Mick Schumacher: ‘It’s nice for me to remind people of what my dad did – but I can create my own legacy too’

Exclusive: The Haas driver reflects on his first season in Formula One and the pressure that his surname has brought on and off the race track

Tom Kershaw
Thursday 17 March 2022 12:41
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<p>Mick Schumacher will spend a second season at Haas </p>

Mick Schumacher will spend a second season at Haas

In a sense, Mick Schumacher’s entire life had been building up to one moment. From being first sat in a go-kart at just two-and-a-half years old, inheriting the obsession for racing that runs so deep in his blood, he was being trained, perhaps even engineered, to become a Formula One driver. He had started out competing under his mother’s maiden name to shield him from the media, then he ascended through the junior ranks with meticulous attention to detail, interrogating engineers for clues to the cars and seeking out advice from friends of his father. Before he fulfilled his dream, he wanted to try and eliminate all the elements of surprise that might throw him off course. In his mind, he simulated how his first race might unfold hundreds of times.

What all that preparation can never quite replicate, though, is the tension that grips the muscles and nerve-endings once you’re sat on the grid alone and waiting, or the anxious excitement that clouds all those clearly laid plans as the lights go out. And so, at the fourth turn on his first full racing lap, with the dirt and dust in humid Bahrain sticking to the track, Schumacher trod on the throttle a little too certainly. Like a trigger had been fired, the car suddenly lurched out of his control, span up against the kerb and then into the gravel.

“You’re just trying to find the limit and I think it was just a case of underestimating,” the 22-year-old says now, sitting in Haas’ team garage during pre-season testing. “And in that case, it can even be positive because it keeps you hungry and probably also humble. A certain amount of pressure is always part of the game. It all belongs to growing and I’ve grown so much since. I’ve become so comfortable in the car. [The pressure] kind of disappears and the feeling of being a rookie is not there anymore. I’ve been in that place last year but I feel a lot more part of the actual business here.”

Schumacher is back in Bahrain now, but for all the inevitable weight of his surname, that spin was one of few aberrations during his maiden season in Formula One. He is obsessive about data and, on the surface, a 19th place finish in the drivers’ standings without any points scored makes for an unflattering assessment. But beneath a limited Haas car lies encouraging signs, remarkable consistency and a little frustration that Schumacher hasn’t yet been able to test himself more against his rivals.

“The target is always to be the best, it’s the same this season, even though maybe on paper we’re not going to be anywhere close to the championship fight,” he says. “But crazy things have happened in the past and crazy things might happen again, you never know, and you always want to be in the fight. That’s what I enjoy, that’s what brought me to this sport, the enjoyment of fighting and speed and trying to beat the lap time. I think that battling is a big part of who I am and what I like to do. Obviously, I want to do that at the front and not the back [of the grid].”

He had a taste of that in Hungary when Max Verstappen was making his way through the field in a chaotic race. Schumacher is only two years younger than the reigning world champion but insists there is little comparison in their career paths. “Obviously Max did super well last year but, on the other hand, he’s been in the sport for seven years so he’s got a bit of an advantage over me on that,” Schumacher says. “As long as I feel like I perform at my standard and at my level then I feel I can be happy, that’s where we are.”

That sense of maturity has been ingrained in Schumacher from an early age. From the outside, it feels as though every aspect of his career has been managed in meticulous detail, from his steady rise through the karting and Formula series to his choice of Haas, where he has more freedom and mercy to cut his teeth at the top level before following in his father’s footsteps to Ferrari. It’s not to suggest that Schumacher has been wrapped in cotton wool - after all, there is no cushion when skirting around corners at 100mph – but there has been care to insulate him from shuddering setbacks.

Schumacher is hoping to build on his maiden season in F1

“I guess everybody has doubts [at some stages], it’s quite easily done because if you have a bad year that starts off not the way you think or whatever, things can go bad really quickly,” he says. “Fortunately for me, everything went well and I think that’s partially down to taking the right decision in what team to put your trust in so the step up into F1 wasn’t so much of a drastic change.”

If a love of racing has always come naturally, it is the obstacles away from the track that have been treated with the most caution. Schumacher has become accustomed to fielding overly intrusive questions about his father’s health and he admits attention from the media used to be a little overwhelming. “The reason why we used my mother’s name at the beginning was so I could grow and be left alone in some ways,” he says. “[When I joined Formula 4 in 2016] was the first time when there was a big media blow up and it was a bit weird to begin with. But because I’ve always had that attention on me, it’s not much of a difference now, I don’t get riled up too much by it. In some ways, it’s helped me to just be who I am and not change in front of the cameras.”

Growing up under such an intense spotlight has left Schumacher a very polished character, but he is by no means robotic or inauthentic. In fact, he is rather genial company, ready to joke, and insists his life has not been as abnormal or extraordinary as others might assume. “We are racing drivers, but if we sit in the car it doesn’t mean that we always go fast,” he quips.

There is no avoiding the likenesses to his father, from the appearance that evokes so many memories to the uninhibited ambition of what he hopes to achieve, but Schumacher insists it is only a burden in the eyes of others. “I don’t feel that pressure because I don’t pay attention to it, I just blend it out,” he says. “I can create my own legacy while still looking back at what my dad did. It’s nice for me to be able to remind people of what my dad did and at the same time show what can I do.”

Of course, their careers are forever entwined but it’s by pride rather than comparisons or competition. And for all that Schumacher has had strong hands guiding him, the fact remains that when he is at the wheel, only he has the power to control his direction. Everything else, well, “it just kind of disappears”.

“I’ve been doing this since I was two and I’ve never stopped,” he says. “I wanted to be in F1 because I love this sport. I wanted to prove to myself I could make it here and I want to become the best here one day. I do what I love all year round so the sacrifices come easy. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

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