For those who don’t know me very well, Michael Schumacher is my original sporting hero. When I was a child, he was the person that was must-see TV in a racing car, the early 2000’s Scarlet Red Ferrari. Hell, the F2001 was my first poster on the wall. So inevitably, I was really excited about the man getting his own Netflix documentary series that released a couple of weeks ago. I was asked on YouTube to review it when it came out, and I happily obliged. So, here’s my thoughts on Netflix’s “Schumacher”.
For me, two of the brightest parts of the documentary were within the first half hour or so. His remarkable debut at Belgium in 1991 is highlighted first. I found that a little eye-rolling because I thought that was a little too obvious as a place to start, but they quickly went back to teenage Michael, and that was great to see.
The early days when you saw his working class family running the cafe at the local karting track to find Michael’s career. The fact they were looking in the bins for spare parts like old tyres, running them, and STILL winning. I had never seen this footage or this side of the story of Michael and it was great. The World Karting Championships featured (With the hilariously weird image of a man kneeling down to hold the sign up), with tight ill fitting jeans and bare chests as their karts were worked on. All Freddie Mercury, very 80’s vibes. It was a very pleasant surprise seeing him literally grow up, marry his wife Corinna, and the beginnings of what made Michael, Michael.
The bulk of the documentary is based around 90’s Michael. Carried by heavy narration via sportswriters Richard Williams and James Allen. There’s also interviews with a lot of prominent people in Michael’s career, like Jean Todt, Flavio Briatore, Ross Brawn, and Damon Hill. There’s also some cameos. Hi Mark Webber. Also gutted that he was in the trailer and Sebastian Vettel got 20 seconds of screentime. Yay. *raised eyebrow*
Within 25 minutes, we’re tackling 92-94. Senna and Schumacher, the present vs future narrative. France 92’ where Michael clattered into Senna, objectively his fault, but was spun was Flavio saying that Senna was “intimidated” by the new kid on the bloke, like lions and their territory. Yes, a team manager backed their own, you’re shocked. Very 2021.
Anyway, they get to Imola 94’ pretty quickly… and it’s a pretty polarising segment. On the downside, it completely glossed over how brutal a weekend it truly was. Ratzenberger’s equally tragic death wasn’t mentioned from the day before, or the massive wreck that Rubens Barrichello had that he was lucky to walk away from, airborne at 170 miles per hour. And then they showed Senna’s life-ending crash fully uncensored, as well as the marshals trying to get his body out of the car. Call me a snowflake if you like, but I think giving folks a heads up before they see a guy die at 190 miles per hour is a responsible, harmless thing to do.
On the positive side, it gave us the best interview of the entire documentary, one from 1994 where they sat down with Michael. As a 29-year-old fan, I’d never seen this interview before, and it was powerful and harrowing. Michael may not have liked him at the time, but you can tell he clearly respected Ayrton Senna a great deal. His passing clearly had a massive impact on him. Michael thought all these drivers were invincible. He thought Ayrton was invincible. His mind was telling him: “Hey, it’s just a coma, that’s not too bad! He might miss a couple of races, but he’ll be fine, right?” Maybe that’s youthful naivety, or false hope. Point is, a few hours later, he was dead.
You can tell Michael had really struggled dealing with that. You see him talk about the next race at Silverstone a fortnight later and having to drive a car again and questioning his own morality. He mentioned how he was visualising corners where he could die, barely being able to sleep at night, questioning if he even wanted to race. He was holding back tears by the end. It’s a hard, but necessary watch, and a rare glimpse of the emotional side of Michael beyond the ruthless reputation on track.
The big flashpoints of Michael’s career get significant time. Adelaide 94’ next. Again, if you know your F1, you know how this story ends. It’s basically Hamilton vs Verstappen before it was uncool. It’s unsurprising to see Hill imply that Michael did it on purpose knowing the scoreboard, but it did make me chuckle that Hill also kind of implied he might do the same in his shoes. Funny that.
The core of the documentary is the development of Ferrari. From the mentality of wanting to take them back to the top and rejecting McLaren, all the way through to his third title in 2000. Again, if you’re familiar with Michael’s career, you can guess what gets featured. Spain 96’s epic wet win, the 97’ title decided and that hit on Jacques Villneuve, the rise of McLaren and Mika Hakkinen, the crash with David Coulthard at Belgium in 98’, and the horror crash again at Silverstone in 99’. (Again, viewer discretion advised) The stories are well known, but with a few hidden gems thrown in.
Some of my favourite moments include Ross Brawn’s take on the Jacques incident in Jerez, and the genuinely bold claim that Michael was adamant that Jacques had actually hit him. All that until Michael was shown the replay, and that Michael’s anger wasn’t an act. Only to be followed up by his former manager who went: “Michael is a Capricorn”. I howled with laughter.
Also, there was some brilliant testing footage used. Seeing Michael and Ferrari test at Mugello Circuit as it goes dark at sunset with that engine noise and brakes glowing. Man, it’s gorgeous footage and I wish we had more of it.
But this comes with a problem, and that the structure and the pacing of the whole documentary feels kinda off. We got Michael’s glorious 2000 title celebration in Japan, the 5-year culmination of turning Ferrari into World Champions… and I hit pause on my remote by accident and saw that there’s 23 minutes left!
Ferrari’s following half-decade of dominance was largely just montages that accidentally had Rubens in it, who was strangely missing from the documentary in general. Same with the Mercedes return in 2010. It’s a shame as I’d loved to have heard more from the more modern end of his career but it seemed like in the eyes of the directors, it was an afterthought.
The final 10 minutes are the real body blow, and that’s coverage of Michael’s accident, and the present day. There’s a lot of tender home videos here, with scenes like Michael partying, skydiving and just… seeing him happy. Seeing his close bonds with people, the difference between on and off track and that while Michael was shy and suspicious, if he came to trust you, he’d give you everything.
If you’re expecting a health update, don’t get your hopes up. The Schumacher’s are an incredibly private family, keeping up the mentality Michael has before the accident. That’s their right and it demands respect. The most we get is an emotional Corinna saying he goes through “therapy” every day. The line that got me? Mick saying he would trade it all in to keep that bond with his Dad. If that doesn’t hit you at your soul, I don’t know what will. I’ve had my relationship with my father fall apart as an adult, and I know how much that can hurt.
Schumacher overall was… good. There were some flashes of genuinely awesome footage and scenes scattered throughout the nearly 120 minute runtime. There’s definitely something here for the hardcores like me. But I think, accidentally or not, this was made more for the uneducated fan. An introduction to the legend of Michael, especially with the focus on the 90’s.
We’re seeing the second coming of Michael via Lewis Hamilton right now, 100 wins and all. It’s easy to live in the moment and take that in, but it’s easy to forget that Michael had a similar career 20 years prior. I was 12 when Michael won his final title and far too young to take in just how ridiculous and how much of a game-changer he was. Schumacher bridges just a little bit of that gap, but leaves the rest on the table as 2001 onwards is essentially skipped. There’s now new adult fans who grew up without ever seeing Michael race in red, and that’s a scary thought.
Personally, and forgive the almost unfair comparison here, but I wish his career was covered more as an episodic series, like ESPN’s “The Last Dance” did with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. There was so much more that I think they could have expanded on. Mika Hakkinen in general, Rubens Barrichello and the team order scandals. The tyre rule change in 2005 that crippled Ferrari and the rise of Fernando Alonso. And of course, the Mercedes return in 2010, Nico Rosberg, and that final pole position in 2012. I think there was so much on the table here and I’d have loved more of a structure to see further topics approached.
And of course, there’s one big thing missing that can’t be helped. And that’s Michael himself. Obviously, it’s not a criticism for Schumacher the show. But it’ll always feel a little empty without the man himself talking about his career. As I said at the top, my favourite interview segment was the man himself from 1994 and it was fascinating. I’d have loved a more modern take on his key career moments, to see if he still felt that way, or if there was any regret. He’s a remarkably private person who didn’t let us into his world all that often, and that would have made this so much more valuable. But alas.
As it is… Schumacher was good. Definitely worth a watch, but I can’t help but feel there was more to give here.
TL:DR; Dre’s Rating – 7/10 (Good), Schumacher is a great introduction as to what made the racing driver a reluctant, but transcendent star in a sport desperate for one after the tragedy of 1994. But the hardcore fans who know the tale might be left a little underwhelmed at how it was told here.