Netflix Schumacher review: the human behind an F1 hero


Netflix's Michael Schumacher documentary reviewed: feature-length film hits the mark offering a personal look into the F1 legend's journey to become a seven-time world champion

Michael Schumacher with hands in the air

Schumacher family via Netflix

“That evening we sat in the square and ate pizza, nobody came up to us,” Rolf Schumacher, father of the seven-time world champion recalls. “That was the last time nobody ever bothered us.”

Ahead of his Spa ’91 debut, Michael Schumacher was known by very few outside of racing circles. Fast forward thirty years and he is the subject of Netflix’s latest F1 documentary, a feature-length film that includes unseen family footage to explore Schumacher the man, his career, and the events that shaped him.

As well as offering new insight to dedicated F1 fans, Schumacher is also set to bring his legendary, controversial career to a new generation of viewers, who have been drawn to F1 by Netflix’s Drive to Survive series.

But unlike the drama-filled action of the contemporary behind-the-scenes production, Schumacher has more in common with the acclaimed Senna from a decade ago, offering an involved look into the human being behind the racing driver.

Michael Schumacher with family in plane

Schumacher’s children, Gina and Mick, contribute to the documentary

Schumacher family via Netflix

Schumacher always maintained a wall between his racing and private lives, barring outsiders from gleaning much information about his life away from racing tracks but that barrier has come down somewhat in this documentary delving into Michael’s journey from karting in Kerpen to world champion with Ferrari.

With exclusive interviews from the Schumacher family as well as family footage, F1 archive clips and interviews with friends and rivals, his character is painted favourably but not without criticism.

This documentary isn’t a retelling year on year of his racing results but rather a peeling back of the curtain to a driver who enjoyed unparalleled success and experienced all the weight of expectation that came with it. From his debut to his maiden Ferrari title in 2000, the film picks out several key moments in his career in which to focus on.

Schumacher’s current condition is addressed: in an emotional interview, his wife Corinna, explains how he is being kept happy and comfortable after the ski accident that left him with serious head injuries, but there is no recent footage of him.

Michael and Corinna Schumacher

Schumacher's wife, Corinna tells how his approach to racing evolved

Imago via Netflix

Michael Schumacher in Benetton cockpit

Early Benetton years were joyous but the pressure grew

Motorsport Images via Netflix

Schumacher does, however, feature plenty of unseen archive film both from F1 circuits and the Schumacher family vault. From early beginnings competing in Luxembourg to holiday retreats away from the F1 paddock, the revealing clips of Schumacher outside of the public eye is where this documentary is most intriguing. Corinna recalls how his approach to racing morphed from the early Benetton years into what fans saw on TV weekend after weekend, a winning-machine in red.

Schumacher’s interviews paint the picture of their private life away from the scrutiny of the Formula 1 paddock and world’s media and how his carefree approach to racing begins to peel away under the stresses and demands of Formula 1. His statement that he hoped to avoid the stardom when he joined the sport is a prelude to his admissions that self-doubt crept in during title showdowns with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.

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His Benetton championship years were gleeful, under lesser stress both at and away from the circuit. But life as F1’s superstar becomes the prevailing theme and the pressures of bringing Ferrari its first world championship begins to show. It is here where many viewers will feel short-changed.

There is no real inquest into the darker side of his racing record. Adelaide ’94 and Jerez ’97 are both touched upon and key figures from the events tell the story and offer up perspective, though a full analysis of his controversies is feeble. Hill offers his perspective of the incident but Villeneuve’s absence is disappointing.

Ross Brawn’s defence of his driver’s actions fall short of full acquittal, but he does offer Ferrari’s perspective when its star man crossed the line in pursuit of what quickly becomes crucially important for Schumacher: perfection.

Michael Schumacher in Ferrari garage

The pressure mounted on Schumacher as he sought to return Ferrari to winning ways

1997 is presented as his career low-point. His actions at Jerez are not defended by anyone in the film though it does play into the next sequence as interviewees detail how his family break away to Norway in the off season transformed him into the detail-obsessed driver that transformed Ferrari’s fortunes.

Fitness levels, interpersonal skills with team members and determination to turn the Scuderia around become his main focuses. Corinna even details how his minute-by-minute planning extended to his and her sleeping patterns, as she’d end up sitting in their bathroom to avoid disturbing his sleep.

From the archive

There isn’t a warts-and-all cross-examination of the seven-time world champion in the way many will hope for, but the detailing of his modus operandi and how differing points in his career shaped the driver he would become is great viewing.

Covering Ayrton Senna’s passing, the expectant Tifosi, unexpected rivals and dealing with unwanted fame, the film could be longer than the borderline two-hour run time, but it would still make for an entertaining watch.

There is little time spent focusing on his championship-domination from 2001 to 2004, the film opting not to go into the dominant years with Ferrari but instead sticking with the human side rather than the sporting story.

Likewise his Mercedes years are glossed over fairly quickly too as the impending melancholy ending approaches.

Michael Schumacher with Corinna

Documentary’s focus is on Schumacher the man (here with Corinna) rather than detailing his racing success

Imago via Netflix

There are a plethora of interviewees from throughout Michael’s career, including former team bosses Flavio Briatore and Jean Todt; manager Sabine Kehm; Bernie Ecclestone; and drivers including team-mate Eddie Irvine, Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and Sebastian Vettel. Combined with the unseen archive footage, they offer genuine colour and engaging perspectives from both friend and enemy alike.

In fact, his career stretched on for so long that there does feel like an over-reliance on some narrators and contributors where other viewpoints would improve the end product somewhat.

There are also a few errors throughout. Usage of incorrect clips showing Nigel Mansell over Damon Hill in 1994 or Rubens Barrichello at the wheel of a Ferrari meant to belong to Michael crop up, but never detract from the overall enjoyment of what is a great documentary for F1 and racing fans.

Mercifully, there is very minimal dubbing in comparison to the DtS mix and match approach, though it isn’t really a problem when the archive footage in question features V10s and V8s.

Senna may still be the high-water mark when it comes to Formula 1 documentaries but Schumacher is one of the better reviews of one of the sport’s all-time greats even if it does feel a little undercooked in places.

If you’re looking for Schumacher’s career inside the F1 paddock to be retold, season reviews are available. But if you want to go beyond that and experience his evolution from promising upstart to unbeatable winning machine from a more human perspective, you will not be disappointed.

Schumacher is released by Netflix at 8am on September 15.