- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Netflix’s long-awaited documentary Michael Schumacher finally drops today, allowing F1 fans the chance to see for themselves what all the fuss has been about.
No doubt it will get people talking. The seven-time world champion may not have been seen in public for nearly eight years, his condition remains unclear following the skiing accident in December 2013 that left him in a coma for six months, but he still exerts a powerful hold over the sport.
There remains a fascination with Schumacher, one of the most controversial and polarising figures in the history of F1, as well as one of the most successful. Perhaps it was to be expected, therefore, that advance screenings did not meet with unanimous approval. Opinions are always split where Schumacher is concerned.
While the filmmakers promise an intimate portrait of the man, including never-seen-before footage from the family vaults, and interviews with family members, team-mates and other key players in his story, some critics are unimpressed.
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin gave the film 1 star, describing it as “catastrophically misjudged” and “a robotic positioning exercise for the Schumacher brand.”
But is that fair? Here's what Telegraph Sport learned - and did not learn - from watching Schumacher.
1. Criticism of Schmacher was not permitted
The first thing to say is that anyone expecting a truly rounded look at Schumacher’s character, a warts-and-all film studying his flaws as well as his undoubted brilliance, will be disappointed. This is a documentary produced with the permission of the family and criticism is in short supply. While the major controversies — Adelaide 1994, Jerez 1997 etc — are mentioned, Schumacher’s less savoury character traits are generally glossed over, or excused.
Damon Hill himself is on hand to talk about 1994 but while he suggests his title rival crossed the line, he refuses to judge Schumacher’s actions. “He did what he had to do.Would I have done the same thing if I were in his position? I don’t know” is the gist of it.
Ross Brawn, meanwhile, largely absolves Schumacher over his cynical swipe on Villeneuve in 1997 for which the German was disqualified from that year’s drivers’ championship. Brawn concedes that his driver “overstepped the mark” but adds “Michael was not lying; he believed what he was saying [that Villeneuve was at fault] was true.”
The infamous parking at Rascasse in 2006? The squeezing of Rubens Barrichello at the Hungaroring in 2010? Not mentioned.
2. This is a film for Schumacher fans
That’s not to say the film is a complete hagiography. But it’s not far off. Schumacher’s uncompromising character and ultra-aggressive style are mostly framed in a positive light; as part of a restless search for perfection, or qualities that could be deemed endearing. The German’s former manager Willi Weber observes wryly at one point that Schumacher is a Capricorn, “and Capricorns can’t apologise because they’re always right and never make mistakes”.
The film is very much an affectionate portrait of the man, the myth, the legend. And if you were in any doubt, the rousing strings while we are shown footage of Schumacher’s “miracle” race at Barcelona in the wet in 1996, or lapping Monaco at the start and finish, leave you in no doubt.
3. Nostalgic insights into his former home life
While there are not many revelations, there is plenty for F1 fans to enjoy. Footage of Schumacher as a squeaky-voiced go-karter; Mika Hakkinen’s memories of racing against his nemesis as a boy; sky diving with Corinna in the UAE; their wedding day; karaoke with David Coulthard, a family holiday in Norway, goofing around on snowmobiles and cooking sausages on an open fire. There is plenty of nostalgia, too. The 1990s outfits, Flavio looking young and rather handsome, plenty of Murray Walker commentary.
4. Almost no information about his current condition
The elephant in the room, of course, is Schumacher himself. Where is he? How is he? It is only right at the end of the (nearly 2hr-long) film that the skiing accident is even mentioned. Most of Corinna’s comments about her husband’s current condition — that he is “different, but here” or that he “still shows me how strong he is every day” — are vague and have already been reported.
There is no recent footage of Schumacher. No medical updates. That will frustrate many, but the family have already made it abundantly clear that they wish to keep Schumacher’s condition private, to preserve some dignity, and those wishes must be respected.
In summary, Schumacher might have been a stronger film in different hands, certainly a more challenging one. But there is more than enough in here to interest fans old and new (it will be intriguing to see what F1’s recent Drive to Survive converts make of it), and Schumacher and Ferrari fans will love it, naturally. The truth is, if the producers wanted the family’s cooperation, and they did, this was the only way it was going to happen.
And their contributions are the most touching of all; Gina’s memory of her father coming home from races and playing with her and Mick “for hours”, despite the fact that he must have been jet-lagged and exhausted; Mick’s admission that he would “give up everything” to talk to his dad again now that they have so much in common. It is often the case that sports stars are reappraised in death; seen in a more sympathetic light. Schumacher is still with us, but to all intents and purposes that process began in December 2013. This film will further burnish his reputation as a sporting icon.