As the title suggests, the backbone of Tony Dodgins’ book is a series of accounts of every race Ayrton Senna took part in, from karting, through the junior formulae, to Formula 1. These are interspersed with interviews with key personalities, and longer accompanying pieces.
There’s generous photography throughout, and it’s printed on very handsome paper. These things matter for a coffee table book of this stature – it’s approximately the size and weight of a typical coffee table – and price.
It’s a successful format, particularly for the pre-F1 years. The race reports broadly concern themselves with just the facts, personal perspectives on events coming separately in contributions from the people involved.
With Senna having taken on a different championship every year, there are several new faces to offer contrasting views on each season – rivals, team owners and so on. The Formula 3 season is the obvious highlight, with contributions from the likes of Martin Brundle and Dick Bennetts.
In those early chapters readers are largely left to piece things together for themselves, and draw their own conclusions. That changes somewhat in the F1 years, the author more widely offering his opinion on events. The shift in tone jars somewhat at first, but was probably unavoidable given the controversy around a lot of what went on.
Nevertheless, the format remains effective. The race reports for the most part remain admirably concise, and largely avoid trying to describe specific racing action – which is hopeless in the written word. There are some longer reports, of course, but only where it’s called for.
If there’s a criticism of the race reports, it’s that there’s an occasional overuse of numbers in the prose. Sentences full of qualifying lap times to three decimal places aren’t desperately easy to read and digest; gaps between times are also used, and work better.
With relatively little variation in personnel from season to season, there’s not the same array of fresh perspectives in each chapter that there is earlier in the book. There are plenty of contributions, however, with some nice incidental anecdotes supplementing discussion of the key events. The other longer pieces add welcome background and detail, even if much of it is familiar – and indeed some of it is drawn from the archives.
The book has been published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Senna’s death. The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix is covered in appropriate detail, but the book neither dwells on nor is dominated by those tragic events and the subsequent court case; a similar amount of space is devoted to the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, for example. The final contribution comes from trainer Josef Leberer, who knew Senna well, and whose career-wide recollections bring the book to a satisfying close.
It’s a novel approach to documenting a driver’s career, and comes together as something of a high end scrapbook. It’s eminently dip-in-able, as a coffee table book should be, but also stands up to more sustained consumption. Though it’s a story that has been told many times and in many ways, it covers the ground well, and the approach throws up enough new insight and detail to justify spending time with it – and the attention given to Senna’s early racing life is particularly welcome.
AYRTON SENNA: ALL HIS RACES By Tony Dodgins, Foreword by Martin Brundle
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