Being the racing son — or even grandson — of a famous racing driver is nothing new. Examples include Andretti, Unser, Earnhardt, Brabham, Hill (Phil and Graham), Villeneuve, Fittipaldi and Ascari.
It is a mixed blessing because the name opens doors on the way up the racing ladder, but eventually the youngsters have to prove themselves on the race track.
Mick Schumacher, who makes his Formula One racing debut with the U.S. Haas team this year, is going to come under intense scrutiny. His father, of course, is the legendary Michael Schumacher who held just about every F-1 record in the books until Lewis Hamilton began surpassing those records during the last couple of years.
So how does he handle the pressure of being the son of a legend and trying to achieve things in the same field?
“Well, obviously, the pressure is always there no matter what your name is,” Mick Schumacher said. “You want to show yourself; you want to do a good job and at the end, my name will bring me to the top championship. But it’s the achievement and the work with the team behind the scenes that is important. We did a very good job in F-2 and that proves that we’re in the right spot at the right time.”
Schumacher won the 2020 Formula 2 championship after fighting for the title with Callum Ilott right up to the final race.
Unfortunately for Schumacher, now that he is in the F-1 limelight, he is going to have to really dodge questions about his father’s health. It was tragic irony that Michael Schumacher raced cars from 1988 through 2012 and he was only seriously injured once. He broke his leg when the rear brakes failed on his Ferrari and he crashed into the barriers at Silverstone during the British Grand Prix.
Then, after he had retired from racing, on Dec. 29, 2013, Michael Schumacher was skiing in the French Alps with Mick, then 14, when he fell and hit his head on a rock. He was wearing a helmet, which probably saved his life, but he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Since then, the Schumacher family has kept Michael’s condition a closely guarded secret. He lives on the family compound in Switzerland and the very few visitors permitted are not allowed to reveal anything about him.
So, inevitably, some members of the media will question Mick about his father.
Members of the Schumacher family have always valued their privacy. If Michael and Corinna ever brought Mick and his sister, Gina-Maria, to F-1 races, they were kept out of sight.
When Mick, who was born on March 22, 1999, followed in his father’s footsteps and began racing karts in 2008, he used the name Mick Betsch — his mother’s maiden name — to avoid media attention.
He graduated to car racing and Germany’s ADAC Formula 4 series in 2015. Then, in 2016, he finished second in that championship and the Italian Formula 4 championship, scoring five wins in each series. He graduated to the FIA European Formula 3 championship in 2017 and he clinched that championship the following year with seven victories.
Formula 2 was next, but Schumacher struggled in 2019, getting just one win and he ended up 12th in the points. Things improved in 2020. He only won twice, but nine podium finishes helped secure the championship.
Michael Schumacher’s long association with Ferrari made it even more special for Mick Schumacher when in January 2019 he was nominated as a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy. In April of that year, Mick Schumacher got to drive a current F-1 car for the first time when he piloted a Ferrari SF90 during the test days after the Bahrain Grand Prix.
He made his F-1 race weekend debut when he drove a 2020 Haas in the first Friday practice session during the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He drove the car again in the young driver test at the same track on the Tuesday after the race. Schumacher completed nearly three race distances on that test day.
“I feel pretty good,” he said afterward. “Obviously, I’m very happy I managed to do so many laps — it’s not always a given in testing. We focused on a good amount of laps, and a valuable amount of laps, which was very positive. The key point from today was just to understand the tires a little more — for that, the long runs were very good.
“I think we achieved that and I now have a pretty good knowledge of what I need to do although the tires might be a bit different next year,” he added. “I feel very comfortable, I know the team’s happy, so that’s good. I really was so happy to be in the car and it was so much fun to drive. I’m really looking forward to next year.”
TIME AND PEACE
When Sebastian Vettel was growing up and starting his racing career, Michael Schumacher was his hero. While the two German drivers eventually got to know each other, Vettel did not monitor Mick Schumacher’s early racing career.
“He’d just started racing and I wasn’t really following,” Vettel said. “Obviously, with the name and being the son of Michael there are certainly some links and expectations, but to end up in Formula One you need to prove that you have the speed. So far, he has done really well. I think the way he has developed in the last years deserves him to be where he is now.
“Now we should give him the time and peace to do his job, which I think is not easy as it is for him, but on the other hand I think he is used to it. So we will see.”
Haas announced near the end of last season that the U.S. team would take a different tack on the driver front. The contracts of Romain Grosjean, who had been with the team since it started in 2016, and Kevin Magnussen, there since 2017, were not renewed. Rookies Nikita Mazepin and Schumacher would race for the team in 2021.
“The Formula 2 championship has long served as a proving ground for talent to showcase their credentials and (the 2020) field has undoubtedly been one of the most competitive in recent seasons,” said Guenther Steiner, Haas team principal. “I’m very pleased that we’re able to confirm Mick Schumacher in our driver lineup for next season and I look forward to welcoming him into the team. Mick has won races, collected podiums and excelled against some pretty exceptional talent in 2020.
“I firmly believe he’s earned the opportunity to graduate into Formula One based on his performances. We have an opportunity ahead of us, as a team, to evaluate and nurture a new driver given our familiarity with our race package heading into 2021,” Steiner added. “We are putting in place our building blocks for the continued long-term growth of the team and I look forward to Mick’s contributions both on and off the track in that process.”
Schumacher and Mazepin are both members of the Ferrari Driver Academy. Given that Haas buys its engines, gearboxes and as many other parts as possible from Ferrari, the Ferrari link make sense.
“The prospect of being on the Formula One grid makes me incredibly happy and I’m simply speechless,” said Schumacher. “I would like to thank Haas F1 Team, Scuderia Ferrari and the Ferrari Driver Academy for placing their trust in me. I also want to acknowledge and extend my love to my parents — I know that I owe them everything. I have always believed that I would realize my dream of F-1. A huge thank you must also go to all the great motorsports fans out there who have supported me throughout my career. I will give it my all, as I always do, and I look forward to going on this journey together with Haas F1 and them.”
The Haas team did not have a very competitive car during the past two years and given that the 2021 technical regulations are similar to those in 2020, Haas won’t be fighting for major points hauls this year.
In a way, that is a good thing for Schumacher because even though he will be under intense scrutiny, nobody will expect him to immediately start matching the results his famous father posted.