then it brings this aura of invincibility crashing (literally in this case) to the ground. The scene with Imola is beautifully edited, extremely well done and it allows the watcher to really get a grip of the atmosphere and the circumstances surrounding the event

    Even if you have a modicum of interest in this sport, or Ayrton Senna himself, I Implore you to watch it. It really can’t be missed

    1. 100% agree. Also watched it yesterday, taking my girlfriend who I’ve continuously tried and failed to get into F1. She knew what was going to happen, but was in floods of tears at the end. When I asked why it affected her so much (she doesn’t normally show much emotion at films), her answer was simply “The rest of the film was so good, i forgot he dies”. And i have to say that whilst I didn’t forget, I didn’t think once about him dying, despite me expecting it to be there in my mind the whole time.

    2. Unfortunately all I could think about during the movie was how sad it was because I knew what was going to happen. I was on the verge of tears for the last half of it!

  3. wow, how many more of these articles are you writing Keith?!

  4. Keith, fascinating interview with Sid Watkins on talksport today about Ayrton Senna and safety in F1 in general, despite the obvious ineptitude of the hosts

  5. Stuart E Fiedler PE
    4th June 2011, 19:11

    Remember how great ‘Gone With the Wind’ is, but fails the Butt test at what, four (4) hours long? Or Schindler’s List?’ As an Industrial Film Photographer, licensed Professional (Mechanical) Engineer, Pilot, Diver, Engine / Race Car Builder, I implore seeking Quality. ‘The Making of Senna,’ will be a Sleeper (That’s a good thing.)

  6. I saw this film last night. It was okay, but not any better than any of the biography documentaries you see on TV several times a week.

    Did it really deserve a cinema release? I think it would have been more enjoyable on TV and possibly more successful there too.

    1. This is what keeps me from watching it at the cinema.

  7. I think an entire film dedicated to Imola 94 would quite possibly be the biggest tear jerker of all time. As the years go on you forget just how bad the WHOLE weekend was, not just Senna’s death.

    1. John Waggener
      4th June 2011, 21:16

      As was Monaco…

  8. SennaNmbr1 (@)
    4th June 2011, 19:41

    As much as I’ve liked this series, it does seem to focus on what was left out of the movie :(

  9. This is the best and worst part of the film.

    It comes up to Imola and you know what’s coming. But when you see Roland Ratzenberger your heart sinks. The Barrichello crash is ironically the worst of the lot, it made my physically shudder. Seeing Senna die, knowing it, actually didn’t affect me as much as what was to follow: the funeral. I’m not ashamed to admit the sequence had me in tears. The end is very, very clever.

    1. Every time I see Barrichello’s car in mid-air flying towards that wall (it’s in the trailer) I wince a little.

    2. did you also find that it was only when you get to imola that you start to think about what’s coming? What i thought was so brilliant was the way the film stops you thinking about the end, almost forgetting about it, but always building at the back of your mind until Imola where you suddenly think about it. I also found the build up through the whole weekend incredibly well done, to the point that I felt almost physically sick in the final moments before the accident.

      1. Whole-heartedly agree!

      2. exactly, great job by the films makers.

    3. Yes it’s weird that in a film about Senna my heart really sank when it cuts to Ratzenberger talking to his team about the car and a caption with “Roland Ratzenberger, Simtek Ford”.

    4. Gaston (@golarrazabal)
      5th June 2011, 5:45

      I was also very moved by the funeral. I hope not to spoil too much, but I thought that the editing of the funeral sequence -with the alternating footage- was downright brilliant. And then, even though one cannot say that the film is sympathetic to Prost, those final scenes in which he appears gave me the goosebumps big time.

      1. Thanks for posting that Prost interview the other day Gaston. A really good rea.

        1. Gaston (@golarrazabal)
          6th June 2011, 23:32

          Glad you found it interesting!

  10. John Waggener
    4th June 2011, 21:15

    Really a great, great movie….

  11. I’ve just got back in from watching the film in Soho, and it was the most overwhelmingly beautiful experience I’ve had.
    Prost says he hasn’t watched it because he’s ‘suspicious’ of it – well he’s been misinformed. Only on a superfluous level do he and Balestre come off badly. The film isn’t about rivalry or politics by the end; it’s an exploration into the potential difference one man can make in this world; a narrative, from the people who know most about it, that tells the story of the most remarkable man of recent history. What sets Senna apart from the likes of Muhammed Ali and Pele, is that while they transcended their sport, they did so knowing there was always a life afterwards. Senna kept his foot on the accelerator knowing that at any moment everything he enjoyed could be taken away. That everything was not just a World Championship or a pole-position but his life.
    Mas que un film, as the Catalans might say.

  12. chaostheory
    5th June 2011, 0:12

    “(…)we wanted you to forget that he died.”
    – I think theyve succeeded in that. For me the strongest moment of the movie was Brazil 1991; watching him win his home race, screaming on the radio, taking the Brazilian flag, and then passing out, worried face of Ron Dennis, the podium ceremony … I had tears in my eyes watching those scenes. And it sums the movie well: its about a human being, his life, his way, not his dead.

  13. Can someone please identify which crew shot the Imola garage/motorhome footage? It is incredible because it looks almost HD!

    Senna in Imola 1994 and HD quality. I would pay so much money to see all the film that was shot by that crew.

  14. Every single one of these articles has been amazing and has fueled my desire to see the film even more(if that’s possible!), but its still not out in the UAE!!!!

    1. They might do some to go with the GP at least? Quite a big wait then.

      1. I can’t wait till November! So I’ll have to get hold of a DVD when they go on sale…that’ll mean I miss the chance of seeing F1 cars on the big screen, which would be a great shame I’m sure.

        1. I already watched it online through a stream. Not much chance of getting it into the cinemas in the Czech Republic.

          I might get a chance to see it in the Netherlands or Germany, but not very likely that will work out as well.

  15. not sure if its in the film but he jumped the fence to see Rubens after his crash after the hospital staff denied him entry.

  16. I think this film can only be fully understood by fans.

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