There is a moment in the new Michael Schumacher documentary when David Coulthard relives the infamous collision at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix. As you will remember, the lapped Scot slowed on the racing line as the Ferrari of Schumacher approached. In the pouring rain there was no chance for Schumacher to see him and he ran into the back of Coulthard’s McLaren costing him the race.
Damon Hill went on to win for Jordan and Schumacher was seen storming over to the McLaren pits in what can politely be described as a state of high dudgeon. But the documentary, which was released on Netflix in September, stays with Couthard as he goes to relate what happened next: “We met the week later in Monza. We sat in Bernie’s bus and I said: ‘Look Michael, surely you have to accept some responsibility because you’re the one who ran into me. I didn’t reverse into you.’ He said: ‘No, I don’t see it that way.’ And I said: ‘Well, surely you are wrong sometimes?’ And he went: ‘Not that I remember!’”
The face of the man who is now president of the BRDC still registers genuine surprise and bemusement as he tells this tale even after all these years and it indicates a fundamental truth about his adversary. As this fascinating documentary shows, there was a singularity about the way Schumacher raced that has perhaps still not been entirely matched.
What sets the documentary apart from the others that celebrate the seven-time world champion is the way it reveals more than we have ever seen before about what he was like away from the track. Using home video and photographs we see Schuey doing karaoke, picking his way painfully through My Way, skydiving over Dubai and messing around with his kids. After the shocking moment-of-madness crash at Jerez in the 1997 European GP, when Schumacher deliberately rammed Jacques Villeneuve resulting in his disqualification from the season, we discover that he and a 30-strong entourage of family and friends headed to Norway to get away from it all. Home movie footage shows the driver roasting wurst over a campfire and being dragged behind a snowmobile on his back. It is a wonderful peep behind the curtain of privacy that shrouded Schumacher even before his skiing accident.
The film was made with the co-operation of the Schumacher family, including his wife Corinna and manager Sabine Kehm. As such it clearly goes easy on some of the more controversial aspects of Schumacher’s career.
Yes, it analyses the unforgivable Jerez crash, but it has no less a voice than Ross Brawn on hand to explain that Schumacher was convinced Villeneuve drove into him rather than the other way around. But still the film is a powerful reminder of the talent that once bestrode F1 like a colossus, and it was a pleasure to be reacquainted with the names that dominated my late-teenage Sundays – Irvine, Alesi, Häkkinen, Barrichello.
It occurred to me while watching the documentary that future generations may well look back on these past few years as a golden age for factual motor racing films. As we explain in a new Motor Sport special issue, Racing at the Movies, the trend was started by Asif Kapadia with the wondrous Senna back in 2010 (part of his superb trilogy of factual films including Amy and Diego Maradona). That film took the basics of storytelling and wove together a compelling narrative using meticulously uncovered archive footage to drive the action. It is by far the best such film ever made, but it is not alone. The 2017 film Williams, tracing the story of Formula 1’s first family, is both revealing and moving, and by using interviews not only with Claire and Sir Frank but also key players including Nigel Mansell, Alan Jones and Sir Jackie Stewart, it fills in gaps you didn’t know existed. Despite having been made with the assistance of the family it is unflinching in a way that Schumacher is not – and has the air of tragedy about it too.
Then there is the clumsily titled Ferrari: Race to Immortality, also released in 2017, which tells the tale of Enzo’s tainted golden age through the exploits of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins. Its footage, much of it dug out by Richard Wiseman, the unsung hero of many such documentaries, transports you back to 1950s Italy in a way that you barely believe possible. For more technicolour thrills there is the exploration of the Isle of Man TT bike race, Closer to the Edge, a film summed up by Mat Oxley as, “A rollercoaster of a film: one moment the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up, the next moment you’re welling up.”
It’s as good a description as you can get of the emotions we all feel when watching the various storylines of our sport unfold.
Joe Dunn, editor
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