Warning: This review contains spoilers
When Sebastian Vettel said recently he was looking forward to the new Michael Schumacher Netflix documentary telling him things he didn’t know, it was easy to think he could be disappointed.
After all, in a world where almost everything the seven-time world champion did was under the spotlight of television cameras and media, you would imagine there is not much new to learn from his life and career.
But over the near two hours of the movie, which was pulled together with the blessing of the Schumacher family, it is almost impossible not to come away from it with a feeling of changed perceptions about one of Formula 1’s greatest icons.
Love him or loathe him for what he appeared to be on track, the Schumacher movie peels back a lot more of the personality and man underneath the crash helmet, offering a rare insight into what he was like when he was away from the pitlane and paddock.
In fact, the film exposes the two true sides of Schumacher’s life.
On the one side is the story of the global sporting superstar who changed the course of F1 history as he was central to the resurrection of Ferrari as a force in modern grand prix racing.
Then, on the other side, is the Schumacher family man who gave his all for wife Corinna, and children Mick and Gina-Maria. And in the end, as his final F1 career chapter played out with Mercedes, it was ultimately their draw which pulled him away from his first passion.
As manager Sabine Kehm recalls Schumacher saying of being away from home in his final Mercedes spell: “What am I doing here? I miss my family. Why am I so far away? I’ve realised it isn’t as important as it used to be. My family is more important now.”
For hardcore F1 fans, there is plenty within the documentary to grab attention. Primarily, there’s a decent splash of racing action from the key moments of his career with Netflix having had access to FOM’s archive library.
But the film doesn’t rely on the race feed for the sake of it. Instead, there is often a preference for the behind-the-scenes footage that exposes in a much more raw fashion what Schumacher was like and what he was dealing with at the time.
It includes Ayrton Senna’s confrontation with Schumacher on the grid at the 1992 French Grand Prix, after he had been taken out by the young German on the opening lap.
Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/7A Honda leads Michael Schumacher, Benetton B191B Ford, Jean Alesi, Ferrari F92A and Martin Brundle, Benetton B191B Ford
Photo by: Motorsport Images
And there are also the moments before the podium at Imola in 1994, when Schumacher is addressed by his Benetton boss Flavio Briatore and informed that Senna’s condition did not look good as he was in a coma.
It is in television interviews after the events of Imola that we get to see the raw impact the events that day had on Schumacher. And they are a world away from the steely, sometimes distant character, that was often portrayed on grand prix weekends.
Through the personal insights of drivers like Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard and Mark Webber, and journalists Richard Williams and James Allen, allied to Schumacher family members, the door is opened to what Schumacher was really like.
You see the ultra-competitiveness that drove him throughout his F1 career from the off. A young Schumacher explains that he chose to race for Luxembourg rather than Germany in the World Junior Karting Championships that year because qualifying was cheaper, and if he lost, it wouldn’t risk his chance of going to the world championships.
There is also repeated pointers to the innate self-belief that he never did wrong, which was a trait that surrounded some of his more controversial moments.
Ross Brawn reveals how it was only watching a video replay of the collision with Jacques Villeneuve at the 1997 European Grand Prix that it dawned on Schumacher he was at fault.
And Coulthard recalls, during a clear the air session in Bernie Ecclestone’s bus after their collision at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, about how Schumacher refused to accept he had done anything wrong when he ran into the back of the McLaren.
Asked by Coulthard if he ever made a mistake, Schumacher replied: “Not that I remember.”
The family man
Much of the film explores how he was uncomfortable with the attention that came with being an F1 superstar. FIA president Jean Todt, who became a close friend after the years they worked together at Ferrari, explains how Schumacher struggled with the fame.
“Don’t make a star out of me,” Schumacher was said to have asked as he begun his F1 career.
He was someone much happier being with the family, and that counts for both Corinna and the kids, plus that magical spell at Ferrari.
Corinna Schumacher congratulates Michael Schumacher, Benetton
Photo by: Motorsport Images
It is the words of Corinna and Mick that are perhaps the most moving of all though, as they explain how life is so different in the wake of the ski accident that left Schumacher with serious head injuries that he is still recovering from.
“Of course I miss Michael every day,” says Corinna. “But it’s not just me who misses him. The children, the family, his father, everyone around him. I mean, everybody misses Michael, but Michael is here. Different, but he’s here, and that gives us strength.
“We’re together. We live together at home. We do therapy. We do everything we can to make Michael better and to make sure he’s comfortable. And to make him feel our family, our bond. And no matter, I will do everything I can. We all will.”
For Mick, who has been very circumspect in public about his father, the rawness of the situation comes over in the closing moments of the film – as he reflects on the many happy times he had as a child with his dad.
“Since the accident, of course these experiences, these moments, that I believe many people have with their parents, are no longer present, or to a lesser extent,” he explains. “And in my view, that is a little unfair.”
And of the possibility to be able to talk about his motorsport experiences with his dad, Mick says simply: “I would give up everything for that.”
SCHUMACHER is available on Netflix from 15 September