Story: Ruthless racer, considerate husband, dependable son. There’s more to seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher than meets the eye.
Review: For most of us who follow the sport, Formula One legend Michael Schumacher is synonymous to Ferrari. Little did we know, at one point, Ferrari wasn’t sure of Michael leading them to world championship. Netflix’s ‘Schumacher’ isn’t as riveting as Asif Kapadia’s Senna. The narrative is detailed but tedious and yet it manages to humanise an icon. Schumacher’s legacy will always be his consistent dominance in motor racing and not his unpredictable fate. He will be best remembered as the man who not only made Ferrari roar back to victory in 2000 but stayed undefeated for them as the world champion for four consecutive years after that. His earlier 1994 and ‘95 championship with Benetton made him the seven time world champion, a record only equalled by Lewis Hamilton.
The German debuted in 1991 and went on to win an unprecedented seven world titles before retiring in 2012. From conquering the race against time for years, to losing track of time completely as a survivor, life can change in a moment. It is unsettling to hear a young Schumacher talk about Ayrton Senna’s accident, coma, and speculations about death when a strangely similar fate awaited the German.
Nuanced and moving yet dreary and guarded. This reluctantly safe homage leaves you conflicted. The fact that it was made with the support of the Schumacher family works both ways. Wise beyond his years, the unseen archival footage gives you access to his early life, life beyond the F1 circuit and concealed behavioural traits. Be it his external self-assurance camouflaging the inner self-doubt, self-centred attitude on track and more. You do get to know him as a person a little bit more than you did before. The tribute follows a compassionate gaze that refrains from being voyeuristic & exploitative.
However, this very mindfulness cuts short the makers from digging into the side of Schumacher that’s far from perfect. The fleeting approach to addressing a conflict feels inadequate. When Schumi’s wife Corinna, reveals that he has always been a suspicious man, you want to know how she overcame that hurdle. However, that’s left out. Portions that speak about his hyper competitive streak as a racer, and turning oblivious to people’s critique of him — including a spat with Ayrton Senna — are skimmed through in a lighthearted manner.
“I miss Michael every day. Michael is still here. Different, but he’s here.” These words by Corinna, hit you like a hurricane. It says it all about his dire health situation without saying much. It gives away the 52-year-old legend’s health situation, eight years after his ill-fated skiing accident in the French Alps. Just the last 10 minutes of this extensive two-hour documentary addresses the unfortunate incident that brought the fastest racer to a standstill. You appreciate this phase of his life getting minimal attention as that isn’t his legacy. What does feel unsettling is Michael being looked upon as a past figure, not present. Despite the family maintaining his fight to survive, the mood of the documentary is sombre, submissive and accepting of his fate.
As the real story of a man who loves to win despite the odds, ‘Schumacher’ leaves you with a heavy heart. It empathises with his misfortune but nowhere does it glorify his questionable work ethics and one-time disqualification. He blocking other drivers or running into them in a one-on-one battle that could have and did result in fatal collisions on a few occasions, gives an insight into his psyche without being judgmental. His lethal fearlessness without weighing in the consequences was more of a weakness than strength. At home, he’d wash the dishes, if his wife cooked him a birthday lunch. A patient understanding of the polarising champion makes this documentary an important, if not an engaging watch.