“Ayrton Senna: Messiah of Motor Racing” reviewed

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The 2010 film Senna provided the motivation for Richard Craig to write this new biography of Brazil’s great F1 hero.

He seems to have mixed feelings about the the movie, which he describes as “fantastic” but also “hagiographic”, portraying Senna as “some sort of Christ in a crash helmet”.

In response, Craig wrote a book which he says “looks at both sides of Senna and explores why he and other celebrities who die young have so many of their misdemeanours smoothed over after their passing”.

This narrow conceit might be worthy of an entire book if it considered several similar subjects in sufficient detail. But after encouraging readers to “not adopt pink-hued ocular apparatus too quickly” The Messiah of Motor Racing quickly settles into the usual chronology familiar from a dozen other Senna books.

This is the latest addition to a market already saturated with Senna literature. My bookshelves seem to feature as many biographies on him as every other F1 driver combined.

Any new title on this subject needs to provide something that distinguishes it from what has gone before. This offers perspectives from Thierry Boutsen, journalist Mike Doodson and photographer Keith Sutton but there’s no compelling new insight.

The book weighs in at under 200 pages and the prose is briskly-paced but even so there’s too much filler. I enjoy the dry wit of Clive James in the eighties’ season review videos as much as anyone but I see no need to repeatedly quote it here.

There are some basic errors, too. The passage of 18 years since Senna’s death has apparently not been enough time to accurately count how many races he started (161, not 141). There’s no index (there is a bibliography without citations) but that hardly matters because the book doesn’t contain any new information.

Senna was neither a saintly paragon of virtue nor a lunatic with a death wish, and this has not been entirely overlooked by his previous biographers. Richard Williams’ excellent The Death of Ayrton Senna remains one of the most illuminating and balanced views of this divisive figure.

But Senna is one of those rare individuals who transcends the sport and deserves a scholarly biography which avoids the mawkish sentimentality of much previous literature on him. When one finally arrives, hopefully the steady drip of half-baked efforts will cease.

F1 Fanatic rating

Buy “Ayrton Senna: the Messiah of Motor Racing”

Ayrton Senna: The Messiah of Motor Racing

Author: Richard Craig
Publisher: Darton, Longman and Todd
Published: 2012
Price: ??8.99
ISBN: 9780232529104

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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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30 comments on ““Ayrton Senna: Messiah of Motor Racing” reviewed”

  1. Oh dear, sounds like one to miss then!

    I do agree with his premise though. I was/am a massive fan of Senna’s (my avatar is proof of that) but there are moments when I think that people really do forget his flaws and raise him up to some sort of god like figure. He was a fantastic racing driver, one of the all time greats, but he was no saint. He did as many questionable things both on (Portugal 88, Suzuka 90 to name but two) and off (vetoing Derek Warwick’s move to Lotus) the track, but many seem to completely ignore these and choose to focus on the myth. Manish Pandey seemed to take this view in “Senna”, during which I often thought “you aren’t really being fair and/or accurate here”, particularly in the manner in which Prost was depicted.

    1. Yeah, I felt that Prost was picked as the easy enemy to make the movie more compelling to movie goers that aren’t F1 fans. I can’t say that I blame him for refusing to watch the movie.

      1. He has seen it though and he wasn’t happy.

    2. Though a massive fan myself I completely agree with you GeeMac. But having spent a lot of time among working class or lower (read poor) Brazilians I also acknowledge that to them; he truly is a saint. Not only as a symbol of how to achieve absolute greatness through the power of will, but also because of the vast amounts he gave anonymously to charity in his lifetime along with the Instituto Ayrton Senna working in cooperation with schools, government, businesses, universities and NGO’s in order to create better opportunities for children and young people in Brazil.

      To many Brazilians Ayrton is a true saint and I think they deserve to hold him at that elevated status. That he remains a great source of inspiration to so many Brazilians to this day is not in any way limited by his flaws in life and we probably just have to accept that Brazil is large enough to effect the common view in the rest of the world.

      1. I fully appreciate that and I am a great admirer of his work off the track, but it does seem that some people use that as an excuse to gloss over some of the more questionable things he did.

    3. Yes, just the title is not very appealing. I Started watching F1 with my brother on that Suzuka race in 1998 when Prost and Senna collided in the chicane. Once I grasped what F1 was all about I became fan of Senna. And Prost and Mansell. Three relentless competitors of that era. Ayrton seemed to be very religious and a fierce competitor and shrewd businessman. He was a committed racer but the exaggeration that he is a god-like or a perfect human is ridiculous. His defects and virtues as a person made him appealing to me.

  2. Heh. Don’t hold back now @keithcollantine . Tell us how you really feel ;)

    1. Like: “This book got a second life and new function in my household…”

      1. “I’ll keep it just in case I run out of firewood”

        1. “I’ll keep it just in case I run out of toilet paper”

          1. “Dear, the dog did it again in the living room… where’s that book I didn’t like?”

  3. Dumbfounded by the Senna propaganda that still to this day, almost two decades after his death, continues to affect so many. I would never wish death or injury to ANY racing driver but felt that Ayrton more than any other driver of his generation raced closer to the fine line between living and dying. It seemed inevitable that he would pay the price for how he chose to race. His peers at the time were aware of his dangerous temptations and many at the time thought little of actions. Today those who revere him are mostly jumping onto the bandwagon in pursuit of a piece of his glory.

    Had he survived he would have had access to the best equipment and the best teams thus enabling himself to stack up victories and championships along with the enhanced mystic of his legend amongst fans.

    What we got instead were racetracks that reinvented themselves with ridiculous chicanes and modifications in the pursuit of safety which ultimately became their own undoing. Racecars that bore the fruit of changes that were all resultant of this mad drive towards safety. Through the ranks of the other professional levels of racing and also the lower ranks so much changed from that fateful day at Imola.

    Few athletic endevourments have ever had such change for a singular moment as our sport had from Sennas death. Like I already said I do not wish any harm to anybody who chooses to entertain me as drivers of Formula One do. My struggle is and always has been this making of Senna into something God like for what he did behind the wheel of a race car. He died doing what he loved and surely would rather be behind the wheel again today, but he roled the dice and paid the price.

    In my opinion he is still overated and nothing more than a man who tried to be the best at what he did.

    1. The safety crusade isn’t mad, it hasn’t detracted in car design atleast, and now we have heaps of exciting drivers like Madonardo and first lap nutcase thanks to this level of safety. We still retain quality like Alonso too so it’s not mad.

    2. That just doesn’t make any sense. The safety were already greatly improved by the time of his accident and in no way defined by it at all. The reason for the accident had nothing to do with dangerous driving and none of the later safety improvements could likely have saved him.

    3. would you say tha same for Ratzenberger ?

  4. Severe case of adulation.

    The End.

  5. The thing i admire about Ayrton, and what makes me look up to him, is the fact that he had those two separate facets in him. What he portrays as a racing driver and as a human is far more important. When you’re young and a teacher says something you ,something you don’t forget and see proof later on in life that is far more important than looking at that teacher’s flaws ? Flaws i have my own.

  6. He seems to have mixed feelings about the the movie, which he describes as “fantastic” but also “hagiographic”, portraying Senna as “some sort of Christ in a crash helmet”.

    Well, that just makes his choice of title – Ayrton Senna: Messiah of Motor Racing – plain bizarre. If he’s going to base his entire thesis on the idea that celebrities like Senna are no saints, why does his title make Senna out to be a messianic figure?

  7. I was in my early teens for those epic years of 86 87 88 89 and I never ever ever liked Ayrton for one second. The movie Senna was actually eye opening for me to see some of his attributes off the track. Watching F1 from the USA at that time, we were lucky to even get barely and interview and minor pre race activities. The fact that Ayrton gave a good majority of his riches to charity says a lot.
    The interview with Jackie Stewart in the movie was a WOW moment to say the least. I think Stewart has actually been looked at with the most perfect rosy glasses ever in the modern day anyways. The amount of deaths and serious injuries that were caused by his “armco” crusade has never really been talked about. Yes, armco probably saved more lives than a tree or lampost next to a circuit, but the armco was a killer in itself with many “submarining” under.

  8. Subtitlle – “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”.

  9. Wow, neither book today got a good review! It’s coming to that time of year where I can ask for an F1 book so I’ll have a browse through your other views. I’m thinking a picture book..

  10. While I am uncomfortable criticising someone who died so young I am appalled by the exaggerated view that Senna was the greatest F1 driver of all time. Yes he was an outatanding driver but he wasn’t the greatest. The BBC have been running a series of the best drivers and with Fangio at no 2 it is obivious that they will announce Senna as no I in the next installment. This is outtrageous. Clark, Fangio, Prost and Schumacher should have been ahead of him in my view. He had little or no respect for his competitors and his premeditated crash with Prost in Suzuka is the single most disgraceful act of cheating in F1 ever IMHO. No responsability was taken for it and the blame was attributed to everyone but the culprit Senna. It was put down to tthe fact that he was an emotional driver, well that isn’t a reasonable excuse and he should have been disqualified. By not doing so the wrong message was sent out to younger drivers like Schumacher who emulated his ruthless approach in later years. We are all responsible for our actions and Senna was no different. His flaws prevent him from being the greatest to my mind and it has to be said that the same applies to Schumacher, although I rate him higher than Senna. To mind mind Jim Clarke is the standout greatest Driver in F1 history for all the right reasons. It’s about time the F1 media stopped jumping on the Senna bandwagon for sensationlist, innaccurate over the top exaggeration of his talent while ignoring his very serious flaws.

    1. I think you would get a lot further with your view if your post was somewhat balanced instead of just negative. The fact is that “best driver” will never be an exact science and for a major TV channel to crown the most popular driver of all time is certainly not outrageous.

      Ayrton had such a magnetic appeal from his highly emotional and grand hearted soul, contradicted by his fiercely competitive mindset that he was a legend already in his lifetime. This was compelling not only to the media but to the masses as well.

      To state that the crash at Suzuka was a disgraceful act of cheating is a quite narrow view and if you wish for the media not to ignore Senna’s flaws, perhaps you should stop ignoring the facts: Remember that the French FIA president chose to swap “his” P2 qualified driver to the clean side of the track, essentially robbing Senna from the pole he had earned. This was the true disgrace that Ayrton rightly refused to accept and chose to act against.

      He merely reacted to a serious injustice and to claim that this was worse than Schumacher’s deliberate blocking at Monaco, Bristore’s organized cheating or even the spy scandal is just too simple for me. But to blame Ayrton for Schumacher and other’s style is actually ridiculous, especially followed directly by: “we are all responsible for our own actions”.

      Whether Senna was indeed “the best” is a pointless discussion that you will never win. You can argue forever about his skills but the fact remains that he was incredibly exiting to watch, which paired with his winning personality gave him immense impact on the mind of the masses as the greatest, which is simply what the media reflects.

      I think it is great that you find Clark your personal number one but I would have much preferred to hear why that is case, as I was two months old when he died and I actually happen know much more about Fangio than Clark.

      1. Yes it was worse than Schumacher in Monaco because it was premeditated while Schumacher’s move was opportuinistic. To justify what Senna did at Suzuka by saying he was reacting to an injustice is nonsense IMO, He was stirring up the situation to create an advantage for himself and when he couldn’t beat Prost on the track he took him out. Prost was the innocent party and Senna should have been disqualified, full stop. So at least one of his WDC’s is tainted, Schumacher was punished for his indiscretions. Off track Senna was an admirable, generous driver. On track he was as ruthless as anyone who ever sat in a car with probably only Schumacher to match him in that respect. I regard Briatore’s actions as much worse than anything Schumacheer or Senna ever did and I’m surprrised you brought it up as he’s not a driver and not really relevent in this context.

        1. Ok, so it is hereby declared “nonsense” to claim it injustice when the presidency of a major sports institution alters the rules in the last minute to greatly favor his preference in the most obvious way? Accept it or be disqualified? Obviously he was not disqualified because it would rightfully have cased a major scandal but it was certainly opportunistic of him to take that risk. If the WDC was tainted it was by the institution, not by Senna.

          But how exactly was Schumacher’s move opportunistic if Senna’s was not though? They were exactly the same: preventing the rival from taking points if he could not – except for the small difference that Senna was only taking back what was stolen from him while Schumacher had no other reason but tainted morals.

          I was including Briatore and the spy scandal because you said: “the single most disgraceful act of cheating in F1 ever” which makes them very relevant indeed.

          1. Fair point on Briatore, I meant drivers on track. Engineering an accident on track is completely unacceptable and is a line when crossed brings heavy penalties as the Briatore affair shows.
            That is the linee Senna Crossed.

  11. Well I am not trying to “win” anything just putting my dissagreement with the BBC’s listing him as the greatest. Jim Clarks understanding of his car and how he translated it to his engineer(Colin Chapman) was pure genius. Michael Schumacher is the closest of the modern drivers IMHO. I totally respect Senna as a driver and I admire his charity work, I just don’t regard him as the greatest. If I was to judge him on the emotional impact he had on the sport then he certaily has the greatest impact. But in his era Prost was the outstanding driver and the better one IMO.
    I haven’t seen the movie and I don’t intend to watch it and reviews I have read have indicated a bias that I have no interest in. I agree with you that the “greatest ever ” tag is a subjective one anyway so why apply it. If you look at the BBC’s list you will see that Prost is way down the list and that is dissrespectful to him. Results against opponents in a particular era is a more accurate way to pass judgement in my view.

    1. Any fan of F1 that has not seen the movie is truly missing out. Regardless of opinions on Senna. Just for the on track footage alone it is worth it. I hope you reconsider.

  12. According to you review, the book is not worth buying! Too bad, I wanted to buy it as a Christmas gift for a friend. However, the 2010 movie was really a masterpiece, I loved it!

  13. this book was pretty enjoyable until the part were mr craig informs us that the cause of ayrtons crash was oversteering due to loss of grip?how bloody narrow minded and blinkered can this guy be??the evidence is there for all to see the fact is ayrtons car steered a STRAIGHT line into the wall due to steering failure…look at the footage from schumachers car STRAIGHT line ..whether it was the column breaking we will never know .the f1 circus closed ranks to protect itself .i.e.the Williams black box mysteriously being whisked away and coming back useless however the Renault black box was intact?the strangky missing last 2 seconds of in car footage that would have shown ayrton turning the wheel in ernest..the 4 centemetres of play in ayrtons steering that wasn .nt there in the practice sessions and that david coulthardsayed at the trial was normal??? and we all know about the welded column with the metal fatigue need I say more ..yet this guy disagrees with all the f1 drivers that that drove the track that you only go of at tamburella when the car breaks>>>someday we will know the truth!!!!

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