Shocking revelations in all-new documentary.
Michael Schumacher was a notoriously private person. We didn't need Netflix's new documentary to tell us that the fastest German of them all wasn't a fan of the limelight. He was polite (mostly) when interacting with the media but rarely showed how his mind worked. Schumacher was a closed book, apart from the now-famous video where he cried after equalling Ayrton Senna's number of victories. Even more so after the horrifying skiing accident in 2013, which we still know nothing about.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know about Netflix's new documentary, titled Schumacher. For the record, I believe Netflix has done more to reinvigorate interest in F1 than anything else, during a time when it lost millions of fans.
Its halo motoring show, Drive to Survive, continues to delight both fans and non-fans. Why? Because for years, PR training ruined the sport. The drama was handled behind closed doors, and drivers were discouraged from sharing their feelings on just about everything. The only exception was Kimi Raikkonen, who will be sorely missed. His no-effs-given approach is the stuff of legends, and we're reasonably sure that if Kimi did have a PR overlord at some point, they most likely asked to be transferred to a less stressful environment.
We bring up Drive to Survive because that is essentially what Schumacher is. It tells Michael Schumacher's story via interviews with his wife, family, friends, bosses, rivals, and fans. No PR people. As a bonus, the family also handed over scarce footage, granting the kind of access we've never had before.
More than anything, this beautifully crafted documentary proves why Michael will go down as one of the all-time greats, as if seven world titles weren't a good enough reason already. It also reveals things we never expected from Schumacher and makes us appreciate the time he spent racing in F1 even more.
I want to share my favorite revelations from this documentary that prove just how brilliant he was. Not just as a racer but as an overall person. I went into this documentary only knowing the myth of Schumacher, based on what I saw on television as a child. There are some spoilers in here, but nothing that will keep you from watching the film. It's worth seeing if only to form your own opinion on a man that few people really knew.
I never really thought about where Schumacher came from. His rise to F1 fame happened so quickly that most people never really thought to ask. And even if asked, he likely would have given a short answer naming his hometown.
In truth, he had a humble childhood. His family wasn't poor, but they couldn't afford to equip his kart with new tires wherever he went racing. Thankfully, the Schumachers owned a kart track and a restaurant. After the rich kids were done racing for the day, they usually dumped their tires in the bin. Michael would then go dumpster diving looking for semi-usable discarded tires to fit to his kart. And then he used those tires to beat his wealthier opponents.
Schumacher had to be the best, no matter the cost. This led to many controversial crashes, which the documentary doesn't shy away from. It shows the legend warts and all.
Following an epic debut, he was approached by just about every team racing at the time. He could have gone anywhere. I always assumed he chose Ferrari because they were the best, but the documentary serves as a stark reminder that Ferrari was anything but a given at the time. In fact, McLaren Mercedes were dominating, and he certainly had the opportunity to join them. A German racer in a German car would have made the most sense. How many championships would he have had, had he not gone to Ferrari?
But Schumacher liked a challenge, and being responsible for taking Scuderia Ferrari back to the top was far more appealing than joining an already dominating team. Unfortunately, the Ferraris were horrible when Schumacher joined. Experts reckoned the car was inherently flawed and that it would be impossible to win. His teammate at the time, Eddie Irvine, certainly thought so.
But instead of simply giving up, Schumacher put in more effort than anyone else. He stayed up late with his mechanics, tweaking the car until it was as good as it could be. Even then, the car was off the pace compared to the rivals.
But Schumacher simply had to be the best, and he worked with the team to eventually produce a winning car. That's why Schumacher was adored by his team. He regarded everyone as equal and vital. Even the guy who made the pasta received a special mention.
The clearest sign of his dedication can be seen during testing at Fiorano. Schumacher had no issues spending eight hours pushing his car to the limit to find the best possible configuration. We all know what these cars do to F1 drivers in the space of two hours, so just imagine the beating you take after spending eight behind the wheel.
Schumacher and Ayrton had a negative encounter quite early in the German's career. He was responsible for damaging Senna's car, and the famously hot-headed Senna came over after the race to have a chat. After berating Schumacher, Senna walked away. It was actually a pleasant experience watching two drivers having a heated conversation and leaving it all out there on the track.
Over time, we forgot that Schumacher was challenging Senna for the lead during the infamous Imola crash in 1994. He got a front-row seat to the crash that many now believe killed Senna on impact.
Schumacher revealed that he had sleepless nights following the incident and that his outlook on the dangers related to F1 racing changed entirely. Shortly after the fatal accident, Schumacher was scouting Silverstone in a road car. Instead of looking for the fastest line like he usually did, he remembers looking at all the corners where the possibility of a fatal crash was high. He wasn't sure whether he'd be able to drive on edge again. Thankfully, he was able to get back in the car and give everything.
The biggest surprise of all was the revelation that Schumacher was racked with self-doubt and paranoia. He was also deeply skeptical of all people, even his wife. But once he knew somebody, they were a friend for life. He never hesitated to push the limits and challenge his rivals to a game of chicken and was scolded by more than one driver for his daring driving style. That's hauntingly similar to Senna's approach, and what Verstappen is doing these days.
Schumacher also did many controversial things. Various suspect crashes worked in his favor, not to mention that time Scuderia Ferrari forced Reubens Barrichello to give up his lead and let Schumacher by. He also loved to party. On camera, he was shy, but once he was safely away from the public eye, he drank like a pirate, sang karaoke (badly), and set off fireworks using a cigarette. Who even knew he was a smoker?
Does this mean we have less respect for Schumacher? Not at all. F1 drivers are mere mortals. They're fallible, arrogant, unsure, and just as anxious as the rest of us.
If it was raining, Schumacher was going to win. He seemed to have a sixth sense, showing him where the grip was. I thought this was just pure talent, but there's a reason he was so good when the heavens opened.
His brother, Ralf Schumacher, said that he and Michael would race in the wet all the time at the family's karting track. They'd only use slicks while racing in the rain, which blows my mind. How is it even possible? It does explain why he had such masterful car control in rainy conditions. He was so much faster in the rain that he regularly lapped some of his most fierce rivals.
Every second weekend we got to see Michael Schumacher in action. He was on TV for two hours, and then he was gone for another two weeks. We never saw what happened in between the races. Apart from ads where he flogged gas and the Ferrari F430.
The fact is, Schumacher worked harder than anyone else. When he wasn't in the gym, he was testing the car. He had hours-long discussions with his mechanics, trying to improve the car. He put in the work, and he reaped the rewards. He missed out on numerous red carpet events and after-race parties, either running through the race with the team or working out to ensure he had the strength to wrestle with the car.
Once again, we can draw parallels between him and Verstappen. Max is also close with his mechanics, and when he isn't testing the car, he's likely in the simulator. Verstappen might be displaying some of Schumacher's negative traits too. The most important: he's only human, too.