Mick Schumacher: ready to face his F1 destiny?

F1

Mick Schumacher is about to make his highly-anticipated grand prix debut - is F1's most scrutinised son ready for the step up?

Mick Schumacher Haas F1

With an incessant light shining on him in scrutiny, is F1 rookie Schumacher ready for the big time?

Haas F1

Among the many moves in the Formula 1 driver market that will play out in 2021, the arrival of Mick Schumacher at Haas is one of the most intriguing.

The young German’s famous surname will ensure that the eyes of the world will be on him whatever he does, and inevitably expectations are huge, not least in his home country.

Adding to the pressure, he’s part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, which means that the opportunity is there for a move into the Maranello team, should an opening be available somewhere down the line. However he faces tough competition from Ferrari’s other youngsters.

In the interim he’s been placed with a team that was at the back or close to the back of the grid for most of 2020.

Normally such a situation would give a rookie driver some chance of enjoying a relatively low profile debut season, allowing him to do his learning below the radar.

However, that won’t be the case for Schumacher in the way that it was with George Russell at Williams, or Charles Leclerc at Sauber.

From the start every move he makes will be watched carefully, and the comparisons with his father will be endless. It’s a near impossible task – how could anyone live up such expectations?

Mick Schumacher Haas

Schumacher drives for his new team Haas in Abu Dhabi FP1

Grand Prix Photo

The good news is that the early signs are that he has what it takes to overcome any challenges that are thrown at him, and the potential is there for him to establish himself as someone who deserves a regular place among the 20 best drivers in the world.

Whether or not he will ultimately be good enough to take the next step – and become one of the four or five superstars capable of winning a World Championship – remains to be seen. It’s in his hands.

“It’s clear that I’ve been under a sort of spotlight. I’m able to deal with it pretty well – the results speak”

Mick will be 22 when he starts his first race in March, so he is not as young as many recent debutants.

He is intelligent and mature, has been well educated, and has not been spoiled by the circumstances of his upbringing.

His early karting forays were conducted anonymously, using his mother’s maiden name. However as soon as his racing became serious, he competed as a Schumacher, with everything that entailed.

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“I think that it’s quite clear that I’ve been under a sort of spotlight since a very young age, and especially due to the sport that I do,” he noted last year after landing the Haas seat.

“Nevertheless, I think it’s something that I’ve been able to get used to, and I would say about myself that I’m able to deal with it pretty well. I think the results speak for it.

“So I think I will do the same as usual in 2021, too. And we’ll just try and keep the same rhythm that I have.”

He’s had time to learn to deal with the attention: “It’s something that has always been with me, and I kind of got used to it, I didn’t really have to specifically work on it.

“But I think definitely one thing that is important is that you have a family that is always open and true to you.

“If you have friends that tell you how it is and you have facts, you will stay grounded, and you’ll be able to see things in a different perspective than if you would be trying to do all this alone. I’m lucky to have such a great bunch of people around me.”

Mick Schumacher Benetton 194

Schumacher has demonstrated several of his father’s famous cars, including this championship-winning Benetton B194

Grand Prix Photo

They include folk who were a key part of Michael’s Ferrari career, and by coincidence are now in influential positions in the sport.

Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Stefano Domenicali have all advised and helped Mick in whatever way they can, and no doubt will continue to do so.

“Obviously, all three have been a great part of my dad’s career, and also have been of mine,” he says.

“It’s great to see them all succeed so well in the sport and also do well aside from being team bosses or involved in teams.

“It helps me to be able to also understand the sport in a different way, and to see it through their eyes, and see through their experiences, which can only help me in the future.”

Pushed on what he’s learned from the former Ferrari management team he says: “I guess what I meant by that was really just saying that I see how much obviously they had to put in the effort, how much work they put in with my dad to try and win these championships and consecutive championships.

“And obviously Jean is FIA president. and Ross and Stefano are working in F1 now. So it’s great to also understand how they see the sport, how they see where the sport is going to be developing, and really where the sport is going. I know I will always fall back on them if I have any doubts, or whatever.”

Getting his head together out of the car, and dealing with the pressure and attention, is just one part of the challenge. He also has to do the job in the cockpit.

Having won both the FIA F3 and F2 championships with the Prema team he has already proved that he has got the race craft required to win titles against very competitive fields, and his junior level record is better than many drivers on the F1 grid.

The intriguing thing is that in both of those categories he had a year of learning, followed by a year of winning – indeed he finished a humble 12th in his F3 and F2 rookie years. He insists that it wasn’t planned that way.

“I think it’s a difficult question to answer because, you don’t know how it’s going to be the first year.

Mick Schumacher F2

Schumacher after winning the 2020 F2 title

Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

“Obviously, if it goes well, you show great speed, and you’re able to drive for championship or win every weekend, then the next step is logical to move up.

“Taking as the best reference 2019, for example, F2, a lot of people forget that it was actually a pretty decent year. I think taking everything into account, where we had the technical failures or whatever, we would have been P5 in the championship, and things would have looked a lot different, being probably the leading rookie at that time.

“Nevertheless, I think it’s great to be able to see the progression that I have over two years. You see that I have a steep learning curve, but the moment I get everything together, and in line, I’m able to be quite consistently fast, as we have shown in 2020.”

His history suggests that he probably won’t make an instant splash like his father did with Jordan and then Benetton in 1991, and he will instead take his time to find the limits and learn.

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“I think that we’ll have to see if it’s the same in F1 or not,” he says. “It’s really hard to say at the moment, but I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to extract my maximum, and hopefully, I’ll be able to do that every time.”

One interesting aspect of his 2020 F2 season was that he didn’t take a pole. Was that a reflection of the way he approached his title campaign, focussing on the races?

“I think that you have to always take into account all the aspects of a season and where the preferences are,” he says. “At the end, if you do a good race, you’ll take 25 points home, if you do a qualifying and not a good race, you’ll take four points home.

“So, you really have to set your preferences, and maybe it’s been not easy for me to put everything together in one lap.

“But definitely, therefore, we were very consistent in races, conserve our tyres when we have to, and use the tyres when we did. I think it’s just a bit of a preference.

“It’s a bit of a mindset, where are your goals? I think we have very good drivers out there, and all have different driving styles and let’s say approaches to the weekend.”

“I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to extract my maximum, and hopefully, I’ll be able to do that every time”

The key measure of Mick’s progress this year will be how he fares against Haas team mate and fellow rookie Nikita Mazepin, especially over one lap in qualifying.

Intriguingly, they have been teammates before, in karting in 2013 and 2014, so they know each other well.

If Mick was up against a more experienced driver at Haas – Romain Grosjean or Kevin Magnussen for example – it would be no surprise to see him behind initially, especially in qualifying, and he could enjoy a honeymoon period and learn from the older man.

In contrast the world will expect him to at least match Mazepin from the start, if not beat him, but that isn’t a given. It’s easy to overlook the fact that the well-financed Russian has many more F1 test miles under his belt than Mick.

Aside from beating his team mate, Schumacher has to replicate the sort of progress he made as he worked his way up the ranks by demonstrating progress, and do it in parallel with a team that is rebuilding after a poor season last year.

“Well, my approach is definitely going to be trying to improve as a racing driver, to try and deliver the best I can,” he acknowledges.

“Obviously, it’s going to be challenging, but I’m pretty sure that you know that the team has enough experience to give me the opportunities to develop.

“You always want to eventually improve from A to B, like beginning of the season to the end of the season. That’s really our aim. And so I’m pretty sure that we’ll manage that well.”

He’s certainly optimistic: “We have a super experienced team, super experienced people, a lot of very talented people as well working for Haas F1 team.

“So I’m not afraid at all that they will all work very well together, and hopefully improve the car as much as we can.”