Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Schumacher Provides Context but Not Necessarily the Content You Want

Last weekend was an exciting weekend of action at Talladega Superspeedway. I know. I was there. An astute viewer may have even seen me at the Infield Care Center in the rain Monday (Oct. 4), trying to get quotes from William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Preece.

There is plenty to write about in regards to the action from Talladega and how it was covered. Unfortunately, I’m still in Alabama as of Tuesday night. I won’t be home until Columbus Day. We’ll have to cover that when I get home and can get some notes written. Needless to say, someone got served, and it was unjust.

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This week, we’re going to cover the new Netflix documentary Schumacher, which covers the life and times of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. Ever since Schumacher had his skiing accident that nearly killed him, very little about him has been reported. Generally speaking, if it doesn’t come from Schumacher’s family directly, or from Sabine Kehm (Michael’s publicist), it should not be taken as fact, no matter what Jean Todt says.

That said, this documentary was produced with the full support of Schumacher’s family and includes home videos that they provided. In addition, members of Michael’s family (including his father Rolf) are interviewed.

The piece starts with the 1991 Grand Prix of Belgium, where Schumacher was tapped to make his Grand Prix debut in place of Bertrand Gachot at Jordan. Gachot had punched a cab 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 highly competitive grid in 1991 with a new team and promptly qualified seventh, which surprised everyone. The Jordan 191 was a very good car, but a bit fragile. Schumacher’s maiden race didn’t even last half a lap before the clutch turned traitor on him. Regardless, that was all anyone needed to see.

Flavio Briatore talked about how he quickly moved to snatch up Schumacher’s services for Benetton. The day after the race, Schumacher and his agent, Willi Weber, met with Briatore. Within days, he was signed to drive for Benetton, replacing Emanuele Pirro.

Via file footage, Schumacher narrates his beginnings in racing in small go-karts. He started out very young with his father’s guidance. By age 6, Rolf was renting out karts, and Michael was right there with him.

By no means were the Schumachers a rich family. Rolf may have operated a go-kart track, but prior to that he was a bricklayer. Michael and younger brother Ralf’s racing was done with second- and third-hand equipment at first. Despite being from Germany, Schumacher competed in the Junior Karting World Championship for Luxembourg because it was cheaper.

Schumacher’s career took off because Weber was willing to put his own money up for him, paying him a salary of 24,000 Deutsche Marks a year in 1988 and providing him a car. Even then, having sponsors or independent wealth was important in motorsports — and he had neither.

Early in his career, Schumacher clashed with Ayrton Senna. The two had a collision at Magny-Cours, but they never really had much in the way of direct competition. At the time, Benetton was considered to be a lower-rate team as compared to McLaren.

By 1994, Benetton was extremely strong with the Ford Zetec-R engine. Senna had moved to Williams with the potent Renault V10s. This was likely to be the first season that the two would fight head-to-head for the championship, but it never really happened. Senna spun out trying to chase down Schumacher in Brazil, then got taken out at the start at the TI Aida Circuit (now Okayama International Circuit) in Japan. The third race was Imola, where Senna crashed while leading and lost his life.

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If I spent the time here writing about what Senna meant to Formula 1, this would be a Senna column instead of a Schumacher one. I do recommend checking out the film Senna to get an idea of what Senna truly meant to motorsports, especially to his native Brazil.

It appears that Senna’s death changed Schumacher. He started out 1994 on a roll, then a series of crazy things happened. There was the black flag for passing on 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 in Adelaide, resulting in an infamous collision with Damon Hill that ultimately gave 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, who had been weak for the previous few years, perhaps spending a little too long 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, notably in the rain at Barcelona in a race that all but ran up against the two-hour time limit.

One of the main takeaways here is that Schumacher was dedicated as heck and did not want to be beaten. He would stay with the team as late as necessary and do anything to win. That is what led to the infamous coming together with Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997.

He was a restless man that always needed to be doing something. He would travel the world, go skydiving, skiing, ride a Harley in the United States, do whatever he wanted.

For a film like this, I believe the general public really would want to know how Schumacher is doing now, nearly eight years after his skiing accident in Meribel, France. You’re going to be disappointed.

This is a 119-minute film, and the crash isn’t mentioned until the final 13 minutes. What is revealed is that Schumacher was not very confident in the snow in Meribel that day and he considered going to Dubai to go skydiving instead. Michael is still around and undergoing constant therapy in their home in Switzerland. Beyond that, next to nothing is revealed about Michael’s current state.

What really stands out in the film is the love that Michael and wife Corinna have for each other. Even at his busiest, he always made time for Corinna, and they always appeared to be so happy together. This wasn’t a situation like Scott Pruett, where his family almost never went to the races, thus his constant, “Hi to my family at home” quotes you saw during his TV interviews. Corinna was always there by his side and loved every minute of it. Michael has always been a private person, and now his family is protecting him.

Is this film worth watching? Absolutely. There’s some good stuff in there and I have no doubt that Formula 1 fans would enjoy the film. However, if you’re looking for any idea of how Michael is living his current life, you’re not getting that and probably never will.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams will race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL. Spots in the Round of 8 in both series will be on the line. Formula 1 returns to action at Istanbul Park in Turkey, while IMSA will be at Virginia International Raceway. Finally, it is the biggest week of the year for Northeast-style dirt modified racing. Super DIRT Week is underway at Oswego Speedway, culminating in the NAPA Auto Parts 200 Sunday afternoon. TV listings can be found here.

I will be at VIR this weekend covering the IMSA action. I believe that the Michelin Pilot Challenge race will end right around the time the Cup race starts. I’ll definitely have a critique of the Cup race next week here at Frontstretch.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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