Mick Schumacher’s career has been spent under the glare of pressure and expectation, but the intensity of both will increase to a new level with his Formula 1 debut in 2021.
Being more than just the son of seven-time world champion Michael, which is the first thing many still identify him as, must be his personal and professional aim.
Judging Mick as a driver in his own right is an almost impossible task for some. Mick has learned to live with it. “I think that it’s quite clear that I’ve been under a sort of spotlight since a very young age, especially due to the sport that I do and I love, probably a bit more than usual,” he says, appearing as a Haas F1 driver for the first time.
“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.
“I will do the same as usual next year too and we’ll just try and keep the same rhythm that I have.”
Schumacher’s deal to join Haas has been struck while he’s leading the Formula 2 championship, which concludes in Bahrain this weekend. The 2018 European Formula 3 champion is in a strong place to graduate to F1 as the winner of the two most significant junior championships.
For any other driver, those credentials would be enough. Mick is unlike any other driver.
But when, The Race asks, did he think this “life-long dream” was achievable, and that he was good enough to make it happen?
“Erm, it’s a good question,” Schumacher says. “Obviously I’ve never let go of that thought, of that dream. I was always very positive on it and always sure that I would manage to reach it one day.
“It’s difficult to reach it when the results are not there so even better that the results did come this year. And having had a very good run in 2018 in Formula 3 also shows that driving wise I shouldn’t be too bad of a driver, I hope!”
While there is always an expectancy when the leading driver from feeder categories makes their F1 debut, that will only be heightened for Schumacher next year.
He has become accustomed to comparisons, but sees it himself as a positive – strengthening the connection with his father. “I think it’s great to be in the same sport,” he says. “It’s a sport that we both love so much so to be able to go a similar path to get to know it inside out, really it’s amazing.”
That will be reinforced further with Mick’s graduation to F1. Especially in the knowledge Mick has trod this path without the guidance from Michael that would have been expected. Michael has not been seen in public since his skiing accident at the end of 2013, and his condition is unknown.
Within that is part of Mick’s greatest challenge and an example of his best quality. His ability to cope with Michael’s accident, with his own development as a driver, with the expectation and pressure of who his father is and what he achieved, is quite astonishing.
This is no better exemplified than in his final year of karting, rather than anything in car racing. In 2014, as the Schumacher family experienced the first months dealing with the aftermath of Michael’s accident, Mick rose to new heights on-track and finished second in both the European and World Championships.
“I guess, definitely, it’s something that has always been with me, and I kind of got used to it,” he says when asked by The Race about his mental resilience.
“I didn’t really have to specifically work on it. But I think one thing that is important is that you have a family that is always open and true to me.
“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.
“I’m lucky to have such a great bunch of people around me.”
Maintaining confidence and self-belief, as well as producing on-track, through everything is an impressive achievement in itself. And it ties together various strands of Schumacher’s progress to date: the results, the progression, the incessant comparisons…
This will be tested in a new way in F1. Schumacher is set to face a level of scrutiny that will be ferocious even by his standards. The mental maturity shown so far will be a vital weapon in handling that, and like every other stage of his career will be defined by what he does on-track.
Schumacher’s rise through the ranks has been executed professionally, though without the instant ‘wow factor’ that characterises the likes of Charles Leclerc or Lando Norris. He was solid but unspectacular in each of his first seasons in Formula 4, Formula 3 and Formula 2. But he was a title challenge in his sophomore years, becoming champion in F3 and – if Bahrain goes well this weekend – and F2.
He continues to peak as a driver as he steps up, indicating that handling more powerful cars is not beyond him, that he can learn to understand crucial elements like Pirelli’s fussy tyres, and that an initially difficult year does not stunt his confidence or growth.
Asked by The Race if his ‘first year to learn, second year to win’ strategy has been deliberate or a consequence of his development curve, Schumacher says: “I think it’s a difficult question to answer because you don’t know how it’s going to be the first year.
“If it goes well you show great speed and you’re able to drive a championship, or win every weekend, then the next step is logical to move up.
“For me, taking as the best reference last year in 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 [top-]five in the championship, and things would have looked a lot different as a rookie, 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. Maybe not [immediately], but the moment I get everything together and in line I’m able to be quite consistently fast. As we have shown this year.
“We’ll have to see if it’s the same in F1 or not. It’s really hard to say at the moment. But I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to extract my maximum, and then hopefully I’ll be able to do that every time.”
Schumacher feels that this year he’s shown he’s “made every step, and every learning curve that I had to, to prove that I’m ready for F1”.
Arguably his biggest success this season has been piecing together a strong, enduring run of good results in a topsy-turvy year for several drivers. While others have lacked consistency Schumacher has been able to string together runs like six podiums in seven races.
Late-race drama in @FIA_F2‘s Sprint Race on Sunday 😱
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 10, 2020
That’s not to say his year’s been perfect or that his mental armour is impenetrable. He has made costly, silly errors – going off on his own in Austria, for example, and causing needless contact with team-mate Robert Shwartzman will fighting for the win at Silverstone – and he has, interestingly, never been the benchmark in qualifying.
Asked by The Race what he puts the lack of a pole position in F2 down to, Schumacher admits “it’s a fair question”.
“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.
“You really have to set your preferences. Maybe yeah, it’s been not easy for me to put everything together in one lap. But definitely we’ve been able to be very consistent in races, conserve our tyres when we have to and use our tyres when we did.
“I think it’s just a bit of a preference, it’s a bit of a mindset [of] where are your goals, let’s say. It’s very competitive, yeah, I think we have very good drivers out there and they all have different driving styles and approaches to the weekend.”
It reinforces the view that he is not easily shaken, keeps a calm head and is a strong all-round driver. Excellent starts, feisty first laps and calm performances have underpinned several of his recovery drives this year.
Schumacher will need to address a one-lap performance shortfall for his F1 graduation but that he has been able to put together a strong (potentially championship-winning) campaign without that raw qualifying pace is an indicator of how good his racecraft has been to overturn a consistent starting position disadvantage.
He is not a perfect driver but nobody arrives in F1 in that form. The best arrive as well-prepared as possible and then continue to learn, to refine their strengths and address lingering weaknesses. Schumacher certainly has examples of both. And the underlying narrative of his career suggests he certainly has the right mindset not to be overawed by the challenge that awaits.
In some ways Haas is the perfect place for his first experience of that challenge: a small team, closely-knit, and without expectation given it is primed for a year at the back. On the other hand, in a world that rewards results and punishes perceived underperformance, it’s a tough environment for Schumacher to impress in.
“I’m not scared at all” about the prospect of racing with a back-of-the-grid team, Schumacher says. In fact, he says all the right things about what awaits in 2021, from his expectations of Haas to his expectations of himself. He wants to “improve from the beginning of the season” and help Haas’s development where he can.
But given the kinder circumstances, does he still feel pressure for his F1 graduation?
“I wouldn’t call it pressure at all,” he says. “I would actually call it a duty.
“I want to deliver my best, and to also deliver the best for the team. I can do that whilst doing the right research and data [analysis] but also the right work at the right time with the team together.
“I’m sure that we’ll manage to do that very well. I’m so much looking forward to working with all those great people and just to get to know them as much as I can.
“My approach for next year is definitely going to be trying to improve as a racing driver, to try and deliver the best I can.
“Obviously, it’s going to be challenging but I’m pretty sure that the team has enough experience to give me the opportunities to develop.”
Making the most of them will be Schumacher’s biggest test yet. The qualities that helped him reach this point will be crucial in passing it.