Why Schumacher can star in Monaco from back of the grid

F1

Monaco is no stranger to virtuoso Schumacher performances. And this afternoon offers the potential for another - even though Mick starts last, writes Adam Cooper

Haas F1 car of Mick Schumacher in Monaco 2021

Grand Prix Photo

The Monaco GP promises to be a fascinating contest, with Charles Leclerc on pole, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas lined up immediately behind him, and a frustrated Lewis Hamilton back in an unexpected seventh.

Carlos Sainz is waiting to pounce in fourth, and Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly are also in the frame for a podium if there’s some attrition ahead. There will be much to enjoy this afternoon.

However spare a thought too for the man at the very back of the grid. Making his first F1 appearance on the track where his father made so much history, Mick Schumacher will start 20th for Haas after a huge crash in Saturday morning’s FP3 chassis robbed him of the chance of participating in qualifying.

It was self-inflicted, but still, it was a huge shame for the young German who perhaps for the first time this year really had a chance to show what he can do.

“At the time the red flag stopped the clock Schumacher was in 14th”

Usually there’s not a lot he can do to catch attention other than beat his team-mate, and given that Nikita Mazepin is also a rookie and an F2 graduate, the Russian is not a benchmark that carries much weight.

Nevertheless Schumacher has comprehensively outqualified him in the first four races of the year, and made fewer mistakes. In the style that he previously demonstrated in his rookie seasons in F3 and F3, he has been quietly learning and logging information in his personal data banks.

 

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Everyone knows that the two Haas drivers are in effect locked in to 19th and 20th places on the grid for the rest of the season, unless someone else really messes up. The team long ago gave up development work on this car and is totally focused on the 2022 project, with the re-set it brings. This season is about the learning curve of its two rookie drivers, not outright performance.

However Monaco gave the drivers a little more of an opportunity to show what they can do, and Schumacher took it. Familiar with the track from his F2 visit in 2019 – he lost pole to Callum Ilott by just 0.007sec but then had a frustrating pair of races and scored no points – he quietly built up speed.

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He was 18th in FP1 on Thursday, behind his team-mate but ahead of George Russell (and Leclerc who didn’t set a representative time), and then in the afternoon he was 19th, four-tenths clear of Mazepin.

After absorbing what he’d learned he shifted up a gear in FP3 on Saturday and banged in some good times. Then in the closing minutes of the session his car snapped sideways at Casino Square and slammed hard into the barrier in one of the biggest F1 shunts that famous corner has seen in many years. Mick slid to a halt further down the hill in the middle of the track with most of the left-hand side of the car wiped off.

A Monaco crash is almost a rite of passage for any rookie, so he could be forgiven for the error. But what caught the eye was how fast he was going. At the time the red flag stopped the clock he was in 14th, ahead of Alonso, Mazepin, Russell, Latifi (who had crashed earlier), Tsunoda and Ocon.

Of course not everyone was on the same run plan and some drivers didn’t get to log their definitive quick laps, but that position was nevertheless impressive – and he was less than two-tenths off Ricciardo’s McLaren.

Crashed Haas of Mick Schumacher at Monaco 2021

FP3 crash ruled Schumacher out of Monaco qualifying

Jose Maria Rubio / RV Racing Press via DPPI

The car was never going to be repaired in time for qualifying, and a fresh gearbox would mean a five-place penalty anyway, so Mick was resigned to starting 20th.

Eyeing the final times at the end of the session he was certain that he could have beaten a few people.

“Yeah, it’s obviously unfortunate,” he told Motor Sport. “Because I think we had the pace to be amongst the guys right in front, like Alonso, Latifi, maybe even Tsunoda. Knowing where our car stands and being able to fight with these guys would have been great. But therefore, we’ll just have to do more tomorrow.

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“We have lots learned, and lots to take away from here. Our car was really good, so I’m looking forward to Baku.”

Schumacher acknowledged that he’d been gradually building up his speed before the sudden snap caught him out and sent him off the track.

“That’s the thing about these cars, because we’re so quick. If you carry a bit more speed into the corner, it can be fine the lap before, and you have understeer, and then you push a bit more. And suddenly the rear goes away, like super quick.

“So it’s about trying to figure out those fine margins. And obviously, if you’re here, you’re trying to improve every corner every time and trying to improve your lap time. And those things you have to try and obviously, unfortunately, those things pay quite harshly here.

“If you do a mistake, it will pay quite hard. And it will be expensive”

“Until then I was keeping out of trouble! I always think that Monaco will always have a lively car. And that’s kind of what makes you fast. If you have that twitchy rear, and if you have that strong front.

“And unfortunately, if you do a mistake, it will pay quite hard. And it will be expensive, not only in value, but also in track time. And it’s all something that we miss now. But fortunately my confidence is quite high. I feel good in the car, and I am looking forward to tomorrow.”

Such is the magic of technology these days we can now follow replays of entire sessions and races from the onboard cameras of each driver, and a look at Schumacher’s footage for FP3 reveals that on the preparation lap before he crashed he was busy making changes to diff settings and so on in response to instructions from the pits. It could be that the car simply behaved differently compared to his previous hot lap through Casino, and that caught him out.

Before climbing out of the wreck he was heard to comment on the radio, “I don’t know what to say, I’m very sorry about that… I’m very, very, very sorry. Jesus!”

It was a sign of just what a polite young man he is, and also that he is a good team player, well aware of the work he’d just created for his crew, not to mention the costs.

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“I mean, I’ve tried to give a helping hand even though I don’t know that kind of well yet. I don’t know what to do. But you know, I’m always with them. And I want the team to know that I am there. And obviously I want to kind of clean up my mess.

“And, you know, obviously the team says it’s not a problem, it happens. But I know that it’s tough for everybody. And that’s something that could have been avoided. But nonetheless, it’s a lesson learned. It’s something to take away, with a massive amount of positives with it. We had a great session up to then. So lots to take with us and go on to the next one in Baku.”

From 20th on the grid it’s going to be a long afternoon for Schumacher, but equally he has nothing to lose, so a roll of the dice on strategy – an ultra-early pit stop to give him tyres he can run to the end – may help him climb the order if safety cars and so on play a part later on.

“In terms of strategy, there are always things you can change, always things that you can try. We have three different compounds, which are all looking quite interesting. So it’s about trying to find the right time to pit, and trying to be the smarter one, I would say. So we’ll give our best. And then we’ll see where we end up tomorrow.”

Hopefully we will have a great battle at the front today. But keep an eye on the young guy at the back…