Back in 2015, I began research for a movie about Ayrton Senna, one of the finest racing drivers the world has ever witnessed. There’s been several excellent documentary movies about Senna, including this one from 2011.
Our movie is different. It’s based on Aryton’s life but is fictionalized. We explore what it will take to find someone with his talent in our modern world.
After all, Ayrton Senna da Silva was a complicated man. Born into a wealthy family in Brazil, he was equal parts athletic, smart, fearless, and religious. And the wealth in his family allowed him to start racing at a very young age; racing seat time is a very important contributor to success.
Some have said that racing, and in particular, Formula 1 (F1), is a rich-person’s sport. There’s very little money in the lower ranks of racing, so to be successful you either need family wealth or sponsors. Today, the likelihood of sponsorships early in a driver’s career is almost nil, much like the music industry, so family wealth is an important factor to success.
But converting the financial wherewithal to success is something that most drivers have not been able to accomplish.
Where will the next Senna come from and what will be the person’s background? One, of the many questions we’ll try to answer in our film.
There’s other, more uncomfortable questions that we’ll dive into including the seemingly endless need for money to be successful in many interesting and worthwhile endeavours.
Which brings us to the underlying premise of our film: can an underdog from nowhere with little resources find success on the world-stage?
While our film does look at the life and motivations of Senna, it’s really an dramatic examination of the question so many of ask today: do we need to be born into to wealth to play a major role in benefiting humanity on the world-stage or is dedication to our craft and hard work still enough?
From a racing perspective, I’ve been studying what it takes to drive fast both from a concentration and physical perspective. This started with my training with the Skip Barber Racing School and then qualifying for my SCCA racing license.
At 120 MPH (193 KPH), you’re covering 53 yards (48 meters) per second. That’s half the length of an US football field every second. As Duck Waddle, one of my early race car driving coaches used to say while training with him at Sebring Racetrack in Florida “I can teach anyone to drive at up to 150 MPH; above that requires more concentration than most people will ever have.”
Here’s what 120 MPH looks like at the M1 Concourse racetrack in Michigan.
Sit in a car and drive around.
It doesn’t seem like racing is a sport in the true sense of sport. But try pulling 1 to 1.5 Gs for 10 turns per lap during 30 minutes at the M1 Concourse. Or an hour at Sebring. Or three hours at Indianapolis. At the M1, that’s 270 pounds (122 KG) per turn times 10 turns per lap. If takes approximately one minute to complete a lap, then you’re doing 300 side crunches with 270 pounds of weight during the course of 30 minutes. It turns out, race car drivers have to be in great physical shape. And then there’s the heat, lack of water, and food.
All the above applies except that the cars are traveling twice as fast and pulling between 4 to 5 Gs per turn.
Here’s a sense of what that looks like in Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes F1 car during his qualifying run at the 2017 Australian Grand Prix.
Which brings us back to Senna. Where will the next Senna come from?