A second spin in as many Formula 1 starts left Mick Schumacher “driven by my anger” in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, after he’d crashed his Haas under the safety car.
Schumacher still made it to the end of the race, beating Haas team-mate and fellow rookie Nikita Mazepin to a twice-lapped 16th, but the incident left him half a lap adrift and cast him into blue-flag territory much earlier than he should have been.
It was a painful error and one Schumacher reckoned he lost his composure trying to recover from, admitting that he needs to regroup quicker in the future.
The shunt was a blot on an otherwise very impressive second F1 weekend from Schumacher, who’d looked quick through practice in the dry, ended up four-tenths shy of Q2 in qualifying, and had executed the tricky start to the wet Imola race well.
Schumacher was one of four to start on full wets and while his sensible decision to be ultra-cautious into Tamburello cost him a place to Yuki Tsunoda, he quickly made an opportunistic overtake on a hesitant Fernando Alonso exiting the next chicane, Villeneuve and then gained another place when Nicholas Latifi spun.
Schumacher was 16th at the end of the first lap and this became 15th when Esteban Ocon came into the pits under the safety car to ditch his wet tyres.
“You did good, Mick, you did good – others struggled,” was race engineer Gary Gannon’s response when, under the safety car, Schumacher lamented how bad visibility was at the start. It would not be the first time Gannon played the psychologist part of the race engineer role in this race.
The main straight was drying out but the first few corners were comfortably the wettest part of the circuit, so maintaining tyre temperature behind the safety car was crucial.
That was proving difficult, which Gannon acknowledged and just told Schumacher to keep doing what he was doing. On the very next lap, Schumacher lost the rear warming his tyres on the start-finish straight, corrected the first slide but was helpless to stop the car flicking back to the right and heading nose-first into the wall.
“I’m not quite sure what happened,” Schumacher said. “I got a snap and I think I corrected it and lost it finally.
“Very upsetting but, to be honest, it’s one of those things that can happen if you are trying to keep as much tyre temperature as possible and that was what I was doing.
“I knew the only chances for me to be able to gain a few positions would be at the beginning of the safety car restart because that was going to be the wettest part of the whole race before we would pit for interest.
“In general, lots learned and lots of positives and lots to take to the next race weekend.”
Ironically, when the safety car was first deployed, Schumacher was told by Gannon that “you can try and get tyre temp but don’t do too much weaving because it’s slippery”. He was also told that the wets were better at keeping tyre temperature.
But it would be unfair to suggest that instruction went unheeded or that Schumacher went about it in a foolish manner. He’d been reassured by Gannon that he was following the procedures correctly. And there are enough examples of sudden snaps on these tyres in cold conditions for Schumacher to not feel like he’s done something out of the ordinary – unlike last year at Imola, when George Russell crashed under the safety car, on slicks in the dry.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” Schumacher said when The Race noted how difficult the Pirellis are in such conditions.
“It’s very hard to understand for people how it does affect the grip. It’s not like in the road car where if you drive in the wet or in the dry, it’s really like you are driving in hot conditions then suddenly you are driving on ice and there’s no grip at all.
“It’s very tough, it’s something that I have to learn. The team’s fully behind my back in giving me all the information I need to learn those things. But in the end, it’s something you have to feel.”
Painfully, Schumacher had to wait to pit for a new front wing as his crash meant he’d discarded the old one in the pit exit and the pitlane was closed while it was retrieved. Gannon’s gentle touch was required again while Schumacher was slowly touring the circuit waiting for the chance to box.
“Just come around carefully and safely and we’ll get another front wing for you,” he said.
“Take your time Mick, there’s no rush-” at which point Schumacher let out an exasperated sigh, and Gannon added: “It’s alright, there’s no rush to get around. Just get the car around safely. We’ll get you a new wing and tyres OK. Just drive slow. The message from race control is to drive slowly, Mick.”
Several messages followed reiterating that there was no rush, especially as the pitlane was closed, and updating him on what they were planning, the fact he’d be able to catch the group eventually, and that no track position was at stake while everyone was behind the safety car.
One of the next messages was to ask about track conditions and if it was still raining, which triggered the exchange you probably heard a snippet of on the world feed.
Schumacher replied: “Yeah, but it’s improving. Argh. So annoyed right now.”
And Gannon: “OK, but we’re still OK. We haven’t lost anything just a couple of track positions. Everything’s going to be OK. We’re going to put the car back together. How are these corners here? How close is it to inters being easy to drive?”
That put Schumacher’s focus on reading the track conditions and discussing what the next step had to be, helping inform Haas to switch to intermediates.
Unfortunately, Haas’s optimism that Schumacher would be able to rejoin the back of the pack was misplaced as the safety car ended too quickly. So once racing resumed, Schumacher was a minute adrift of the pack.
“I think my driving style after was driven by my anger,” he admitted. “I don’t know if you saw it on the feed or not, but I had a few lock-ups and went into the gravel and stuff, so I think that’s something I have to learn from to regroup myself a bit quicker.
“I think I just wanted to catch up as quick as I could.”
Schumacher’s pace in clear air on fresh intermediates compared very well to the midfield pack he should have been part of. He was then second onto slicks, after Sebastian Vettel, which means some laps feeling the car in difficult conditions, which will have been a valuable learning experience.
The same goes for nailing Alonso for a second time in the grand prix, taking advantage of the Alpine driver’s struggles on his final laps on intermediates to get a great run exiting Variante Alta and passing him boldly off-line on the run down to Rivazza. He was then on the back of Kimi Raikkonen when they were hanging onto a Valtteri Bottas-Russell scrap.
“It was good to drive with them, get some info and feelings for how it is to follow and at some point when I was on the C4, just before the red flag, I felt actually very comfortable to also be overtaking Kimi or to be close to getting there,” said Schumacher.
“I think overall we learned a lot and it was very positive.”
The contentious Russell/Bottas high-speed crash, which Schumacher witnessed live from a few metres back, suspended the race and also “broke a few other parts” on the Haas because Schumacher travelled through all the debris immediately, and still at quite some speed given the accident happened right ahead.
As the pack was reshuffled ahead of the restart, allowing lapped cars to go first so they could get in the correct order, Schumacher gained one of his lost laps back but was still a lap down (and ahead of only Mazepin). It meant he was racing for little from there, and at the very end backed off to let Verstappen get another lap on him because Haas spotted an issue on the rear-right and thought it best to finish the race as quickly as possible.
Gannon praised Schumacher after the flag for his “excellent pace” and “good management” after “experiencing a lot of different conditions”. Schumacher also focused on the positives.
“That’s what we targeted, was to see the chequered flag,” said Schumacher. “A difficult day but generally very happy with the performance.”
With both Schumacher’s F1 races so far compromised by spins – however understandable this one was – we are still yet to see how that performance shakes out in a straight fight.