‘I miss him every day, but Michael is here,” says Corinna Schumacher at the end of this Netflix documentary, blinking back tears as she talks about life with her husband since he suffered a devastating brain injury while skiing in 2013. That accident is awkwardly and glaringly unmentioned for most of this nearly two-hour film about his life, though of course you’re watching it all – the green-eyed boy wonder of Formula One, his successes, the rivalries and close shaves – in a brace position, waiting for the tragedy to come. Then, in the final 10 minutes, Corinna and the couple’s children, Gina and Mick (a F1 driver like his dad), speak about their loss.
The film is a collaboration with the Schumachers and massively benefits from their archive of photos and home movies. The downside is that it has the blandness of authorised biography. Schumacher grew up around motor sport. As a kid, his dad Rolf managed a go-karting track; there’s a photo of little Michael aged four or five driving a pedal kart fitted with a moped engine. A who’s who of motor racing honchos politely walk through Schumacher’s career: Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard, Bernie Ecclestone, Mika Häkkinen and Damon Hill. But his aggressive streak and unsportsmanlike behaviour on the track remain unanalysed and underexplained. Unlike Asif Kapadia’s Senna, this doesn’t feel like a film for non-believers in Formula One; it helps if you really know your stuff and care about the sport.
Schumacher, who hasn’t been seen in public since the accident, doesn’t appear – though we hear him in past recordings, speaking with that bullet focus of an athlete, which doesn’t allow for much in the way of self-reflection. He is most eloquent about the horrific crash that killed his rival Ayrton Senna at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The family, intensely private, don’t reveal the extent of his injuries, though Corinna talks about trying to make him comfortable, to “feel the bond of our family”. You feel desperately sad for her; in the pre-accident photos – one after another – you can see their unfakeable closeness as a couple: fingers intertwined, glowing with the happiness of people who know they’re luckier than most. Tragically, she says, he almost ditched the skiing trip: believing the snow wasn’t up to much, he wondered about sky diving in Dubai.
Schumacher is on Netflix.