Formula 1 2021: Mick Schumacher primed for generational leap as Bahrain debut awaits

Mick’s debut comes exactly 30 years after his father made his Formula 1 debut. The youngster will race for the Haas F1 Team alongside another rookie, Nikita Mazepin.

Mithila Mehta March 18, 2021 09:51:12 IST
Formula 1 2021: Mick Schumacher primed for generational leap as Bahrain debut awaits

As the familiar initials MSC lit up timing screens at the pre-season test in Bahrain, an entire generation of Formula 1 lovers cheered on nostalgically. 21-year-old Mick Schumacher made his Formula 1 debut, following in the footsteps of his legendary father, Michael Schumacher. In what feels like a poetic coincidence, Mick’s debut comes exactly 30 years after his father made his Formula 1 debut. Mick will race for the Haas F1 Team alongside another rookie, Nikita Mazepin.

Arriving in Formula 1 is itself a very special feat, and Mick’s fresh-faced optimism is palpable. He shared, “As a child, I’ve been dreaming about this for 15 years, and now it’s actually happened. It’s emotional and just something very nice.” What makes Mick’s debut even sweeter is that it is well and truly deserved. Not even the harshest critic can argue the young racer’s credentials.

Mick clinched the Formula 2 title in 2020 - for the sake of benchmarking, previous F2 champions include two remarkable upcoming drivers on the F1 grid, Charles Leclerc (2017) and George Russell (2018). The other point to note is that Mick has displayed immense growth over the past several years, clinching the FIA F3 championship in 2018 followed by the FIA F2 title in 2020.

The young German raced two years in each series. Coincidentally, he finished 12th in the championship in his first year in both series and followed it up with a title win in the next. Though known to be a slow starter (a term that stuck because of his multiple seasons in the same series), Mick is well-regarded for his ability to grow and develop through the season. Like his father, his work ethic stands out as does his general affable attitude with the team, in the paddock, and with the media. There’s no doubt that all these qualities and skills will support Mick as he matures in his Formula 1 career.

A heavy surname to carry

It is impossible to discuss Mick Schumacher without pondering over the ramifications of his famous surname. In fact, as a famous anecdote goes, he used to enter karting competitions under his mother’s maiden name, to stay out of the limelight. Mick dismisses that the surname brings him pressure - and instead, terms it a major motivator.

“I have never said that it was pressure, I don’t think I’ll ever say it. I’m very happy to carry that surname and very happy to carry that name back into F1. I’m very proud of it, I’m happy to have it. It’s like a boost for me and it gives me motivation every single day to work as much as I can and as hard I can,” he said. Mick also seemed to accept and welcome the inevitable comparisons with his father.

He revealed, “He (Michael) has been the benchmark for so long, and for me, he's still the benchmark, so I'll always refer to him.”

Apart from the obvious comparisons on track, Mick will also have to contend with off-track comparisons - his father was an incredibly loved member of the racing community with an unparalleled ability to build a closely bonded team that rallied around him. It will be a tricky road to walk, giving in to the nostalgia and emotion of being ‘Michael’s son’ while at the same time building his own unique place in the sport.

In addition to his father, Mick will also have to cope with constant comparisons with the recent brigade of super rookies who have taken F1 by storm - Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell. These drivers have redefined what it means to be a rookie, and expectations have only risen. The two other rookies on the grid, teammate Nikita Mazepin and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda will also serve as competitive benchmarks.

The Haas factor

It is a challenging time to be a rookie in Formula 1. Thanks to the pandemic-related restrictions, Schumacher felt the absence of physical time with his new team. He explained, “Over winter it was a bit difficult for me to travel with the restrictions. I’m a driver that loves to spend time with his team, so it’s been hard, it hasn’t felt right. But thankfully I was able to get to England and do things like my seat fit.” Moreover, with official testing days being slashed, the learning curve has been steep for Mick.

It also looks to be a challenging year for Haas, as the team has opted to focus on 2022 while treating 2021 as a year of transition. As Team Principal Guenther Steiner revealed, “We face a year of learning with the drivers while technically we look ahead to the future.” Consequently, this year’s car “will not be as developed” as could well come in towards the back of the pack. This could well mean that Schumacher’s primary competitor will be teammate Mazepin. Since both drivers are rookies graduating from Formula 2, they are on a fairly even footing.

Let’s not forget that teammate Mazepin has had a rather unsavoury start to this F1 chapter thanks to an inappropriate social media video which the Haas team had condemned then as “abhorrent.” Mazepin’s fall from grace, coupled with his almost-churlish personality, sits in stark contrast to the sweetly nostalgic vibe around Schumacher. It will be interesting to see how this rivalry plays on and off track.

What does Mick need to do in 2021?

It is without a doubt that Schumacher will need to decisively beat Mazepin - in qualifying and in the race. But that wouldn’t be sufficient given that the Russian’s junior formula record isn’t as impressive as Schumacher’s.

Schumacher would do well to follow the footsteps of his predecessor champions from F2, Leclerc and Russell. For starters, both drivers had stellar rookie seasons in Formula 1. As has been the trend with rookies in the past seasons, it is more than just consistent performances and progression. It is about the big results, the sheer sparks of brilliance that serve as an advertisement of the driver’s potential despite the apparent disadvantage of the car.

Leclerc forced Ferrari to promote him after only half a season at Alfa Romeo Racing. As for Russell, his brilliant qualifying performances have convinced many that he is a suitable replacement at Mercedes for their seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

For Mick, a promotion to Ferrari in 2022 might not be in the offing. But to evoke the same sentiment around his talent and career as Leclerc and Russell have done would be an achievement in itself. That said, it seems likely that Mick will race for Haas in 2022 too.

New regulations, a (hopefully) more level playing field, and a season’s worth of experience to bank on - the possibilities are endless for him. It is in Haas’ interest to make Mick succeed; he has the potential to bring the team sponsorship deals, along with heightened media and fan attention. The next two seasons could be critical in determining when he gets the much-awaited call-up to Ferrari - the magical reunion that all of Formula 1 is waiting for.

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