The first time I asked for Senna’s autograph, it wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Maybe he looked a little curiously at the young teenager, whose arm was ringed with Silverstone press passes, pit passes and the like, to allow him to get near the drivers (although less than the number would be required a few years later). My sister worked for Marlboro, who sponsored everything that moved in motor racing at the time, which meant we had access to almost anywhere we liked. I half expected to be lining up on the front row of the grid when the lights turns green.
It was 1983 and Senna was winning – literally – every race in the 20 round Marlboro British Formula 3 Championship. Martin Brundle, though, former BBC commentator, stuck so close to him, finishing second with the odd first place, that I recall the Championship eventually went down to the wire. Petrol head colleagues of my sister told me Senna was special, a star in the making: he drove incredibly fast, and in an incredible way, doing most of the steering with his powerful left arm (for the rest of his career I struggled to identify Senna driving with one arm; maybe that was a bit of poetic licence on the petrol heads’ part). They insisted I go get his autograph whenever I saw him.
And so it was I approached Senna again just 2 weeks later, at the next Formula 3 round at Silverstone, and asked for his autograph again. This time – though it wasn’t much – he definitely looked me up and down. It took only a second or two, but seemed to say – he didn’t actually say it: you asking for my autograph again? Most people don’t even ask for it once (they didn’t – Senna walked around Silverstone almost unrecognised). What’s your game? D’you know – as I do – I’m going to be famous? Good for you! Well, anyway, here it is… He gave a wry smile, signed, and now I have two coveted Senna signatures on British Formula 3 programmes from 1983.
Why do I mention all this? Because a few days ago I watched the movie “Senna”. I thought it outstanding in many ways. Because it surely made a niche, sporting topic of universal appeal, bringing out Senna’s personal story and personality. Because it somehow managed to treat the whole subject sensitively, despite the intrusive nature of the footage they had from those days. Because the pace, appropriately enough, was so perfect throughout – for example, building up to but not dwelling on Senna’s death.
Of course, the film’s makers had top class material: the dual between Senna and Prost was legendary, and remains unrivalled in my time watching F1. But it doesn’t detract from a job well done, and also makes me extremely grateful to have met this clearly profound man – more than just a racing-driver – albeit for only a moment, and to his evident mild amusement.