Schumacher, the new film on the life of Michael Schumacher, covers more than just his 306 races, 91 wins and seven world championships in the course of its 112-minute running time.
“In order to preserve his private sphere as a source of strength, he has always rigorously and consistently separated his private from his public life,” explained Sabine Kehm, long-standing representative of the driver and his family. “This film tells of both worlds. It is his family’s gift to their beloved husband and father.”
While Schumacher’s personal and private worlds are blended throughout the film, his racing career inevitably provides its thrust. The filmmakers’ focus is Schumacher’s efforts to become the first driver to win a championship in a Ferrari since 1979. As a result, once the climactic scenes of his Suzuka 2000 triumph are done with there’s only 20 minutes of the film left to cram in the remainder.
From an early sequence which revolves around his stunning debut at Spa-Francorchamps in 1991, we are treated to a parade of major names telling their Schumacher stories. Mika Hakkinen describes going up against him for the first time in karts and former manager Willi Weber reminisces fondly of their last taste of anonymity. Bernie Ecclestone, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and a host of others follow.
While some of their stories are familiar, other sections provide illuminating new insights. A flashback to Schumacher’s early years is rich in period details. A young Schumacher sporting a Hasselhoff-grade mullet explains he entered a karting competitive as a representative of Luxembourg instead of his native (West) Germany to save money, so tight were the family’s finances.
Thereafter the narrative returns to Schumacher’s progress to championship glories with Benetton and, eventually, Ferrari. Yet despite promises to tell his story without “sugar-coating”, little room is found to scrutinise the more controversial moments of his career. While Jerez 1997 is dealt with unflinchingly the many controversies of 1994 pass by – save for a selectively-edited retelling of the Australian Grand Prix – and no room is found for ‘Rascassegate’.
While Schumacher omits some of the more contentious parts of its career it also overlooks chapters which would have served its narrative better, such as his final-round title defeat to Hakkinen in 1998 at Suzuka. A few jarring liberties are taken with chronology at this and other points as well (more oddly, a shot of Gerhard Berger appears during the credits which someone appears to have mistaken for Schumacher).
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Of all the motorsport documentaries which have surfaced since 2010’s Senna demonstrated the potential of the format, few subsequent productions have measured up to its high standards. Schumacher comes nearest, though while Senna immerses the viewer in footage of its period, Schumacher frequently cuts away to introduce its talking heads.
There is some terrific and obscure behind-the-scenes material, particularly the section on Schumacher’s debut. More of this in later races would have been appreciated, but it seems there wasn’t room in the film (or perhaps the budget) to show more of what wasn’t broadcast at the time.
A significant amount of new material comes from the family’s archive and shows an unfamiliar Schumacher letting his guard down or signing karaoke with David Coulthard. But the best additions to the film are a handful of little-seen interviews with Schumacher himself.
His account of Ayrton Senna’s crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, the confusion around what had happened and his disbelief at the news of Senna’s death is a powerful sequence. This is a rare glimpse of a more vulnerable Schumacher – the one that couldn’t contain his emotions after equalling Senna’s wins tally at Monza six years later.
This is one of a few moments where the film musters an emotional punch on a par with the Senna film. Another is Schumacher’s startling description of his leg-breaking 1999 crash at Silverstone.
This foreshadows the final sequence which addresses the dreadful events of December 29th, 2013. Many viewers will approach Schumacher hoping to learn something positive about his condition almost eight years on from the skiing crash which left him with a severe brain injury. In its closing passage a tearful Corinna Schumacher, who mentions he suggested they go skydiving instead of taking their fateful trip, describes how she “misses” her husband who is “different but he’s here” – a heart-breaking glimpse into a desperately sad situation.
Schumacher features some excellent new footage and makes great use of rare material from his family’s archives. The contentious moments of his career are covered in a manner which will provoke eye-rolls from his detractors, but his fans may also find it leaves them wanting in places. Nonetheless the filmmakers deserve credit for the job they have done profiling a complex figure whose story has a tragic coda, which left one of Formula 1’s greatest champions unable to tell his story for himself.
Schumacher is due for release on Netflix on September 15th 2021
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13 comments on ““Schumacher” – Michael Schumacher Netflix biopic reviewed”
Sonny Crockett (@sonnycrockett)
8th September 2021, 14:03
I know many F1 fans want to know more about Schumacher’s current condition. I’ve also seen comments from some that have said how wrong it is that we haven’t seen him interviewed on TV. Whilst perhaps understandable, this is quite naive (some would say ‘selfish’) and shows a lack of understanding of what we are likely to be faced with.
My own mother was in a coma many years ago and when we were told by doctors that she had emerged from the coma, it was almost impossible to tell from observing her. She still functioned in the same way as she did when technically comatose.
I think one of the issues is the way TV and the movies portray comas. They tend to show people either in the comatose state or out of it and completely normal. Comas are actually far more nuanced than that and the neurological damage caused from whatever inflicted the coma can have severe consequences.
If Michael’s brain swelled significantly as a result of the accident, which was the suggestion when it was first reported, there could be significant damage which would affect most if not all aspects of his personality and ability to function. During the years after she was in a coma, my mother improved a little but was never the same person. There were traces of her personality which meant she still seemed like my Mum but ultimately she was massively different from before. Her eyes looked permanently glazed, she had very little short-term memory and she was quite child-like, even in the way that she spoke. For anyone that knew her it was quite a shock to meet her post-coma. Hearing Schumacher’s wife’s tearful comments, I suspect that (sadly) Michael’s condition is very similar. From personal experience, trust me, you would not want to see him interviewed. It would be unfair to Michael and to the family that have tried so hard to keep their suffering private.
8th September 2021, 16:58
Thank you for this insight. Great post.
8th September 2021, 17:48
@sonnycrockett that is a very emotional post, I can’t imagine what you and your family went through / are going through. As Miles says, it’s also a very insightful post, speculation yes, but it casts some light on a very shady subject.
8th September 2021, 22:11
9th September 2021, 5:53
Thank you for this insightful comment on a difficult subject. Your analysis seems spot on.
8th September 2021, 16:13
I’m very keen to see this. For such a figure who achieved so much and has loomed large over the sport since I started watching, I don’t recall ever watching a documentary or an in-depth interview with Michael.
There have been umpteen 1990’s VHS’s with Mansell in particular but also Senna, Damon Hill, Williams and McLaren. Coulthard is a broadcaster, Hakkinen, Irvine and Prost have done extensive interviews with Steve Ryder when Sky first started their F1 coverage and F1’s beyond the grid podcast has featured pretty much everyone from the Schumacher era. Come to think of it, we’ve heard lots of stories about Schumacher but never from his perspective.
8th September 2021, 20:14
Was Senna really the standard to which are measured? I found it borderline unbearable in its unashamed adulation and primitive hollywood good guy / bad guy script.
8th September 2021, 22:20
it sure is after all it’s a documentary about SENNA and not about SENNA x Prost, in fact Alain could make a documentary about his life with SENNA as the villain to please you :D
Jorge Lardone (@jorge-lardone)
8th September 2021, 23:00
9th September 2021, 1:11
@balue +1 “the Senna doc” is pretty much a bad copy of an older Brazillian doc, which by the way is excellent unlike this “landmark” doc.
17th September 2021, 9:30
Yes, he was. In 90s he was a benchmark.
Hakk the rack
17th September 2021, 9:29
“his disbelief at the news of Senna’s death is a powerful sequence” – there’s nothing like this in that movie at all. We see only 3 seconds before Imola podium ceremony and a photo. That’s it. Then there’s an interiew with Schumacher after 1994 season.
Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)
29th September 2021, 22:09
The paragraph you’ve quoted begins “His account of…”; it refers to the interview you mention at the end of your comment.
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