TO the outside world Michael Schumacher was the confident clean-shaven superstar of Formula One who won seven World Championships – but to his wife of 26 years Corinna, he was so much more.
On the track, he was known for his unshakeable nerves and utter precision as he hurtled around the track at breakneck speeds.
Supporting him from the sidelines was Corinna, who was introduced to the star by a mutual friend in 1991 and four years later they married.
She knew a different side to the motor racing legend – a true gentleman and family man who loved nothing more than to party and throw friends into the swimming pool.
“He’s simply the most lovable person I’ve ever met,” says Corinna, who has two children Mick and Gina-Maria, with Michael.
Family breaks their silence
In the new documentary Schumacher, which is released on Netflix tomorrow, she gave her first in-depth interview since Michael’s horror skiing accident in 2013.
Mystery has surrounded her husband’s condition since he fell and hit his head on a rock while crossing an unsecured off-piste area in the French Alps in 2013.
It’s known that Michael suffered brain damage as a result of the fall and that he is “different” in the wake of his injuries but until now little else has been said.
Giving a rare insight into their lives, Corinna said: “No matter what happens, I’m going to do everything I can. We’re all going to do that.
“We do everything we can to make Michael better and make sure he’s comfortable and just to make him feel like he’s with his family and to continue our bond.”
In a heartbreaking admission, Corinna revealed her husband nearly decided against taking to the slopes on the day of his accident.
She recalled: “Shortly before it happened in Méribel, he said to me, ‘The snow isn’t optimal. We could fly to Dubai and go skydiving there.”
Corinna said: “I never blamed God… It was just really bad luck, all the bad luck anyone could ever have in their life.”
She was by Michael’s side from the early days when he was just a fledgling star with unimaginable pressure on his shoulders, after being tipped as one of F1’s greatest racers.
It was the small moments that attracted Corinna to him, including when she cooked a meal in celebration of his birthday and he was “the only one” to help her clean the dishes.
“I thought, ‘That’s a proper bloke,” she recalled. “And yes, he was really funny and that’s what I saw in him.
“I fell in love with him simply because he was a wonderful person. I just sensed that he was something special to me.
“I never once thought, ‘He’s a terrific racing driver at the start of a dazzling career.’ No one could have guessed that would happen.”
Penniless go-karter to F1 god
Michael likely never imagined it either. It was his father Rolf, a builder who later ran a go-kart track, who set him on the path to racing superstardom.
At four years old, he tested pedal karts with motorcycle motors that had been made by his dad and two years later won his first club go-kart championship.
But taking to the tracks was no easy feat for young Michael because he had little money behind him and was forced to “use the cheapest equipment”.
He recalled: “I fished discarded tyres out of the bin, put them on my go-kart and won races with them.
“I was always glad to have won with the worst and not the best equipment. Having to really fight like that was an additional motivation for me.”
At around 13, Michael competed against future rival Mika Häkkinen for the first time, who noted he was “difficult to race against” because he “knew every corner”.
In 1988, watching in the crowd was Willi Weber, Michael’s future manager, who asked him to join his team and test F3 cars but the teen was uncertain.
“Of course, money was an issue,” Weber said. “Michael Schumacher had nothing at that time, not even 500 marks (around £218) to finance a season, which even then cost six hundred to seven hundred thousand”.
Later that evening, he was delighted to be told he would earn 2,000 marks – around £873 – a month as part of a five-year contract.
Michael quickly rose through the ranks and was soon considered a threat to legendary F1 figure Ayrton Senna, who died after a crash in 1994.
He joined Ferrari two years later – which was thought to be the ultimate challenge because they had not won the Drivers’ Championship since 1979.
Michael worked tirelessly for the F1 team but struggled to achieve his first World Championship with them until 2000.
Dedicated wife Corinna was by his side for every race until their children were born and made great sacrifices to ensure her husband’s success.
She says: “It might have been in the bus or somewhere behind the scenes, but I was always on the road with him.
“We always enjoyed it together. It was a support to him just knowing he wasn’t alone.
“Michael planned practically everything down to the minute – get up at such-and-such a time, 15 to 20 minutes in the bathroom.
“One night, when we were in Suzuka, I realised there was no way I was going to fall asleep.
“So I spent half the night sitting on the toilet in order not to wake him up and to let him have a good night’s sleep. So I read my book there.”
Wild parties, pool dips & bad karaoke
Michael retired in 2006 but four years later was back racing for Mercedes GP, where he spent his final years on the track before being replaced by Lewis Hamilton.
Corinna beamed with immense pride while talking about her husband but most fondly remembered the man who very few got to see.
She says: “Michael is very suspicious, he always has been during the initial period until he thinks he knows someone or can trust them.
“But if he opens up then it’s 100 per cent really, all the way.”
Those entrusted with this unseen side got to know Michael as a fun family man who loved nothing more than to play practical jokes and laugh.
She says: “At parties, he was the first to arrive and the last to leave. He loved it… We laughed so much and had so much real fun.
“We all ended up in the pool every time, that was Michael’s thing. Even at our wedding people were thrown into the pool!
“He couldn’t sing well, it was one of the things he didn’t do so well. But he always sang ‘My Way’ because he knew the lyrics.”
Michael’s former rival David Coulthard described him as an “uncompromising, fast and determined racer” but also a loveable “family man”.
He recalled: “I’ve had many social evenings with him, drinking Bacardi coke and he would have a cigar.
“It was a completely different person because of course at that point there was no competition. It was just sharing a nice social moment together.”
‘Accident was bad luck’
That side of Michael is now sadly a distant memory.
Despite several near-misses on the F1 track and his love of high-adrenaline sports like skydiving, Corinna could have never imagined him landing in harm’s way.
She says: “I don’t know if it’s just a kind of protective wall that you put up yourself or if it’s because you’re in a way naive but it simply never occurred to me that anything could ever happen to Michael.”
Now the Schumacher family can do nothing else but carry on and live their lives in the way Michael would have wanted.
Corinna says: “‘Private is private,’ he always said. It’s very important to me that he can continue to enjoy his private life as much as possible.
“Michael always protected us. Now we are protecting Michael.
“Of course I miss Michael every day but it’s not just me who misses him – the children, the family, his father, everyone who is close to him.
“Michael is here in a different way, but he’s here and I think that gives us strength.”
Schumacher will be released on September 15 on Netflix.