Handling the controversial and tragic aspects of Michael’s life with kid gloves prevents Schumacher from reaching the echelons of truly great sports documentaries.
The latest in a run of feature length Formula 1 documentaries that can be traced back to 2010’s Senna, Schumacher was co-directed by Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker and Michael Wech. Now streaming on Netflix, the film was produced by Nöcker and Benjamin Seikel with the involvement of the Schumacher family.
Opening with Michael’s debut at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, the film travels back to his karting days (there’s a great interview with a young Michael talking about racing for Luxembourg instead of Germany because it was cheaper) before largely focusing on the period from his Benetton titles through to his first championship for Ferrari.
Archival footage is generously splashed throughout, with period commentary from the likes of Murray Walker. The 90s footage looks great upscaled to HD—thank goodness Bernie Ecclestone is no longer in charge and filmmakers can more readily access FOM’s archives (under Bernie’s regime, the producers of Crash and Burn were quoted £30,000 per minute of archival footage),
That footage is spliced amongst family home videos—Michael singing ‘My Way’ at karaoke, holidaying with the family—archival interviews with Michael himself (his candid post-Imola ’94 comments are fascinating), and interviews with the likes of Bernie Ecclestone, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt as well as the Schumacher family: father Rolf, brother Ralf, wife Corinna and children Mick and Gina.
More interesting is who isn’t interviewed. Of Michael’s ten living teammates, only Eddie Irvine pops up. No Benetton teammates, no Rubens Barrichello, no Nico Rosberg. And while Mika Hakkinen and Damon Hill are interviewed, Schumacher’s more bitter rivals—Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya—are M.I.A.
The absence of input from drivers who may have had more critical perspectives on Schumacher’s career highlight the movie’s failure to tackle the ultimate Michael Schumacher question: how could someone so warm, so kind and so generous off the track (while it’s not covered in the movie, Schumacher donated $10 million to victims of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami) be so utterly ruthless on it?
The loving father and husband (“He’s simply the most lovable person I have ever met” says Corinna early in the film) is the same man who squeezed Rubens Barrichello towards a concrete wall at 180mph and deliberately ‘crashed’ his car at Rascasse in a bid to cheat his way to pole position in 2006.
Neither incident exists in the universe of Schumacher. He also gets off lightly for his Adelaide 1994 crash, with Hill pondering whether he’d have done the same; even Jerez 1997 is treated with restrained critique as Ross Brawn admits Michael “overstepped the mark”.
An otherwise great film is lesser for it. One of the best scenes in Senna was Jackie Stewart questioning him over his propensity to take out rivals. The closest Schumacher gets to unravelling Michael’s tactics is David Coulthard recalling how the German said he never thought he was in the wrong.
After briefly covering Michael’s Mercedes come back (“What am I doing here? I miss my family” Schumacher’s long-time manager Sabine Kehm recalls him saying), the film turns its attentions to his 2013 skiing accident.
There’s no information on Michael’s injuries or current condition. Instead we hear a tearful Corinna talk about how she misses Michael every day.
“But it’s not just me who misses him. It’s the children, the family, his father, everyone around him.”
Everybody misses Michael, but Michael is here – different, but here. He still shows me how strong he is every day”.
Son Mick, himself now in F1 with Haas, says he would “give up nearly everything” to be able to talk about racing with his dad.
The Schumacher family have closely guarded Michael’s privacy and details of his injuries since the accident, and that is to be respected.
But it does mean the movie ends on a vague note as the viewer is left wondering what has become of the man we’ve just learned about for 90 minutes.
Schumacher is one of the better Formula 1 documentaries in recent years, but unanswered questions mean it is not quite the definitive account of his career and life.