Monday, 1 May 2017

Ayrton Senna: The Last Night

I'll let you into a little secret. The moment I pick up a sporting biography I immediately turn to the photo sections of the book. From a young age I loved nothing more than analysing the minutest detail of every picture, picking out the expressions of the athletes involved, and assessing the mental state of the protagonists and spectators.

Therefore, when I was asked to review Ayrton Senna: The Last Night, I jumped at the chance. A photographic portrait of the great man's career, the book, edited by Giorgio Terruzzi, contains over 150 images taken by Ercole Colombo, covering Senna's journey from Formula Three to his three Formula One world championships, and, as the book title indicates, the tragic events of Imola 1994.

Flicking through the book, I was immediately transported back to Sundays of my childhood; the photos of Senna's black (and later yellow) Lotus, and red and white McLaren, reminders of an era of such excitement in the sport. The first chapter contains a variety of action shots, including Senna taking the chequered flag at Hockenheim and Detroit in 1988, along with podium celebrations, and some in-race shots.

Chapter two, entitled 'So different, so alike', highlights Senna's rivalry with his McLaren team-mate Alain Prost, with particular attention focused on the race at Imola in 1989, when the Brazilian broke an agreement with Prost, and overtook his colleague. Their coming together at Suzuka in 1989 and in 1990, are obviously integral to the book, with the photos of Colombo painting a thousand words.

It was not just Senna's tussles with Prost that are caught on camera. In the 'Dear enemies' chapter, we get to see just how spoilt we were back in the 80s and 90s. A quite brilliant image of Senna, Prost, Nigel Mansell, and Nelson Piquet sat on a wall at Estoril during the heated battle for the 1986 world title illustrates what a fine era it was for Formula One, with other key figures such as Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher also included.

My favourite section of the book is undoubtedly the 'Holy Water' chapter that covers Senna's stunning ability whilst driving in wet conditions. Colombo manages to get the money shot of Senna punching the air as he crosses the line to mark his memorable first Formula One victory in atrocious weather at Estoril in 1985, prompting me to hastily visit YouTube to watch a replay of the race.

In my opinion, the final chapter is Colombo's finest work, though. Looking back at the tragic weekend at Imola in 1994, the photographer manages to portray the emotions of Senna as the death of Roland Ratzenberger shocked the sport. Through Colombo's excellent images, we see Senna looking distant, worried, pensive, his eyes are glazed and sad. A key insight into the last few days of Senna's life that was tragically cut short on May 1, 1994.

Sadly it is only in retrospect that you appreciate what you had, and as a sports enthusiast growing up in the 1980s, Formula One was a dream to watch. Ayrton Senna played a significant role in the sport during the decade, and if you are a fan of Formula One, or know someone who is, then I strongly recommend that you purchase Ayrton Senna: The Last Night.

An ideal coffee-table book for lovers of sport, Formula One, and photography, the combined work of Terruzzi and Colombo provides a fascinating pictorial tale of the motor racing legend of Ayrton Senna. As someone who followed his career with great interest, it was a privilege to be asked to review the book, and has whetted my appetite to find out more about the great man.

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