“Good job, Mick. Good FP1”.
That was race engineer Gary Gannon’s verdict when Mick Schumacher returned to the garage after his first free practice session for the Haas team ahead of his graduation to a Formula 1 race seat next season.
The 90 minutes of running in Abu Dhabi practice, a total of 23 laps, will be followed by another outing in the young driver test next week and then what will probably be 1.5 days of running in the truncated 2021 pre-season testing. And then it’s straight into his first F1 racing season.
“I prefer being quite direct and saying how it is” :: Mick Schumacher
This was also Schumacher’s first experience of participating in an F1 weekend itself having missed his scheduled FP1 outing for Alfa Romeo at the Nurburgring in October thanks to poor visibility preventing Friday practice taking place.
It was a successful first go during which he was given some quick laps on soft rubber as well as a heavy race-start fuel load – plus a practice start and practice pitstop at the end of the session.
Schumacher drove Kevin Magnussen’s car during the session, meaning he worked with the Dane’s regular race engineer. It has not been decided who will engineer Schumacher next season.
The 21-year-old had three main runs during FP1, with two single-lap runs – effectively installation laps on each of his two sets of tyres.
After an initial installation lap, during which he completed constant-speed aero runs on the straight before Turn 8 (in fifth gear) then the following one to Turn 11 (in fourth gear), Schumacher returned to the pits.
He then headed out for his main run using the hard Pirellis he was running as his ‘P140’ set of tyres, which can only be used during the first 40 minutes of the first practice session.
His tyre preparation was not helped by the deployment of the VSC to allow the recovery of Daniel Ricciardo’s stricken Renault at the exit of Turn 9, but he was told to switch to ‘mode push’ so he could attack his first flying lap.
The VSC was not cancelled until Schumacher was coming through Turn 1, meaning he was over six seconds slower than he was on the following lap in the first sector, posting a 1m54.981s.
As two push laps were planned, he then improved to a 1m46.151s but having been warned the tyres were still coming up to temperature on that lap he was given the go ahead for a third-consecutive lap.
He improved to a 1m43.647s on his third push lap before settling into a back-off lap. Having been told he made “a really good improvement” on that lap, he was asked for feedback and responded that “to be honest, it’s just quite crazy” – subsequently adding he maybe had understeer in the hairpin.
“I prefer being quite direct and saying how it is for me, how I feel even though I might not have the experience in F1 cars that other people do,” said Schumacher when asked by The Race about his first run.
“Nevertheless, it’s always good to give good feedback on anything I do notice.
“On that part, I think everything went well. It was a hell of a ride, it was really fun and great to be back in a Formula 1 car.”
Because of mileage limitations, and the fact that the 40-minute cut-off was approaching, he was allowed one more push lap. But he did not improve thanks to carrying too much speed into the Turn 5/6 left/right chicane.
This led to a late lock-up and he couldn’t get the nose into the second part of the corner, losing significant time.
Schumacher switched to soft tyres and headed out with 38 minutes of the session remaining, although he had to return to the pits on his first out-lap to remove a biometric sensor from his glove to hand it back to the team.
“In the glove we have a monitor which fell off while driving. I didn’t want to chuck that out while driving, so we came in to get it off,” said Schumacher.
“That unfortunately compromised our run a bit. Every lap on the tyre is a reduction in performance so in general we were very happy with the run on the sorts. The improvement in terms of grip was incredible to feel.”
“You have to sometimes go over the limit to feel where the limit is” :: Mick Schumacher
He then returned to the track and improved to a 1m41.235s on his first lap, which started with a slightly hesitant entry into Turn 1.
However, thanks to the improved grip and the experience of the first run, he was able to control the wheelspin in the corner exit phase much more effectively.
After giving feedback about understeer in low-speed corners on his cooldown lap and being asked to switch to ‘diff 22’ to combat the problem, he had another push lap having been told to improve his minimum speed in Turn 20 and also find time in Turn 12.
He improved again to a 1m41.235s, but reported he was struggling with more understeer. To combat this, he was told to switch to ‘shape four’ to give a brake shape intended to mitigate the understeer approaching the apex of corners.
Schumacher was told that he could improve his minimum speed into the Turn 1 right-hander, and he attempted to do so after another cooldown lap.
But on his third push lap on softs, he was too aggressive and had a rear-end snap heading into the corner that left him four-tenths slower than his personal best in the short first sector.
However, he did manage to improve his final sector time, even though his overall lap time was almost seven-tenths of a second slower.
On his in-lap, he was told that a third push lap on softs is always tricky when he reported the Turn 1 problem.
“You have to sometimes go over the limit to feel where the limit is,” said Schumacher. “For me, it was more about trying out more things.
“We had a small moment in Turn 1. I was on my third push lap on the softs. You already start feeling the rears quite well at that moment. It was trying to see what the car could do.
“Other moments [during FP1] were me trying some different features on driving style but also the car itself.
“I’m sure I’ll find my way through much easier and be able to go more over the limit in the young driver test on Tuesday.”
Schumacher’s final run was of four push laps in ‘mode race start’ on a heavy fuel load, prior to completing a practice start and a practice pitstop on his return to the garage.
On the high-fuel run, he opened up with a lap of 1m47.5858s and was 1.5s slower next time round – but that was a result of letting Lance Stroll’s Racing Point by in the first sector.
His third lap of the run was his quickest on high fuel, a 1m46.700s, with the fourth and final lap a second slower.
“The high fuel run was quite different to everything I’ve done before,” said Schumacher.
“Up to now, I’ve only driven an F1 car on low fuel so this definitely was valuable information and time to feel how much I can brake, how much I can still push on those soft tyres too.”
Schumacher took the chequered flag after his fourth flying lap of that run but was able to push for some of the subsequent lap as he headed round to do a practice start on the grid – passing Max Verstappen and Stroll along the way.
He executed the practice start well, having performed an initial clutch find after stopping in the grid box, avoiding bogging down or excess wheelspin.
“The practice start went actually really well for what was my first actual practice start in an F1,” said Schumacher. “So I’m very happy.”
On his return to the pits, he completed a practice pitstop having refined his stopping position during the session, with Gannon giving him rapid feedback on how precise he was in terms of stopping on the marks.
Comparisons to team-mate Pietro Fittipaldi are of little relevance because the Brazilian was running the 2021 experimental floor and on a different programme, meaning his fastest lap was almost three seconds slower.
Overall, it was a positive first session for Schumacher, who looked comfortable on his first time in the Haas VF20.
He has previously tested recent Ferrari and Alfa Romeo F1 cars, and has also demoed Benetton and Ferrari machinery raced by his father in period – most recently the Ferrari F2004 at Mugello in September.
It is also a good foundation for his run in the young driver test at the same circuit on Tuesday, which he must make the most of given there are only three days of pre-season testing to be split between both Haas drivers in 2021.
As you’d expect, the recently-crowned Formula 2 champion looked every bit the part as an F1 driver. And as well as taking his usual professional approach, it was great to see a young driver not afraid to show he was enjoying the opportunity after those “crazy” early laps.