Last weekend was an exciting weekend of action at Talladega Superspeedway. I know. I was there. A shrewd viewer may have even seen me at the Infield Care Center in the rain on Monday (October 4), trying to get quotes from William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Preece.
There is a lot to write about Talladega’s action and how it got covered. Unfortunately, I’ve been in Alabama since Tuesday night. I won’t be home until Columbus Day. We’ll have to cover this when I get home and can write some notes. Needless to say, someone was served, and that was unfair.
This week we will be covering the new Netflix documentary Schumacher, which covers the life and times of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. Since Schumacher had his skiing accident which almost killed him, very little has been reported about him. In general, if he does not come directly from Schumacher’s family, or from Sabine Kehm (Michael’s press officer), it should not be considered as a fact, whatever Jean Todt may say. .
That said, this documentary was produced with the full support of Schumacher’s family and includes personal videos they provided. Additionally, members of Michael’s family (including his father Rolf) are interviewed.
The play begins with the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, where Schumacher was chosen to make his Grand Prix debut in place of Bertrand Gachot in Jordan. Gachot had hit a taxi driver in London and had been sent to jail. Schumacher was a sports car racer at the time under the Mercedes umbrella.
Schumacher entered a very competitive grid in 1991 with a new team and quickly qualified seventh, which surprised everyone. The Jordan 191 was a very good car, but a bit fragile. Schumacher’s inaugural race didn’t even last half a turn before the clutch gave him away. Either way, that was all everyone needed to see.
Flavio Briatore explained how he quickly moved to reclaim Schumacher’s services for Benetton. The day after the race, Schumacher and his agent, Willi Weber, met Briatore. Within days he was hired to drive for Benetton, replacing Emanuele Pirro.
Via archive footage, Schumacher recounts his early days in racing in small go-karts. He started very young under the direction of his father. At the age of 6, Rolf was renting karts and Michael was there with him.
The Schumachers were by no means a wealthy family. Rolf may have operated a go-cart track, but before that he was a bricklayer. The races of Michael and his younger brother Ralf were initially held with second-hand and third-hand equipment. Although he is from Germany, Schumacher took part in the Junior World Karting Championship for Luxembourg because it was cheaper.
Schumacher’s career took off because Weber was willing to put his own money for him, paying him a salary of 24,000 Deutsche Marks a year in 1988 and providing him with a car. Even then, having sponsors or an independent fortune was important in motorsport – and he had neither.
At the start of his career, Schumacher clashed with Ayrton Senna. The two had a collision at Magny-Cours, but they never really had much direct competition. At the time, Benetton was seen as a low rate team compared to McLaren.
In 1994, Benetton was extremely strong with the Ford Zetec-R engine. Senna had moved to Williams with the powerful Renault V10s. It was probably the first season the two would go head-to-head for the championship, but it never really happened. Senna spun trying to chase Schumacher in Brazil, then was initially knocked out on the TI Aida Circuit (now the Okayama International Circuit) in Japan. The third race was Imola, where Senna crashed while leading and lost his life.
If I spent the time here writing about what Senna meant for Formula 1, it would be a Senna column instead of a Schumacher column. I recommend watching the movie Senna to get a feel for what Senna really meant for motorsport, especially for his native Brazil.
It seems Senna’s death changed Schumacher. It started 1994 on a roll and then a series of crazy things happened. There was the black flag for the formation lap at Silverstone, the DQ at Spa and the resulting two-race suspension. There was a revolving door of teammates (he had three that year). Finally, he appeared to choke on Adelaide, resulting in an infamous collision with Damon Hill which ultimately won him the title.
After winning his second title in 1995, Schumacher was a free agent. He could have chosen to stay at Benetton, go to McLaren or go to Ferrari, which had been weak in recent years, perhaps spending a little too much time with the V12 engine. The first year with a V10 for Ferrari was 1996, and the team struggled with a bad car. Despite that, Schumacher still won with it, especially in the rain in Barcelona in a race that practically went over the two-hour deadline.
One of the main takeaways here is that Schumacher was devoted like hell and didn’t want to be beaten. He would stay with the team as late as necessary and do anything to win. This is what led to the infamous meeting with Jacques Villeneuve in Jerez in 1997.
He was a restless man who always needed to do something. He would travel the world, skydive, ski, ride a Harley in America, do whatever he wanted.
For a movie like this, I think the general public would really like to know how Schumacher is doing now, almost eight years after his skiing accident in Méribel, France. You will be disappointed.
This is a 119-minute film, and the crash is only mentioned in the last 13 minutes. What is revealed is that Schumacher was not very confident in the snow in Méribel that day and instead considered going to Dubai to go skydiving. Michael is still there and undergoes constant therapy in their home in Switzerland. Beyond that, almost nothing is revealed about Michael’s current state.
What really stands out from the film is the love that Michael and his wife Corinna have for each other. Even when he was busiest, he still made time for Corinna, and they always seemed to be so happy together. It was not a situation like Scott Pruett’s, where his family hardly ever went to the races, hence his constant “Hi my family home” quotes you saw in his TV interviews. Corinna was always there by his side and loved every minute. Michael has always been a private person, and now his family protects him.
Is this film worth seeing? Absoutely. There are some good things in there and I have no doubt that Formula 1 fans would enjoy the film. However, if you are looking for an idea of how Michael is living his current life, you don’t and probably never will.
It’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams will race on the ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Places for the round of 16 in both series will be on the line. Formula 1 is back in action at Istanbul Park in Turkey, while IMSA will be at Virginia International Raceway. Finally, it’s the biggest week of the year for modified northeast-style dirt races. Super DIRT Week is underway at Oswego Speedway, culminating with the NAPA Auto Parts 200 on Sunday afternoon. TV programs can be found here.
I will be at VIR this weekend to cover the IMSA action. I think the Michelin Pilot Challenge race will end just as the Cup race begins. I will definitely have a review of the Cup race next week here at front stretch.
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