'Schumacher' review: Netflix documentary fails to get the heartrate pulsing

The Netflix documentary 'Schumacher', based on the life of seven-time Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher, released on September 15.

'Schumacher' is now available to stream on Netflix. (Image: Twitter/@ScuderiaFerrari)

The Netflix documentary ‘Schumacher’, chronicling the life and times of seven-time Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher, hit the streaming service on September 15 (Wednesday). When the movie was announced, it understandably generated excitement among F1 fans old and new. After all, the Schumacher family are notoriously private – and this has been especially true after his 2013 skiing accident. But this movie was made not only with their blessing but would also feature them talking. As such, many expected to get some new information – whether on his racing career or his current health. Yet it is safe to say the movie doesn’t deliver much of either. So without further ado, here’s our Schumacher review.

The movie begins with some videos of the Schumacher family enjoying some deep sea-diving. It then cuts to a dash-camera shot of Schumacher driving his Ferrari through the street circuit of Monaco.

From there, after the title introduction, we head straight to the Belgian Grand Prix in 1991 – Schumacher’s debut in the sport. At this point onwards, fans are treated to a linear story of the legend’s career.

His debut race for Jordan at Spa-Francorchamps is well covered, as are his two world championships at Benetton. The struggle to transform Ferrari from a historic team struggling for a world championship to a side that went on to clinch five on the trot is also well told.

But for anyone familiar with the Schumacher story, none of this is particularly new information. It’s treading old and familiar ground with some new footage and mostly archival race videos.

As such, ‘Schumacher’ is notable almost for what it omits instead of what it covers.

‘Schumacher’ review: the full story untold

It is often believed that there were two sides to Schumacher. There was the cold, calculative, prodigously speedy and ruthless driver who dominated the sport and shaped it in his image.

And then there is the private person: a quiet, reserved family man who enjoys playing football and indulging in other outside activities. The public are largely familiar with the former, but not the latter.

There is some light shed on Schumacher the person. Pictures and videos of him enjoying time with his family show a different side, a more gentle side to the German.

There is also the attempts at showing the humane side of him while he was a racer. Never was this more evident than the time when he was informed that he equalled Ayrton Senna’s record for most race wins.

Schumacher said the record meant a lot to him and then burst into tears. His complicated relationship with Senna is also well-known, and is explored by the documentary using old interview footage of Schumacher.

But while it is fair to say the movie shows off his racing career as well as they can, even there the filmmakers gloss over a number of controversial aspects of his career.

His departure from Benetton is mentioned, but not the reason. After all, why would a driver leave a team with which he won two titles?

The real reason is that Schumacher felt exposed to controversy at the team. He also believed they didn’t do enough to protect him and his image.

There’s also little mention of any of his four notable rivalries – except of the one with Mika Hakkinen.

Why leave out Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Fernando Alonso?

In all fairness, Damon Hill did appear in the movie and the he spoke in great length of their battle. But again, the controversial moments are either touched upon or avoided altogether.

Schumacher’s comments on Hill being ‘forced’ into the role of Williams’ number 1 driver are glossed over, perhaps due to the tasteless nature of the comments. And the infamous crash at Adelaide in the 1994 season finale is mentioned, but not elaborated on.

Indeed, Hill is pretty gracious about the incident, implying he might have done the same in Schumacher’s position. But it doesn’t change the fact that the 1994 title race was anything but friendly. And that the ending of the season was anything but regular.

And what about Villeneuve? The 1997 world champion comes up – and the infamous Jerez crash is talked about. But Villeneuve is nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps this comes down to the fact that the two simply did not get along. But a bit of drama is exactly what this documentary sorely needed.

It’s little secret at this point that ‘Schumi’ was a flawed hero. Thus, hiding that fact did little good to anyone, least of all Schumacher. After all, fans like their heroes to be relatable; and what’s more relatable than someone having flaws?

There’s also little mention of Fernando Alonso, who beat Schumacher to the championship in his final two years in the sport. Alonso was seen as the successor to Schumacher by the man himself. Yet 2005 and 2006 are pretty much ignored.

But there are other flashpoints that don’t get mentioned. Schumacher’s retirement in 2006 came about because Ferrari signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2007. But that is not talked about. Also not talked about are the Mercedes years from 2010-12.

But none of these are the biggest omissions.

No health update?

Little is known of Schumacher’s health since his skiing accident towards the end of 2013. He was in an induced coma for a few months and has since undergone other treatment.

He is reportedly conscious and undertakes therapy on a regular basis. Yet there was no update of any sort forthcoming from the Schumacher family.

His wife Corrina, who speaks the most of the family members, did mention that he is “different, but here”. Son Mick, now also an F1 driver at Haas, said he regrets not being able to speak to his father in ‘the language of motorsport’ given they share a passion for it.

They are moments which touch the heart, but the lack of a real update is glaring. The fact that his current health only gets mentioned in the last 10 or so minutes is also a bit shocking.

‘Schumacher’ is a good movie to watch if you’re unfamiliar with one of motorsports’ biggest icons. But if you’re a long-time fan looking for something new, you’re going to be left disappointed.

Grade: C

Shayne Dias

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