‘Schumacher’ touchingly humanizes a racing legend

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Rick Dikeman, wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

“Schumacher” sheds light on the life of seven-time World Driver’s Championship winner Michael Schumacher.

Content Warning: This documentary depicts a fatal racing incident.

Michael Schumacher is one of the most famous Formula One drivers, even outside of the sport. He’s one of the greatest drivers of all time, his World Driver’s Championship wins equaled only by Lewis Hamilton. “Schumacher,” a Netflix documentary released on Sept. 15, shows his greatness not only as a driver but also as a person, in a simply breathtaking way.

Going into the documentary, I worried that it would be inaccessible to viewers who are unfamiliar with Formula One racing. However, this fear was laid to rest within the first 20 minutes; “Schumacher” is an amazing film that anyone can enjoy, even if they have never seen a single race. From the perspective of a younger fan, the documentary was everything I expected and more. I’d seen countless conversations discussing whether Schumacher was the greatest driver of all time, but I’d never seen him race before.

One could talk endlessly about Michael Schumacher’s racing lines from Eau Rogue into Raidillon, his pit stop strategies, or any other jargon-heavy analyses of his driving. “Schumacher” doesn’t do any of this, nor does it need to; it moves the audience solely with its characterization of the driver.

One unique aspect of the documentary was the parallels between Michael Schumacher’s racing career and that of his son, Mick Schumacher. One example was how Michael Schumacher “knew [the staff’s] names and sometimes knew their wives’ names.” I’ve heard the same stories about Mick Schumacher, who is in his rookie year of Formula One. The film also mentioned Michael Schumacher playing soccer with the engineers; I saw a video of Mick Schumacher doing the same thing last week. These connections created a link between the past and present for me and made me care about someone I’d never watched in just under two hours.

Another significant feature that makes “Schumacher” stands out from other documentaries is its exclusive access to footage from the Schumacher family’s archives and interviews from the Schumacher family. Since Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident in 2013, his family has remained very private about his condition, making the interviews more impactful.

With all that being said, the first major pitfall of the documentary for people unfamiliar with Formula One is that it doesn’t explain why we should care about Michael Schumacher in the first place. Thankfully, there’s only one thing people need to know: Michael Schumacher is one of the greatest drivers in Formula One history.

My only other critique comes from the last 20 minutes of the documentary, where his family talks about his role as a father. The critical missing piece is Mick Schumacher’s job as a Formula One driver. The absence of this detail robs some viewers of the full impact of Mick’s final interview in the documentary.

“I think Dad and me, we would understand each other in a different way now simply because we speak a similar language, the language of motorsport. And that we would have much more to talk about… I would give up everything just for that,” Mick Schumacher said.

Without a doubt, the documentary still gets Mick Schumacher’s point across. However, it doesn’t sufficiently highlight that Mick Schumacher would give up one of 20 Formula One seats for more time to talk with his father. It wouldn’t mean giving up a hobby; it would mean giving up a seat at the pinnacle of motorsport.

Other than those two criticisms, I think “Schumacher” is very close to perfection. It has something for Formula One fans, as well as for those who have never watched a race. I would even go so far as to say that there’s something for those who dislike racing and dismiss it as just cars driving around for two hours.

The documentary is not about Michael Schumacher, the racer; any Formula One fan already knows of his gift, and any newcomer doesn’t understand the technical jargon associated with it. Instead, the documentary is about Michael Schumacher, the father who went away with his family after the 1997 season. It’s about Michael Schumacher, the diligent sportsman who would collaborate with his engineers long after every other team had left. But most of all, the documentary is about Michael Schumacher, the human.

In a sport that all too often views its drivers as robots, “Schumacher” reminds the viewer of the man behind one of the greatest drivers of all time.

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