Michael Schumacher’s new documentary humanizes F1 hero and showcases the sport for what it once was

If you’ve never seen a Formula 1 race live, you won’t be able to fully comprehend the deafening screeching of the engines of the cars running along the circuit at speeds above 200 km / h. At 134 decibels, that’s a lot to take, even for die-hard fans, including those who can tell which engines are which year based on rpm alone. It’s one of the inexplicable aspects of sport that few people claim to enjoy, but still inspires a lot of enthusiasm.

The same could be said of Michael Schumacher. Love him or hate him for who he was on the track, the German rider is a shining star in the sport and universally hailed as one of his most talented. After securing most of his victories with Ferrari after a stint with Benetton, he ended his career with Mercedes, disappearing from public view in 2013 after a skiing accident. The only update fans ever received was from his manager Sabine Kehm, who said he was no longer in a coma and would readjust at home. It was in 2014, and there has been no news since.

A documentary titled Schumacher released on the 30th anniversary of his F1 debut doesn’t do much to appease our collective curiosity about his current state of health, but it paints a magnificent picture of two very different sides of the German rider – that of the family man and F1 icon. The four-person team behind the film – co-directors Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker and Michael Wech, and producer Benjamin Seikel – combined old footage provided by Schumacher’s family, hundreds of hours of material from F1 archives and interviews with the biggest names in the sport to tell their stories of his colorful career and, more importantly, his life beyond the pit and paddock.

By working with Schumacher’s wife, Corinna, and her children, Gina-Marie and Mick – who followed in her father’s footsteps as a runner – the directors were able to access a lot more material than it would have been possible. possible otherwise. By this we not only mean personal videos of family vacations and wedding photos, but also the willing participation of many F1 nobs. Interviews include, but are not limited to, former Formula 1 group CEO Bernie Ecclestone, Ross Brawn, David Coulthard, Damon Hill, Mika Häkkinen, Luca di Montezemolo and Jean Todt. For longtime fans, seeing these names come to life is both nostalgic and exciting.

As former F1 journalists James Allen and Richard Webber “recounted” the unfolding of the documentary, it quickly becomes apparent that Schumacher is more than just a humanization of a hero – he also presents F1 as the sport it was. in the past. The gritty, unsexy chunks of late-night mechanics, the focus on the driver rather than the near-rockets that cars are today – it was a nostalgic trip back in time to be. many fans would consider the sport’s glory days.

Schumacher joined F1 when Ayrton Senna was world champion with McLaren, Alain Prost was with Ferrari and Nigel Mansell was driving for Williams – it was a completely different era for motorsport, one defined more by the power and skill of the drivers than by the technology that powers the paddock cars today. It was also around this time that F1 racers began to become celebrities in their own right, gaining media attention beyond the sports pages. The handsome, competitive and lightning-fast Senna led the charge, followed closely by the youth and vitality of Schumacher. He hated it.

It’s easy to point out his incredible work ethic – for example, old footage of him working with the mechanics on the car late at night – but comparisons to today’s racers are unfair simply because F1 has fundamentally changed in many ways. There can never be another Schumacher, or Senna for that matter, because today’s Lewis Hamiltons and Daniel Ricciardos don’t play quite the same kind of game anymore.

I felt like it was a film made with a clear intention – to tell the story of Schumacher, but also the period in which he succeeded. Co-director Wech knew exactly what he was looking for when he walked through the thousands of hours of archived Formula One Management footage, and pulled not only key race streams, but a generous amount of behind-the-scenes material as well. which exhibits a never seen before. side of Schumacher and the nature of the sport he faced.

That was Corinna’s intention, too – her husband is an intensely private man and has struggled to build an infallible impression of himself, when this was not true. For example, there are repeated pointers in Schumacher to the innate belief that he never did wrong, which was a trait that surrounded some of his most controversial moments. When Senna addressed their collision in 1992, Schumacher said nothing and took no responsibility. Brawn revealed that it was only after watching the replay that Schumacher realized he was at fault in an accident with Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 and that he was never blamed for having hit the back of a McLaren in 1998 either. In fact, when Coulthard asked him if he was ever wrong, Schumacher replied, “Not that I remember.”

However, he wasn’t always so sure of himself. Despite his competitive relationship with Senna, Schumacher was deeply troubled by his untimely death and suffered sleepless nights for some time afterward. Fighting back tears, Schumacher also spoke of a test he performed at Silverstone just after the tragic Imola weekend in 1994 where, behind the wheel of a road car on the circuit, he became obsessed with the idea of ​​knowing where on the track he could suffer a fatal accident. . Years later, after equaling the Brazilian’s 41 F1 wins at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix, Schumacher burst into uncontrollable sobs at the post-race press conference.

Senna had an equally powerful effect on many F1 fans, and the footage of his crash is haunting to this day. Watching it against the backdrop of Schumacher’s position as a constant contender and eventual winner of the race in which Senna lost his life offers a new perspective – it is suddenly clear how deeply this incident would have affected him. Schumacher’s grief, which he expresses so well in the film, was painful to watch.

In the last part of the film, his role as father and husband begins to take precedence as he takes on various tasks that leave him more time for the family. During the two years he spent as Ferrari advisor and Jean Todt’s “super assistant”, Schumacher discovered a passion for adventure sports such as skydiving. He joined Mercedes in 2009 not as a racer, but as the sport’s older statesman who at that time was more like the way it is today.

Maybe he knew it wasn’t the F1 he grew up with anymore. We’ll never know, because while his final chapter was played out with Mercedes, it was ultimately his family’s draw that ended the F1 book for him. In the movie, Kehm remembers telling him, “What am I doing here? I miss my family. Why am I so far away? I realized it’s not as important as it used to be. My family is more important now. He would spend a full year with his family before the Guardian Angel who kept him safe on the piste missed that fateful ski trip to Méribel, France, which changed his life and that of his family forever.

“Since the accident, of course, these experiences, these moments that I think a lot of people have with their parents, are no longer present, or to a lesser extent,” says Mick, offering the smallest glimpse into their lives. family. “And in my opinion, that’s a little unfair.” Her mother is more optimistic and her last words on this matter are filled with sadness, relief and hope. “Of course I miss Michael every day,” she says. “But he’s not just missing me. The children, the family, his father, everyone around him. I mean everyone misses Michael, but Michael is here. Different, but he’s there, and that gives us strength.

For someone who has listened to the screams of F1 engines for most of their adult life, the silence must truly be deafening. How we look forward to hearing the shrill cries again – those of its wheels -.

This article first appeared on September 27, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.

About George Dailey

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