People are missing the point of the Schumacher documentary
We know everything about his racing career. We knew barely anything about the man behind it.
Netflix's Michael Schumacher documentary is finally out. Many of us have already sat down and watched it. I guarantee that many of us have also felt incredible amounts of emotion watching it too. It's been almost universally acclaimed as a great tribute to one of the greatest racing drivers of all time. Some critics and fans, however, have been fairly critical of it. A bit too critical, in my view. Yes, the documentary doesn't touch on the controversial moments of his racing career that much. It doesn't really cover anything about his return to the sport with Mercedes either, or much of how things were for him during his time away from racing from 2007-2009.
That, however, isn't the point of the Schumacher documentary. We already know everything about Michael Schumacher, the racing driver. The fearless competitor who would do pretty much anything to win. The extreme perfectionist who demanded perfect lap after perfect lap from himself. The ruthless warrior who could sometimes take the pranks and mind games a little bit too far. We don't need yet another exploration of all that. We already have that available to us. What we did need was an exploration of Michael Schumacher, the man behind the racing driver.
That is what the Schumacher documentary has given us. There's a very good reason as to why there are so many home videos, many of which having that grainy VHS quality that evokes nostalgia of the pre-digital media age, scattered throughout the film. This is a side of Michael Schumacher that, until now, we've never been given access to.
In the age of social media, we've taken the fact that we can have access to the off-track personalities and sections of the private lives of Formula 1 drivers for granted. Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris, George Russell, Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon and several others have all used the ever-present nature of social media to bring us into their worlds. People have gradually started to forget that this is something that's only happened very recently. Back in the late 90s and early 00s, the era of F1 that I was first exposed to as a child, our perception of F1 drivers was entirely controlled by the media, the drivers' managers and the general F1 machine.
Schumacher especially was protective of his private life and for good reason. He was distrustful of the press. Him and his wife Corinna didn't want to their kids to have to deal with the spotlight at such a young age. They didn't want the safety of their family life invaded by journalists and paparazzi. It's no wonder, then, that until now we've barely seen anything of Michael Schumacher outside of the image of the fearless racing driver.
That's why, at least to me, it was almost revolutionary that we finally got a depiction of the man that is Michael Schumacher. Michael Schumacher, the loving husband and father who gave his kids the best childhood he could have possibly given them. Michael Schumacher, the fun-loving daredevil and party animal who was the last to leave at the end of the night and usually ended up throwing people into the pool. Michael Schumacher, the team leader who made everyone feel important from the chief engineer to the cook who made everyone pasta.
Perhaps most importantly though, we saw the vulnerabilities in Michael Schumacher that he almost always kept hidden from the public. Whilst he projected an aura of confidence and leadership in public, in private he was a much more reserved individual who always had just that nagging bit of self-doubt in the back of his head. Corinna Schumacher telling the cameras that Michael would always be worried about his performance as a new F1 season came around the corner was very telling about where the perfectionism Michael was known for actually came from. It definitely didn't come from ego, like many might have thought at the time.
Seeing how much the death of Ayrton Senna affected him was something that stood out to me as the documentary's most poignant moment. As somebody who grew up during the Schumacher era, seeing the near-indestructible racing driver I knew from my childhood express the sheer anxiety he faced in the immediate weeks after Imola 1994 was more significant than I ever could have realised. Schumacher expressing in an old interview from the time that he genuinely thought he might be too afraid of dying during a race to ever race again was truly shocking. If there is any one moment that truly humanises Michael Schumacher, it's that.
Schumacher's extreme anxiety following the death of Senna being shown is something that's very important too. In an age where the stigma surrounding talking about mental health is slowly being removed, it does an unfathomable amount of good when a public figure who was known for being a strong, confident and fearless man is shown openly talking about one of the most vulnerable periods of his life. I'd like to think that maybe, just maybe, other men will start to talk openly about their struggles with mental health because of that one part of this documentary. If strong, confident, fearless, almost undefeatable team leader Michael Schumacher could talk about it, maybe they can too.
If you watch Schumacher and expect it to be a dissection of his racing career, you're better off watching something else. If you want to get to know the man behind that incredible career, it's the best window we've ever had into that. That's what this documentary is really about.