Mick Schumacher starts his Formula 1 career this weekend in Bahrain as a rookie like no other.
The son of the man who until last year was the most successful Grand Prix driver of all time, the 22-year-old’s path to the top of the sport seemed long overdue.
And as the son of Michael Schumacher, Mick will attract the eyes of the world this year like perhaps no other F1 rookie before.
But if it gets to him when he’s facing the toughest challenge of his life, you won’t know it.
When asked how he deals with the return of his father’s legacy in Formula One, he told Sport: It’s motivation and pride. I’m happy to be here; I’m happy that the Schumacher name is back in F1.
I did it with championships behind me, so we proved I could drive a race car. So I don’t feel any pressure.
Like father, like son.
Schumacher now displays the optimism you would expect from a young man who has achieved what he describes as a lifelong dream and is about to embark on a journey of possibilities. Even small things fill him with joy.
It’s an incredible feeling to be with the team and to know that I’m facing my first race in Formula One, he said. I got my passport – you know, a real red F1 passport – and I thought: Wow!
I remember my dad had one, and I always wanted one, but of course I didn’t get it. I have it now, and it’s great, and I’m looking forward to it.
For those who knew or followed his father, seeing Mick embark on his journey can be a little unsettling.
The physical resemblance between them is great. In fact, Mick is a cross between his father and his mother, Corinna. But he walks like Michael, often holds his head like him, and has an attitude and expression very similar to him.
And the parables go even further. Mick is now as old as Michael was when he made his debut in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix in Jordan.
Michael Schumacher surprised the rather complacent F1 grid with his fitness and commitment in 1991.
In the footsteps of a giant
Schumacher’s acceptance of his father’s legacy, and the fact that he sees himself as a continuation of family history, is underlined by the fact that he has asked F1 to change its usual practice of using the first three letters of a driver’s surname as an abbreviation on timing screens.
While Lewis Hamilton was HAM, Fernando Alonso ALO and so on, Michael was MSC because there were two Schumachers in F1 at the time, along with his brother Ralph.
That’s not the case now, but Mick decided he’d rather continue his father’s legacy than be a SCH.
It’s pretty emotional for me to see SMC back on the time screen, he said during pre-season testing. That’s my special bond with him, and I hope everyone enjoys seeing him there.
Mick describes his father as his idol, and he decided early on to follow in his footsteps – or from the beginning, as he puts it.
He started karting in 2008, when he was nine years old. Obviously, at first you don’t understand what it takes, he said. As I got older and grew into the categories, I realized the sacrifices it required. When I was 12 or 13, I realized that I really wanted to do this on a professional level.
Since then he has continued to climb the motorsport ladder under the watchful eye of Sabine Kehm, who was Michael’s manager before becoming Mick.
Kehm was always very conscious of the attention Schumacher would receive as his father’s son and was careful to only expose him to the media and public in a carefully managed way. Things only got worse after a skiing accident in December 2013, in which Michael suffered severe head injuries.
Since then, Michael has not been seen in public, and it is clear to anyone who meets Mick that this subject is off limits. Michael was a hijacker when he fled, and he needs to stay that way now.
The first MikaF1 car is not as competitive as his father’s Jordan in 1991.
Road to F1
With a name like that, there was always an inkling that Mick would make it to Formula 1, and it became even more likely when he joined the Ferrari Driver Academy after winning the 2018 European Formula 3 title.
After a year in Formula 2 in 2019, Schumacher did what was expected of him last season and won the title. For its Formula One debut, Ferrari has chosen to pay for a place on the American Haas team, which has close ties to Maranello.
Ferrari, the team with whom Michael has achieved most of his success, has said that Mick intends to drive one of their cars one day. But he has to earn it, prove he’s worth it, and there’s a long way to go before that happens.
Mick’s job at this stage is to learn his trade and prove he has what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Ferrari can then decide whether he has done enough to earn promotion alongside Charles Leclerc, who is with the team until 2024 and will partner Spaniard Carlos Sainz for at least the next two seasons.
Michael was an instant sensation when he appeared on the scene with Team Jordan three decades ago. He beat his experienced teammate Andrea de Cezaris by more than 0.7 seconds to seventh on the grid, but suffered a clutch failure at the start.
It will be harder for Mick to do the same, if only because of the team he is chasing. Haas finished ninth out of 10 teams last year and was often the slowest of the field. They admitted that not only has the car undergone minor revisions this year, but it will not evolve during the year as they focus on the major rule change that will take place in 2022.
Schumacher is likely to start from the back. His task is to overtake his teammate – another newcomer, Russian Nikita Mazepin – and make the best possible impression.
If it seems difficult, it can be done. If a driver has something special, it’s obvious no matter where he is on the grid – as Alonso proved when he started in the Minardi backmarker in 2001, or Leclerc in the 2018 Alfa Romeo.
Schumacher says that, from his point of view, a successful season would mean improvement from start to finish – that we as a team are able to be consistently better than last year, and I’m sure we’re well placed to do that.
We have two very hungry riders, the team behind us is very motivated and a good group of guys who can do a very good job and we have to take our chances and just push, really.
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