Will Netflix’s Michael Schumacher film live up to its ‘no sugar-coating’ brief?

2021 F1 season

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Since the arrival of the acclaimed Senna movie a decade ago, motorsport fans have been offered a succession of documentaries of varying quality.

Netflix’s Drive to Survive series has been credited with attracting a new generation of fans to the sport. Other filmmakers have swung the spotlight on diverse topics from safety to teams, drivers and even a former president of the FIA.

While some of those subjects may charitably be described as ‘niche’, that undoubtedly does not apply to the subject of Netflix’s forthcoming feature: Michael Schumacher, seven-times world champion, the most successful driver in the history of the sport until recently, and still the greatest ever in the eyes of some.

Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns and Michael Wech – two of the film’s three directors – have previously profiled another German sporting hero, former world number one tennis player Boris Becker, in ‘Der Spieler’ (‘The Player’). The filmmakers promise ‘Schumacher’, due for release in a month’s time, will be “a very sensitive yet critical portrait”. That nearly encapsulates the challenges they faced in producing a film which does justice to the complex legacy of the driver who dominated F1 in the early noughties.

Not unlike his successor and F1’s only other seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton, Schumacher rose to the top from a working-class background. Hopefully the extensive archive footage promised in ‘Schumacher’ includes suitable material to illustrate this aspect of the Schumacher story which, certainly in Britain, feels under-appreciated.

‘Schumacher’ will mark the 30th anniversary of his debut
Schumacher’s many fans will also no doubt welcome the chance to relive his greatest moments, though if all 91 of his grand prix victories are going to feature there won’t be time for much else. That seems unlikely, for as well as interviews with his family (brother Ralf, wife Corinna and children Mick and Gina) we will also hear from fellow drivers Sebastian Vettel, Mika Hakkinen, Damon Hill and David Coulthard, plus senior ‘Team Schumacher’ figures Jean Todt, Flavio Briatore, Willi Weber, Luca di Montezemolo and Sabine Kehm – not to mention ex-F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

“They tell the story of a passionate fighter who pushed the boundaries of his sport further and further, and of the absolute team player who always treated people with high regard and respect,” promise the producers. But not all of Schumacher’s former rivals might be prepared to tell that story, which perhaps explains the absence of Jacques Villeneuve, 1997 world champion with Williams, from that list.

Villeneuve won the title after Schumacher’s unsuccessful attempt to knock him off the track at Jerez, which led to his disqualification from the championship. Jock Clear – a Williams race engineer at the time, who later worked with Schumacher – said this week Villeneuve “had no doubt that Michael didn’t have the same ethical approach to driving that Jacques did”. Speaking to the official F1 website, Clear said that after Schumacher’s clash with Hill three years earlier, which secured his first world title, Villeneuve “was in no doubt that if that scenario arose again, Michael would do it again”.

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Will the film explore or ignore the times Schumacher crossed the line in pursuit of success? Another notable omission from that list of drivers is Fernando Alonso, who at Monaco in 2006 threatened to lie down in front of Schumacher’s car on the starting grid if the stewards let him keep pole position after he deliberately parked at Rascasse to prevent his rivals from improving their lap times. At the time Schumacher insisted his “conscience was clear”, but after eight hours of deliberations the stewards sent the Ferrari driver to the back of the grid (and spared Alonso an awkward photo opportunity).

Race report: 1997 European Grand Prix – Villeneuve takes title as Schumacher’s attack gets him thrown out
It wasn’t only Schumacher’s conduct on the track which drew criticism from his rivals. Many were unimpressed by his refusal to help Formula 1 avoid the farcical scenes witnessed at Indianapolis in 2005, where only Ferrari and two other teams had tyres capable of withstanding the forces they encountered at the track.

As a result just six cars participated in a race which did untold damage to F1’s reputation in the vital American market. “Ferrari was going to get a one-two finish anyway and they would have done it with a lot less egg on their face,” recalled Mark Webber in James Allen’s 2007 biography of Schumacher. “I was disappointed, he’s so powerful, he carries so much weight and it can swing things, no question.”

Schumacher’s fans will want to watch a celebration of his achievements and his critics will seek scrutiny of his shortcomings. But balancing those angles is not the most difficult challenge facing the filmmakers. The other is how to address the tragic development in Schumacher’s story since his departure from F1 in 2012.

Now 52, Schumacher hasn’t been seen in public since he suffered serious brain injuries in a skiing crash in 2013. Verifiable details about his condition and treatment have been extremely thin on the ground since, and speculation is rife. But Vettel remarked last year that Schumacher, the idol of his junior years, was unable to witness his own son’s Formula 1 debut.

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Nurburgring Nordschleife, 2013
Schumacher has been out of the public eye since 2013
His family have endured a tragedy and they have chosen to keep further details of Schumacher’s condition to themselves as is their undoubted right. But many will be wondering if they have chosen to use ‘Schumacher’, the only film about his life produced with their support, as an opportunity to address some of the many unanswered questions over his condition.

Schumacher remains a hero to many, a fascinating yet divisive character, and one whose recent history is heart-breaking. However the filmmakers have resolved the challenges of telling his story, they insist they have done so without taking the easy option of a fawning hagiography.

“The greatest challenge for the directors was certainly to find the balance between independent reporting and consideration for the family,” said co-director Vanessa Nöcker. “Corinna Schumacher herself was our greatest support in this. She herself wanted to make an authentic film, to show Michael as he is, with all his ups and downs, without any sugar-coating.”

We’ll discover whether ‘Schumacher’ meets that standard when the film arrives on Netflix on September 15th. It promises to be this year’s must-watch feature for F1 fans.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 55 comments on “Will Netflix’s Michael Schumacher film live up to its ‘no sugar-coating’ brief?”

    1. They will have to sugarcoat it, no point in destroying a legend and damaging F1′ s heritage. But the truth will still be out there for those interested in the real story.

      1. what story are you talking about?

      2. It wouldn’t destroy a legend… I can’t think of many drivers who have performed at his level that haven’t behaved poorly on track and made questionable decisions at times. Anyone with the level of success Schumacher has had have pushed rules to the limits and have at times, overstepped the line.

        1. Yeah, I agree @petebaldwin, if they succeed (and with support from the family even) to show a full picture of how much Schumacher changed the sport, matured it, but also was an utterly competitive driver who at times showed very little scruple around the track in doing so, then it will be a great and very memorable feat to give him his rightful place in the F1 pantheon (the great Senna documentary, much as I enjoyed it, ended to ignore that part of the legend a bit, IMO).

          I certainly hope it succeeds, because while I do think that by now I have a solid and balanced view of Schumacher, I would welcome such a documentary of a very interesting motorsports figure.

        2. I’m not a Schumacher expert, but ‘the absolute team player’ seems a stretch to me, at least from a team mate’s point of view. I remember Nico Rosberg saying that Schumi played mental games, for example acting like Rosberg doesn’t exist at all.

          1. I’ve known to not take Rosberg’a stories seriously.

        3. His on track antics are one thing, but the cheating with the traction control and the pit fuel flow thing are akin to motor doping in cycling. You think Lance Armstrong looks bad? Schumacher was the dirtiest sportsman I have ever seen. And there is no way his wife is going to let anybody explore that aspect of his life.

          1. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
            13th August 2021, 22:50

            I don’t really see how it’s any better than the fia hampering anyone who gets close to Mercedes or Mercedes massively exceeding testing limits just before the engine freeze

          2. Funny how people tend to forget that Ferrari were caught with TC-software on the car in that same season while they only found LC-software on the Benetton. As well as that they were far from the only team to screw with the fuel flow.

      3. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
        13th August 2021, 22:47

        This is how I feel about Hamilton :/

        1. Not exactly comparable, but a Red Bull around him certainly brings up the Schumacher in Hamilton.

    2. Well I assume he’s referring to when his on track conduct was certainly less than sporting, if a little melodramaticly…

    3. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with his first championship season in ’94 and the controversies surrounding the B194 with traction control, launch control, and fuel filling.

      1. @g-funk I know people who were part of the Benetton team in 1994 who to this day get angry at those accusations as they remain adamant that the accusations were unfounded & that every ‘trick’ they had on that car in terms of how power was delivered to the rear wheels was 100% legal.

        I know of one very senior member of the team who to this day feels it was nothing more than nonsense stirred up by the British media who not only disliked Michael as they saw him as a bit arrogant but who also wanted to do everything possible to get Damon Hill viewed as the underdog as they felt that would create additional interest & bring back those who had switched off after Nigel Mansell’s departure. Bernie persuading Williams to bring Nigel back was done for similar reasons.

        He also pointed to the fact that many of the same members of the media who were pushing the narrative the hardest were far more lenient on McLaren’s use of a fully automatic gearbox (Which was also a banned driver aid) despite them been found to have used the system & subsequently admitting to doing so.

        1. gt-racer With all due respect to those you know who claim ‘legal,’ I get that and appreciate it, because it is literally true that Benetton were never found to have used illegal traction control, and they were there on the team so of course this is going to be their side of the story. That said, everything in the way the car was behaving, and why so many suspected it, and why there was such a thorough investigation, points to what was concluded, which was that they had a system that was hidden and that they could use, but were simply never caught ‘red-handed’ shall we say.

          What I’m sure exasperated people about the whole year was additionally the fuel filler illegality, the plank wear illegality, the MS black flag issue, and of course the whack on Damon. From what I read of the Mac gearbox, that was investigated and FIA cleared them because Mac argued a good case that one interpretation of the rule book made it appear to them that what they did would be within the rules. Suffice it to say this one indiscretion by Mac, if we shall call it that, pales in comparison to what Benetton and MS were up to all season long from various directions.

          1. Just remembered the joke that was going around at the time. FIA sent someone to Silicon Valley to hire their best software engineer to try to police for illegal traction control, and were told “Too late, he already works for Benetton.”

          2. @robbie I do have to note a correction to my original post to @gt-racer and acknowledge that the device fitted to the gearbox did allow for upshifts to be partially automated, as the driver could also pre-select the upshift.

            The FIA did ultimately declare that McLaren’s gearbox was not legal and had to be removed from the car – the official statement from the FIA on McLaren’s gearbox was as follows:
            “The FIA World Motor Sport Council found that the gearbox control device fitted to car No. 7 (Mika Hakkinen) Marlboro McLaren Peugeot at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was in breach of the Formula One Technical Regulations.

            However the FIA World Motor Sport Council was satisfied that McLaren had fitted this system believing it to be legal according to their interpretation of the rules. They did not intend to infringe the regulations.

            McLaren and any other team with such a device will be required to remove the up-change facility prior to the Italian Grand Prix and any similar down-change facility prior to the Portuguese Grand Prix.

            The World Motor Sport Council upheld the fine of $100,000 imposed on the McLaren team on 26 July for delay in supplying the source codes. The World Motor Sport Council did not accept as a good enough reason the fact that the team itself had difficulties in acquiring the source codes from the company supplying them. The World Council recognized that the delay was not due to any intention by McLaren deliberately to conceal any feature in its software.

            The World Council noted that during the course of the investigation, LDRA Ltd discovered a bug (fault) in the McLaren software which was producing a power loss in the engine (due to a faulty signal from the gearbox control unit to the engine control unit). McLaren will now be able to correct this problem.”

            The FIA quite unambiguously stated that McLaren were breaking the technical regulations with their gearbox in their judgement – so, whilst the FIA might have said that they did not think it was a deliberate attempt to deceive them, McLaren were found guilty. The only thing that saved McLaren was the unusual leniency shown by the FIA in their judgement in allowing the results to stand.

            With regards to the claim that it was “one indiscretion” by McLaren – the FIA only chose to investigate just the San Marino GP and was able to obtain evidence that, for that particular race, they were definitely using that system, which is why the judgement was specific to that particular event.

            However, McLaren were almost certainly using it for a lot longer than that, given that Alliot’s comments whilst driving for Larrousse at the Belgian GP were what helped reveal the existence of that gearbox to the FIA in the first place (Alliot was McLaren’s test driver and had temporarily taken over Hakkinen’s car in Hungary before driving for Larrousse at the next race in Belgium).

            The judgement did not come until a week before the Italian GP – so the pre-selection function was effectively immediately banned, given that was the very next race – and, given Alliot’s comments, it suggests McLaren probably had been using that gearbox from at least the San Marino GP all the way through to the Belgian GP.

            It therefore means that, at the lowest end, McLaren probably raced for 9 of the 16 races with that gearbox, and quite plausibly 11 out of 16 (given that functionality was likely used from the start of the season) – it’s just that the San Marino GP was the only one where the FIA had enough proof to find McLaren guilty of breaking the technical regulations.

        2. @gt-racer strictly speaking, although it was an illegal driver aid, the McLaren gearbox wasn’t an automatic gearbox – what it instead did was allow the drivers to pre-select a downshift, and then the onboard software would ensure that the shift would occur when the engine revs had dropped to the optimum shift point, preventing the driver from prematurely downshifting and over revving the engine.

          I was going to say that you could have also noted the variable rev limit that Ferrari briefly utilised on their cars (dropping the rev limit in lower gears, which therefore prevented the drivers from spinning the rear wheels too much), until Whiting caught them using it.

        3. @gt-racer Fair enough. I bring it up not so much in I know what happened one way or the other, but in that they said it will not be sugar-coating his achievements. Does that also mean talking about the team controversies that aren’t the same as Michael punting someone off the track, but nonetheless may have given an unfair advantage (if true).

    4. It sounds predictable. It can’t possibly be worse than ‘Senna’, and even there were some cool footage and interesting behind-the-scenes stuff. I’ll watch it if I get the chance.

      1. It sounds predictable

        Predictable, in that you know what happens in the end?

        1. I think he means predictable in that they will take an extremely flawed character and turn him into a saint. See “Senna” as an example.

          1. yes that’s it, thanks @darryn @unklegsif

            1. @balue @darryn
              My comment was another example of sarcasm and wit not translating well into print, and being taken literally

    5. @keithcollantine

      hagiography

      Word of the day

      1. @unklegsif Yeah, I had to google it.

        1. @unklegsif @bernasaurus I’ve got a few books which deserve the description, certainly one on Schumacher, and a few more on Senna…

      2. Hagiography describes it perfectly

    6. Maybe they should take a look at the Documentary Michael Schumacher the Cheating Champion. Its on YouTube..

      1. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
        13th August 2021, 22:53

        Sounds unbiased!

    7. I am surprised by the lack of mention of Balbir Singh, the coach / trainer/ physio who turned Schumacher into the epitome of fitness that became a central reason of his dominant driving skills among less fit grid collogues, not to forget how his fitness is one of the reasons he didn’t die immediately from the skiing crash. I hope the documentary covers that aspect well otherwise it would be a shame.

      1. @nimba A fair point, but then it was likely Schumacher himself who saw the advantages of fitness to begin with

    8. Those crying cheat and dirty driver say it as though Schumacher’s immense natural skill meant nothing. 99.9% of his races were things of pure race craft beauty, with only a handful being brought into question. Yes he did push it to the limit and sometimes over, but he certainly didn’t need ‘traction control’ or illegal parts to win races (even if that was true)

      After Senna, Schumacher set new standards for driving excellence, fitness and approach to the sport. So much so that most of it stands up today, 20-30 years later.

      Its pretty much accepted by those in the know that its only Fernando Alonso that has even approached the level of complete driver that deserves to be thought of as the very best of a generation.

      1. Very much agree to the first two part of your post, and also I feel his first retirement came too early. If you look at his last race with Ferrari in Brazil, one of (if not the) best driving I ever saw. It’s a different question whether or not he could have kept up that level of motivation and concentration, but let’s say he could..

        I know there’s no ‘ifs’ in sports and history and easy to tell in hindsight, but look at how much Schumacher dominated Massa in 2006. Kimi was nowhere near that much better than Massa in 2007. Some may say it’s pointless comparison but had he stayed I feel he could have easily retired as a 9 time champion in 2008.

        Regarding the last part of your comment I can’t agree ‘that its only Fernando Alonso that has even approached the level of complete driver that deserves to be thought of as the very best of a generation’

        I think the very least Hamilton deserves to be regarded the same way.

        1. @david

          The clue as to whomever ‘those in the know’ are is in the writers name!

          1. @drg True that, didn’t notice until you pointed out, thanks

    9. I was a big Schumacher “hater” at the peak of his career. I’ve mellowed out over time, and now I respect what it took for him to win seven world titles.

      That being said, I don’t think you can explain the greats through a sanitised version of their careers. Schumacher didn’t just win through “hard work, dedication, pure talent”, or whatever catch-phrase they want Will Buxton to say. I fear they’ll touch upon it, enough for the experienced F1 viewers to understand what they’re saying, but not completely extrapolate on it for the average Netflix viewer. Something like “he pushed the limits of racing” or “Michael raced to the edge of the grey area”

      1. The Schumacher story definitely needs that part of it. And not just for the obvious cheats against Hill or Villeneuve and Monaco qualifying, but also the refuelling cheat, and suspicions of more like the traction control.

        I have also mellowed toward him over time, and especially after the accident, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this documentary is a complete whitewash. In this PC day and age, it’s like one couldnt possibly criticize a disabled person, so you know what it’s going to be like before you’ve even seen it.

        1. How do you know he is disabled? PC is a good thing by the way, it is natural societal and human progression.

    10. “They tell the story of a passionate fighter who pushed the boundaries of his sport further and further, and of the absolute team player who always treated people with high regard and respect,” promise the producers.” This overview does not make me think that the producer didn’t sugar coat the content. Nothing could be further from the truth “always treated people with high regard and respect”, really? How is trying to squeeze Ruben B into a wall, knocking Damon H out for the championship and trying to do same to JV a few year later showing high regard and respect. Not a popular sentiment but many view his skiing accident as Karma catching up to Micheal for decades of bad and dangerous behaviour to others. I for one will skip the documentary based on the slanted statement above. Sounds like the victim in the documentary is the truth.

      1. “ Not a popular sentiment but many view his skiing accident as Karma catching up to Micheal for decades of bad and dangerous behaviour to others.”

        That is an appalling comment. No sensible person thinks that.

        1. @Sunrise

          People who think that/imply its show justified better watch out for ‘Karma’

      2. This about sums it up. The guy was a bully and a cheat. My biggest disappointment of that era was that nobody ever stood up to him. When he would sweep across at the start with his attitude of either back off or we wreck got old. Nobody ever just wrecked him. Punch the bully on the nose a few times and he loses all his power. Not once did anybody ever do this.

        1. Do you agree with the “karma” comment?

          1. @sunrose

            I guess the question wasn’t for me but just to make sure it’s 100% clear as I’m not native i do not

            1. To dwell on that note a little bit further; if you break your left leg, your brain says ‘ok, my left leg is broken, let’s not put any weight on it, rest, put a cascet on ot etc etc.’

              Same if you break an arm. But once you break you brain, there is no central processing/computing unit left there to ‘tell’ what to do in order to heal.

              There is no shortage of stories where a person had an accident, being told they won’t be able to walk again and against all odds they do walk again.

              Even if they can’t, those can still achive great things, look no further than Zanardi (probably not the most fortunate example given recent events in his life but up to very recently you’ve got my point I hope).

              I very honestly wish it would be just being ignorant but I can’t recall any stories where one screws up their brain and comes back strong against all the odds.

              Again, I wish I was wrong and please send me some links proving me wrong

    11. Schumacher is a bit of a lost era for me. Given the course of 1994 I only watched occasionally for the next decade. What I noticed was a lot of controversy over technology and on road cheating. Most of all, I didnt see any competition for Michael. Hakkinen was his best opponent over 7 titles. That is quite some luck for a driver. Pity how all ended for him personally, but he never triggered any real interest from my side despite I’ve been watching since late 70s.

      1. No competition? He raced world champions Mansell, Senna, Prost, Hill, Villeneuve, Hakkinen, Alonso. Get a grip. I never liked Schumacher, I watched all his races and was not a fan, but I appreciate he is one of the best ever if not the best F1 driver in terms of speed and talent.

        1. @kpcart

          100% agreed

          People don’t realize how tremendous effort it must have been to stay WDC material for well over a decade (to clarify I mean from ’93-’06) and he won seven titles in those years and came very very close in another 3(?at the very least) in those years

        2. He was a rookie when racing against those names. They were all gone when he starting racking them up. Mansell, Prost and Senna weren’t there after 1993 (plus two races in ’94). Hill and Villeneuve don’t come close to being a good racing driver, they lucked into the right car. Alonso was much later. So leaving Hakkinen. Well, thats some competition. Give me a break. There is a reason if and when a driver racks up more than 4 titles. And its not the driver, thats for sure.

          1. Oh well, could be worse. He could have been driving a Merc for the last seven years with no competition (other than Rosberg for a few)…

    12. If it is about Michael Schumacher’s life then they have to include how he is going now surely… But I I bet 99.99% this money milking show will be only about his life up to his injury, which we already know about too well.

    13. There are too many secrets and hidden truths about Michael Schumacher to tell.
      I am 100% sure that there will be no mention of most of them.
      For example, article in the October 2006 issue of BusinessF1 Magazine, called “Michael Schumacher: The Strange Story of His Retirement.”
      Then, of course, in December 2011, Jos Verstappen, Schumacher’s teammate during the 1994 season, claimed the German’s car was equipped with illegal electronic devices.
      I am not even going into Schumacher’s “respect” to Damon Hill in the mass media in 1994. You can find and read F1 press of 1994 by yourself.

    14. You can go down crazy paths with conspiracies. Some may have a grain or two of truth. For example:

      Senna was convinced Benetton had TC in 94, so pushed too hard trying to stay ahead of Schumacher at the (second) start of the tragic San Marino GP.

      Schumacher never had fair competition. He only allowed team mates he could beat and always got first choice of upgrades.

      Hamilton would be nowhere at Mercedes without the team transformation Schumacher started.

      Didn’t see any of those mentioned above. What else have you got?

      1. Linking Senna’s death to TC is more than a wee bit contentious.

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