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Schumacher, Netflix review - authorised version of the life of an F1 legend | reviews, news & interviews

Schumacher, Netflix review - authorised version of the life of an F1 legend

Schumacher, Netflix review - authorised version of the life of an F1 legend

Portrait of German race ace doesn't dig deep enough

Michael Schumacher with his wife CorinnaImago

Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident in December 2013, which left the seven-times Formula One world champion with a severe brain injury, added a shocking postscript to one of the greatest stories in motor racing. Having survived a decades-long driving career which included numerous accidents (including a motorcycle smash in 2009 which was apparently far more serious than the Schumi camp would admit), he was near-fatally stricken on a family Christmas holiday in Méribel.

His wife Corinna is one of the main contributors to Netflix’s new bio-doc, and while she sheds some light on their life together – he has been an impeccable husband and father, enforced his own rule that “private is private”, used to sing “My Way” at parties and loved throwing people into swimming pools – nothing about his his condition is disclosed. “Michael always protected us, and now we are protecting Michael,” she explains. His son Mick, now driving for the Haas F1 team, adds a poignant personal note. “I think we would understand each other in a different way now, simply because we speak a similar language, the language of motorsport. And that we would have much more to talk about… I would give up everything just for that.”

Michael’s fate casts a melancholy pall over the story, but during his phenomenal progress up the motorsport ladder he was anything but sentimental. He was driving karts when he’d barely learned to walk, learned how to fix them up using scavenged spare parts (his family weren’t wealthy), and honed his racecraft remorselessly. Success in Formula Three and sports cars earned him an F1 debut with Jordan in 1991, and after a single Grand Prix he was pounced on by Flavio Briatore’s Benetton team, who controversially wrested him from Eddie Jordan’s grip (Schumi endures the media, pictured above / Getty Images).

The film traces Schumacher’s championship wins with Benetton (though allegations of the team’s use of illegal traction control software are tactfully omitted), then his bold decision to move to Ferrari in 1996 with the objective of taking the legendary but then utterly shambolic Scuderia back to title-winning glory. Thanks to Schumi’s driving brilliance, plus his ability to galvanise the whole team from the mechanics to the pasta chef, this brought him five consecutive world titles in 2000-2004.

All this is meat and drink to F1 fans, illustrated with dynamic racing footage and behind-the-scenes shots, along with interviews with the likes of Briatore, Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Bernie Ecclestone, Eddie Irvine and Mikka Hakkinen. The electrifying air-raid siren of Murray Walker’s commentary illuminates many of the most dramatic moments, while archive interviews with Schumacher reveal an introspection we don’t always associate with him. His thoughts about Ayrton Senna’s death, and the way he found himself for the first time thinking about being killed on the track, are particularly striking (Schumacher with his children Mick and Gina, pictured below).

Sadly though, the film lacks the raw, in-your-face gutsiness of Netflix's hit F1 series Drive to Survive. You’re left with the sense that while you learn stuff about Schumacher, you still don’t really know him. An enthusiastic party animal away from the track, he kept himself remote and unknowable when he was working. And for all his gifts, there will always be question-marks. Even before he was in F1 he was involved in controversial accidents, and his collisions with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve can only be construed as cynical attempts to win the world championship by force. His ex-manager Willi Weber observes wryly that Michael is a Capricorn, and Capricorns can’t apologise because they’re always right and never make mistakes.

This is essentially a hymn of praise to Schumacher’s laser-focused campaign to reach the top of F1’s Everest, soundtracked by rather cloying, grandiose music, like Wagner rearranged by James Last. Personal photographs of Michael with his family, and home movies of them skydiving and scuba diving, warmly evoke their tight-knit closeness. If they’d felt able to lift the curtain just a fraction and allow the possibility that he had flaws and a dark side, it would surely have made for a more abrasive but more penetrating portrait.

  • Schumacher is available on Netflix from 15 September

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