For someone who hasn't been a keen follower of Formula 1, Netflix’s recent love affair with the sport — courtesy of its highly successful docu-series Formula 1: Drive to Survive — has kept me wanting more. So, when the streaming platform released its long-awaited documentary Schumacher, chronicling the life and times of F1's most popular driver, watching it was non-negotiable. I wasn’t disappointed.
The film opens to what is — for the uninitiated at least — unfamiliar footage of Michael Schumacher in a green racing suit. The year is 1992 and the would-be Formula 1 champion is in a Benetton Formula 1 car, as the film builds up to a journey towards greatness. It does just that, and does it in the most honest manner possible.
Schumacher presents an intimate look of Michael’s early days racing for Benetton Formula Ltd, where he had an early taste of success, winning the world championships in 1994 and 1995.
Making generous use of archival footage from the 1990s, the film brings us a great ring-side view of the soft-spoken Michael — his early days testing go-karts for his parents, and racing for Benetton in green and yellow, just prior to his decade with Ferrari.
The film's big draw is that it shows a side of the champion driver’s personal life that few have been witness to. It is a treat to petrol-heads from the 90s and an exemplary throwback to when Benetton’s racing team was merely a "t-shirt manufacturer with this kid from Germany".
Fast-paced in its narrative, while sensitive and honest in its portrayal of the protagonist, Schumacher introduces its audience to Michael’s genius as well as his shortcomings. It consciously veers away from making Michael a demigod, as many documentaries on sporting champions often fall prey to. Instead, it shows off a human and fault-ridden side to the German racing god.
It ably recounts how despite enjoying success in Benetton, Michael opted to move to Ferrari in 1996, even putting up with what was widely acknowledged as a "deficient" race car. It documents how his many rivalries, starting with Ayrton Senna in the early 90s, to brief run-ins with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, and Michael’s iconic and memorable championship finale with Mika Hakkinen in 2000.
Along the way, Schumacher ably chronicles Michael's cutthroat competitiveness ably displaying how the champion racer had a penchant for doing all it took to prevent rivals from winning, including at times, driving dangerously on the circuit.
It re-visits a few of these controversial on-track incidents like the infamous Schumacher-Hill crash at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix, where Michael was accused of deliberately crashing into Damon Hill, or Schumacher-Coulthard crash in the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix that saw fall agonizingly short of a victory.
Featuring interviews with former F1 bosses, fellow racers Hakkinen, Coulthard and Damon Hill, and Michael’s family: wife Corinna, and children Mick and Gina, Schumacher is an ode to the champion that does not go over the top.
While portraying Michael’s cutthroat competitiveness, it also throws the spotlight on his disarming kindness — sitting with Ferrari’s mechanics till late at night as they work tirelessly on an underperforming car and striking a relationship with the team’s chefs, and knowing everybody by name.
The narrative and insight of Schumacher is so commendable, that you can’t help but want to want more stories from his golden years at Ferrari between 2000 and 2004, but sadly, you don’t get much. I guess there’s no better review of a documentary than realizing that you want more despite its 111-minute runtime.
If you’ve watched a fair bit of Formula 1, Schumacher is bound to be a nostalgic treat for the eyes and heart. If you haven’t, the film is a great intro to one of the world’s most human sportsmen who would go on to sit in the pantheon of greats. It works either way and is made of the stuff that makes good sports documentaries worth their weight in gold.
(Edited by : Jomy Jos Pullokaran)
First Published: IST