JThis is undoubtedly a fascinating story to tell about Michael Schumacher and his racing career. But the documentary released Wednesday on Netflix has a different Schumacher that draws narrative attention. It’s his wife Corinna and her honest emotion and singular insights into her husband’s life and character that more than make up for what the film lacks in analysis or commentary about Schumacher the Driver.
The documentary, directed by Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker and Michael Wech, misses its protagonist because of Schumacher’s tragic skiing accident in 2013 from which he is still recovering. The story of the seven-time world champion is told through archival footage, interviews with central characters and a chronological timeline.
It’s all done with reasonable skill if without the flair and pace of Senna or Amy. However, Schumacher and his family have always been intensely protected with their privacy and since his accident even more so, but here Corinna in particular reveals aspects of his character that broaden the perspective of a man often one-dimensionally described as only focused . by winning.
The Schumacher we know is here in archival interviews. “100% perfection, reaching 100% is my goal, I’m just that kind of person,” he says at the start of the image. While his origin in a working-class German family is cleverly told to demonstrate the obstacles (including fishing for used kart tires from bins and using them) he had to overcome, which then manifested with a great work ethic.
Yet, exemplified by unique family images scattered throughout the film, Corinna knew another Michael. “He’s just the sweetest person I’ve ever met,” she says. “He was really funny, that’s what I saw in him.”
He was, she reveals, always uncomfortable with fame and happiest with her and her son Mick and daughter Gina. He was shy, for which he adopted an affected aloofness as a coping mechanism, claims his former Ferrari manager Jean Todt. There were also self-doubts, a reminder that few sportspeople are simply heroes or villains.
It was a partnership forged in love that is hard not to be touched. She explains that they would share routines, but with Schumacher having his days planned out in great detail at races, they would have to adapt. Unable to sleep in Suzuka, Japan one year, she spent the night reading a book on the toilet so as not to disturb him. He, in turn, leaving the house earlier, made a special effort not to wake her, returning to the bedroom only to kiss her goodbye.
The filmmakers found footage of Schumacher that reflects Corinna’s point of view. Perhaps the most powerful and moving is an interview about the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994. Immediately after, Schumacher revealed that he almost refused to believe that the accident was too serious, that Senna would recover, even from a coma. The news of his death is met with disbelief and his expression still reveals how hard it hit him, even remembering it later.
Driving at Silverstone the same year, Schumacher admitted the impact it had had, not something he allowed to be publicly visible. He circled around noting, “This is a point where you could be dead. This is a point where you could be dead.
He was a vulnerable Schumacher rarely, if ever, seen. Yet a glimpse of the other side of her character is less perceptive. The incident in Adelaide in 1994, when he drove Damon Hill, and with the British driver subsequently out of the race, won the title, is discussed, with Hill succinct in his assessment. “As a competitor, he was going to win no matter what,” he says. “Michael did what he had to do to get me to stop beating him.”
Schumacher did the same, meeting title rival Jacques Villeneuve in Jerez in 1997 and he is also being considered. Villeneuve’s opinion, however, is notable for its absence. Ferrari’s technical director at the time, Ross Brawn, admits Schumacher only agreed to what he had done after seeing video footage, until he was convinced Villeneuve had rammed into him . “In that split second, what happened with him? Who knows,” Brawn says.
The “who knows” of the two incidents, why this clearly caring character could also be so absolutely ruthless and the subsequent tarnishing of his reputation, is left almost entirely unanswered despite the wealth of talking heads that contribute to the film and is a real omission.
Instead, as a narrative climax, the film builds on his 2000 success in winning Ferrari’s first driver’s title since 1979. After which, his accident and its aftermath are the coda towards which the picture was inevitably heading, but here too the details are light, especially since so little has been revealed since it happened.
The family still craves privacy and Corinna once again bears the brunt of what needs to be said. In tears, she explains how much Schumacher is missed by her family and declares: “Michael is here. Different but here. He still shows me how strong he is every day. Which, while not as telling as many might have hoped given that interest in Schumacher’s condition remains exceptionally high, at least reflects a clear love for her husband who is the true heart of a sometimes sterile film.