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.”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.