On Senna and Ferrari World…

Ever since I arrived back from Abu Dhabi, a week ago, I have been flat out writing and it is only now that I have finally had some free time when there was not something else to be done. It is really a very pleasant feeling. I can think of a million things that need to be done because I have been on the road for the best part of nine months, but these things have to be done step by step.

There are a couple of things that I wish to catch up with: the first is the Ayrton Senna movie which I saw in Sao Paulo; the second is the Ferrari theme park in Abu Dhabi.

I was not quite sure what I was going to make of the Senna movie, because For me Senna is not a historical figure but someone I remember well – and have missed more than a bit – since his death in 1994. Senna was special. In fact, it was a special era and I do not write that with 20-20 hindsight. I felt it at the time. In November 1993 I wrote the following piece, probably when I was in Adelaide.
I cannot remember who it was for, but it tells the story.

“Twenty years from now racing fans will look back at the late 1980s and early 1990s as a great era when two huge talents, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, met head-on in Formula 1. In other eras each would have dominated as Jackie Stewart or Niki Lauda did, but the fact that their careers have been so closely intertwined has made them a double-act which will not be forgotten.

“It is always difficult to put drivers into historical perspective but the Senna/Prost rivalry will probably be compared to that of Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Varzi in the 1930s or to the Stirling Moss/Juan-Manuel Fangio duel in the 1950s.

“The difference is that the sport has changed and the nature of modern F1 creates a world where drivers can rarely be friends. The sport has grown to become an extraordinary business with enormous coverage – largely thanks to television – and the global awareness has created huge funding. This has created extraordinary pressures on the leading names, but at the same time has made them rich beyond their wildest dreams. Senna and Piquet have probably made as much as US$60-70 million apiece with Prost, Mansell and even Gerhard Berger not far behind. The result of all this is that the stars have lived in very rarified worlds, divorced from down-to-earth reality. This has often created a sense of paranoia that the world is out to get them. Prost and Senna have both suffered from this and it has often fuelled misunderstanding which in past years would have been settled with a quiet chat. Once, in Hungary, the pair sat down in the Elf motorhome and had a long chat and realised that they were very alike. Perhaps too much so, but the entente could not survive the aggressive competitiveness of the race track.

“At the same time both Senna and Prost can rightly claim to have been victims of media hype which has often whipped up their fights.

“In an age where winning is everything and the paddocks of F1 are full of people who are not trustworthy, drivers have to be sharp and ruthless to make it to the top. Both Senna and Prost have proved that they wre willing to do what was necessary to succeed. Things were not helped by the fact that advancing technology meant that more than ever being in the right car was what really mattered.

“And so after their falling out in 1989 they never drove together again, which is a shame because their talents, so finely-balanced, produced some great races before the split.

“The ruthlessness and darker sides of both men has too often been allowed to submerge the nicer sides of Alain and Ayrton. Both have done things over the years which they probably regret. Both have fervent fans and bitter critics.

“They have always been very different characters. Senna is a Latin with a tendency – seen most recently in Suzuka – to flare up, while Prost, the Professor, thinks before he acts and weighs up the pros and cons of his actions. Senna is explosive, Prost inexorable. That shows up in their driving as well: Senna is the ace qualifier and big risk taker; Prost collects fastest laps in races and pressures his rivals into mistakes.

“The incident which started outright war between them was at Suzuka in 1989 when Prost deliberately drove into Senna and won the world title. A year later Senna took his revenge, returning the compliment.

“But it is nice to see that their competitive relationship has ended on an upbeat and dignified note. Too often in the past they have not behaved like champions when perhaps they should have done but, ironically, in the modern F1 world to become a champion there are times when you have to play dirty.

“They are both great champions and as the years pass, much of the bitterness they feel may slide away and it is not impossible that they will even end up as friends – as they were back in 1988.”

Suzuka 1989. World © Sutton
Seventeen years later the rivalry between the two men is the main theme of the Senna movie and, to be quite honest, I think that the film was fair to both men. It shows them as they were.

The problem with making a 101-minute documentary about Senna is that there is so much source material that everyone is going to think that something was left out. The production team admitted that some tough decisions had to be made and I must say that I thought it was wrong to drop everything between karting and Formula 1, but I understand why they did it and, from a cinematic point of view, it was probably the right thing to do. There were also commercial considerations which were probably necessary to get the film made. One of them was the use of much footage from an American commentator, which will make the film more acceptable in the USA. Some might say that there was also a lot of Japanese footage, but then much of the Prost-Senna story happened in Japan.

I think the key point, in addition to whether it was a good depiction of the people involved, was that the movie allowed Senna to tell his own story, without the need for a narrator. This worked very well and footage from the Formula One group and from the Senna family both helped to show what Senna was really like. There is no sugar-coating, no schmaltzy sentimentalism and that is how it should be. I don’t know when the film is going to open in Europe or in America, but I recommend it highly to those who want to know more about the man. The production team of writer Manish Pandey, BAFTA and Cannes-winning director Asif Kapadia and producer James Gay-Rees deserve all the recognition that hopefully they will receive, and good for Working Title films for having the gumption to hope that a niche subject like Formula 1 can be appreciated in the mainstream.

I wish I could be as positive about the Ferrari World theme park. I found this vast construction to be rather less impressive than the building suggests. I have trouble understanding the logic behind the red roof as every time I have been in Abu Dhabi it has looked dirty and dusty and not at all the bright shiny red that one expects to see when one thinks of Ferrari.

Having been involved in the now-defunct F1X project in Dubai, I had done a lot of homework about what a racing-related theme park might include and I ended up being rather disappointed. It had all the necessary rides, restaurants and merchandising (What would Enzo Ferrari have made of a toy camel with a Ferrari hat?) and there were a few very good ideas, but on the whole I feel it failed to get me excited about Ferrari.

Nor did it really educate me about the glamour of the Ferrari brand. It all seemed rather flimsy and lightweight and completely lacking in the kind of passion one would expect. I thought the Racing Legends section, which was a ride through the Ferrari history in a rather clunky sleigh on rails, was a completely wasted opportunity, although the one saving great grace was some spectacular computer-generated imagery of Ferrari sports cars on the 1960s. I was amazed by the fact that one would hardly have known that Gilles Villeneuve existed…

I am told that the rollercoasters were good, although they are not really my thing. I saw some pictures of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso riding one with their faces suitably distorted and I am glad I did not have a go. I prefer my features (and organs come to that) to be in the right places as often as possible. The simulators will be popular but the through-put of people will be such that getting a go on one will be quite an achievement, if the park ever attracts the kind of visitor numbers that it hopes to attract.

The V12 water ride (right), which takes the fans through the internals of an engine on some form of boat, had some potential to be interesting but, alas, it was closed with a technical problem when I showed up. If I knew nothing about Ferrari before I entered the building, I fear that I would have left wondering why it is that Italians get so excited about the Ferrari brand.

To my mind, therefore, Ferrari World was a great idea, poorly executed. Nonetheless, you can find a map of Ferrari World here.

Still, it is better than F1X, which currently sits beneath growing piles of sand. I would show you a photograph of that but you need to go to the Union Properties website to see that.

36 thoughts on “On Senna and Ferrari World…

  1. Joe, I’d be interested to read more of your thoughts about the F1X project if you ever get the time to blog about it.

    1. Paul,

      I doubt I can be bothered. They wanted everything to happen YESTERDAY, but when it came to signing a contract it was always TOMORROW. In the end they managed to not bother paying me. Sweet. F1X was a great idea, REALLY badly executed.

  2. Joe,
    Thanks for what sounds like a balanced view of the Senna film. I’ve heard it will be released in Europe in June next year.
    I have viewed and read most of what there is about Senna and I am fascinated and expectant to see this new material to find if there is anything “new”.
    One thing I would ask you. In an article in Bernie Ecclestone’s F1 magazine entitled something like “The Best Ever F1 Lap” you described the build up to Sennas first lap of the European GP at Donington in the rain. In that article you mentioned him going to his hotel window on the morning of the race and seeing the rain and then going into a “spiritual mode”. I wonder, can you expand on this. I have an idea what it might have been but would like some confirmation. Email if you wish.
    The above is from memory as I kept that copy of the magazine separate from the others so I wouldn’t lose it. I’ve lost it!

    1. RobbieMeister,

      My name was on the article. That does not mean I wrote it. In that particular case, the editor at the time always knew better than the people he employed and wrote whatever he wanted to write. After getting upset in the first month I decided that the whole thing was a pack of cards that would not last long, so the logical thing to do was to take the money and let them do what they wanted. (Yes, the money WAS that good – I have never had a deal like it!).

      Since then I have learned a little more about protecting the brand and do not work for such people.

      so I decided to take the money (which was spectacular) as long as lasted. It did not last long.

  3. Strange to hear the roof looks dirty when you are actually there, on TV it looks magnificent. There cant be many viewers left in doubt as to what that particular building is.

    That surely has to be the whole point.

    As for the movie it cant be released here soon enough for me. Early June was the UK release date last I read, although theres clearly plenty of time of plans to change.

  4. Having paid my AED195 and visited Ferrari World over the GP weekend, I can only agree with your overall assessment. I did get to ride ‘Formula Rossa’ and, while such thrills, like you, are not my thing, I can confirm it was insane and worth much of the price of admission. Seeing two people come back having fainted on the ride prior to my boarding certainly heightened the anticipation.

    Given they’re in what they say is a ‘soft opening phase’, and it was fairly quiet during my visit, it did mean the queues weren’t too bad. When the price of admission goes up and the queues lengthen, I cannot see how they’ll cope. Staff training throughout the facility has obviously been minimal and everything was run at a disorganised snails pace. Taking five minutes to load 16 passengers onto a two minute ride is painful to experience. The Food & Beverage outlets struggled to cope when there was a rush of more than five customers. Actually, ‘struggle’ is being kind….. it was a disaster! I say this having been in the Food & Beverage industry for over 15 years.

    Re. the V12 Water Ride? Pathetic would be the best descriptor of the experience. I mean it really was, how can I put it kindly? CRAP! I’m not surprised it was closed during your visit, given it’s got a monumental leak that means much of the area where visitors queue to ride it was under a few cm of water. Only by the park being quiet during my visit allowed them to bypass that area.

    I’m glad I went but, as you said, given the length of time they’ve had to put the place together, the lack of historical Ferrari exhibits was highly disappointing and a huge mistake on their part. It was that part I was most looking forward to exploring. You get the sense, at the moment, that they are just an after thought to give people something to look at between r

    Would I visit again? Maybe; in a year or two; give them the benefit of the doubt and all that, but I certainly wouldn’t pay the proposed AED225 unless there was a vast improvement to the non-ride attractions.

  5. I dunno, I’m a pretty massive Ferrari fan, but all their mass-market commercial forays have seemed really cheap.

    Quite antithetical to the brand itself.

    If you look at the way Apple goes about its marketing, it’s attention to detail, it’s amazing what they achieve. Their products are quite expensive for what they are, but they are cohesive with their brand. And even if they perhaps give away on technical fronts to their rivals, the apparent quality trumps it.

    Apply this to the Ferrari retail stores, their merchandise is visibly cheap and nasty. Their clothing is not of the quality one would expect given the price tag.

    How you describe Ferrari world, sadly, seems a continuation of this.

    I saw McLaren recently acquired some retail premises near Knightsbridge. I may not be his number 1 fan, but with his sort of maniacal attention to detail and deft commercial awareness, Ron Dennis could well show Ferrari how it is done properly.

  6. Ah, the fun of freelancing. Some you win, most you lose. I guess that’s why you do your own thang, long may you keep your interesting, informed and independent prose flowing. As soon as I stop getting the same treatment as you did with F1X I’ll get a subscription to Grand Prix +, a super-human feat of super-fast journalism if ever there is one.

    I think you may have ruminated on this before, but why on earth isn’t there a proper Hall of Fame for Grand Prix racing? Bernie has at least 24 cars (the ones that appeared in Bahrain recently) spanning the Auto Union days to the 1980s. They sit in Biggin Hill gathering dust. He’s a money-man with a racing heart, surely putting them on display is a no-brainer? Donington has a stunning (albeit shrinking) selection of racing cars too.

    Why not have them all together in a Nascar-style Hall of Fame adjacent to a circuit where there could be daily displays of them in action? An enhanced and re-branded Donington museum seems a logical place to do it, although the under-subscribed ‘shopping mall’ at the Nurburgring would also be great. There they have two circuits old and new so they could drive a rotating roster of the cars daily while still getting plenty of business from track days, testing and racing.

    I firmly believe that a rollercoaster is not the answer, there should be a proper place to appreciate Grand Prix racing 100-plus years of history.

    I can’t wait for the Senna movie, I’m on the verge of tears just watching the trailer! Like you say, it was palpable that we were watching greatness – the myth was very real, not manufactured after the event. And that for me was merely through a TV screen, I can only imagine the feeling for those that shared a paddock with Alain and Ayrton. The format of the documentary is exactly what I hoped for. I distinctly remember sitting with my parents, the three of us bleary-eyed watching the press-conference after the 1991 race at Suzuka as Senna engagingly explained his actions of a year earlier. We remarked as he spoke that you could make a film out of Ayrton’s life without any need for a narrator…

  7. “Prost deliberately drove into Senna and won the world title”. Really? I don’t think so.
    Prost said before this race that he had moved over for Senna before in order to avoid a crash, but that he wouldn’t (couldn’t) in this race.
    Senna always had a “let me pass or we crash” attitude – not just in F1 but throughout his career.
    Senna did to Prost, what Vettle did to Webber this year.
    Webber did not yield and was right not to do so.
    Senna, like Schumacher thought/think themselve bigger than the game they played. They think/thought they were allowed to play to a different set of rules as everybody else.
    Prost was a gent – Senna never was.

  8. Wow, that might explain something! I remember reading an article of yours (I must confess I forget which one) in that magazine back in the day and thinking “You know what…this isn’t up to his usual standard…”

    Now all is clear!

    Don’t worry though, the “brand damage” was minimal…especially as the magazine folded soon afterwards as you said.

  9. While waiting on a release date for the Senna movie for Australia…

    I used to think the same way as you about that crash but having revisited it numerous times and hearing the opinions of both drivers, I’ve changed my mind about it. My thought on it is that Prost placed his car in a position that meant that Senna was going to crash into him or back out (and Senna was never going to back out). It was more Prost’s fault than Senna’s in many respects, mostly showing how Prost was always thinking 10 steps ahead of everyone else. You can see Prost moving over to vaguely cover and show intention as Senna approached, then start to turn into the corner (again quite deliberately).

    I’m not surprised by Ferrari world as I’ve found most theme parks that are about a brand, as opposed to being about rides, tend to be rather poor on improving the brand. At least the Ferrari brand is likely to still be relevent in 10 years time, unlike Harry Potter (who will have had his day by then and will merely be fondly remembered while we wait for the movie remakes to appear).

  10. Hi Joe, in reading the piece you wrote 17 years ago, it is obvious to me that your understanding of the characters , the drivers and F1 in general were as complete then as now, great article, keep up the balance (as always)

  11. Joe, thanks for the part about Senna. To me, Senna was a tragic hero in every sense; trying to fight for justice in a corporate world with a biased FIA president. He was hard but not unfair. One of many greatness about him is that his teammates did not have to yield to him. Sure, he had some that were not at his level but when he did, he fought them to the best that he could.

    I started watching F1 in the mid 80s and I cannot say how lucky I am to have experienced that era.

  12. Joe,

    On reading this part of your post:

    This has often created a sense of paranoia that the world is out to get them. Prost and Senna have both suffered from this and it has often fuelled misunderstanding which in past years would have been settled with a quiet chat. Once, in Hungary, the pair sat down in the Elf motorhome and had a long chat and realised that they were very alike. Perhaps too much so, but the entente could not survive the aggressive competitiveness of the race track.

    . . . I felt it was very relevant to the Red Bull rivalry we saw in 2010. Not the characters of the individual drivers, which seem very different, but certainly how the atmosphere of F1 can blow rivalries out of proportion.

    Interesting post as usual, thanks.

  13. Interesting review on the Senna film and so far the only one I have read that hasn’t implied that Prost has been (very) hard done by. I am looking forward to seeing it.

    Whilst I understood Senna’s greatness, I could never like him. In fact, I must admit I always felt a good degree of dislike towards him. Conversely, I always quite liked Prost.

    But clearly Senna was not trying to be liked. He was trying to win and he was ruthless in that aim, much in the way that Schumacher later employed ALL means at his disposal to get on the top step.

    I never met either Prost or Senna of course. This is just an F1 fan’s personal persepctive.

  14. Philcee:
    I wonder if you heard an edited version of Senna’s press conference at Suzuka. He didn’t know it was going out live to 100,000+ fans still at the track, many of whom had some understanding of English, and used words not appropriate to public occasions …

    He apologised to the fans later when he was told.

  15. Hopefully, we can see the Senna film in the states. Probably, will have to wait until it is on DVD.

    For me the Senna and Prost era was and is still is the most exciting era of F1. It is not because of the bitter rivalry between the two – but rather these two were in a league of their own. A special time.

    In closing, I will say this about Senna… I will never forget him putting that MP4/5 in Canada 1989 in the rain on slicks and keeping it there w/out “gizmos”.

  16. Joe:

    As I recall, we sat in the press room both mesmerized and also quietly appalled that it was going out to the public. No-one dared to interrupt Ayrton in full flow, even the FIA people, and of course we wanted to hear the whole story. I was one of those (few) who had been sceptical that Ayrton deliberately shoved Prost off, because to me it had looked more like a racing incident. How wrong I was …

    Another vivid memory of Suzuka was Ayrton’s sister addressing the crowd in Portuguese, English – and Japanese – at the 1994 race, thanking the Japanese fans for their devotion to Ayrton.

  17. Joe – Thanks so much for the Senna review. Like LeighJW I was a Prost fan at the time, thinking him a bit more “ethical” than Senna, but one couldn’t help being fascinated by Senna’s skill and personality. I also agree with your assessment that this was a golden era for F1. The only seasons that have come close since then were the monumental battles between Schmuacher/Hakkinen and perhaps more importantly their teams. A shame that era didn’t last a bit longer. While this year may have been close and exciting, there was definitely the lack of any sense of seeing future legends operating at the peak of the powers that the vintage years of F1 produce. I can’t wait to see the film. Thanks again.

  18. It was the Senna vs Prost era that got me completely fanatical about F1 as a young teenager. I was a Schumacher fan by 1991 but when Senna died I felt disillusioned and my interest in Schumi and F1 wandered. Here I am now older and working in the F1 circus but I wonder how it would have been like working during the Senna era.

  19. That place looks a bit Millenium Dome to me…

    Can’t wait for the film. If only we’d had Senna vs Schumacher for the rest of the 1990s…

  20. Joe,

    That was a brilliant piece of work you wrote twenty years ago. And all of it is so true. I always look back on that F1-era.

    For me it was the most incredible era of grand prix racing. The battle between these two greats, the rivalry, the personality’s, the racing… it was a blast.

    And you already knew it was special twenty years ago. You we’re sooo right.


  21. Canehan, if what I heard was edited then it must have been one loooooonnnnnggg answer to a question! I don’t remember it being offensive so I must indeed have seen an edited version, but I do remember thinking I’d never heard somebody in the public eye give such a long, honest and passionate response on such a tough subject before. I went from respecting Senna to adoring him. It did help that he sportingly gave Gerhard the win that day, the most sporting move in a Grand Prix since Gilles and Jody in my book.

    Although Senna made the odd mistake that took out other drivers (Hungary 1990, Adelaide 1992 and Monza 1993 for example) it remained that the first corner at Suzuka was probably the only shunt he intended to happen. That he felt so passionately about his actions and believed them to be correct from his point of view is a world away from the drivers of today.

    Nowadays they save the juicy stuff for their autobiographies and feed us little more than ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when asked about their race. That was fine coming from Mika as he delivered it so with perfect comic timing, the rest need to find their voice! Or at least cry a little more! Indy became more than a race to me when after the astounding 1992 event Al Jnr trails off from the thanking of sponsors, looks to the sky and says with tears in his eyes, “You don’t know what Indy means…”

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