“The moment we are in a race weekend when I have the helmet on, there are no friends,” Mick Schumacher says emphatically. There can be no doubt, then, that this is the son of Michael. His boyish good looks and gentle, considered tone conceal the same steely resolve that took his father to seven Formula One world championships.
Schumacher Jr, who has already displayed resilience and determination to come this far, is entirely unintimidated as he prepares to make his F1 debut this season. “It is very much a battlefield out there,” he says. “Everyone is trying to get the crown and rule, if you don’t have that attitude it is very difficult.” It is impossible not to see Michael in him as he speaks, his features, his expressions, the firm jut of his chin, as just under 30 years after his father’s F1 debut at Spa he prepares to enter a maelstrom.
The 22-year-old will take to the track for the Haas team in Bahrain on Sunday as the most-scrutinised rookie F1 has seen for decades. He carries the weight of the family name and attention to rival that of a world champion. Perhaps no other driver has had such immense shoes to fill nor does so in such difficult circumstances. Schumacher has pursued his career while coping with the accident his father suffered in 2013 resulting in a traumatic brain injury from which he remains in recovery.
The pressure is prodigious, yet he wears it well, amiably batting away any suggestion that taking up the Schumacher mantle provokes anything but pride. “I do know how much this name weighs in every aspect but that weight, I don’t feel it, it’s light as a feather for me,” he says. “I feel very privileged to be able to drive with the name. I have only seen the pros and I have only had a positive impact from it.”
Damon Hill famously battled with Michael and was the first son of a world champion to win the title himself. The Englishman admires the attitude. “Mick has experienced something in his life which has been very tough to bear, and I am sure it is a little bit of extra motivation,” Hill has said. “He doesn’t strike me as someone who is interested in getting publicity for himself. He wants to race and he wants to win.”
In 2003 Michael said he would rather his son took to golf than racing but he would be right behind him should he take to the track. The links lost out. Schumacher Jr recalls driving a kart when he was two and half and by the time he was seven was racing – backed by Michael and his mother, Corinna. Karting, under Corinna’s maiden name Betsch, he did well but what was most telling was the resolve and psychological strength he displayed in what was surely the most difficult period of his life. In 2014, the year immediately after his father’s accident, Schumacher took second place in both the European and world karting championships.
A year later he graduated to cars in the German Formula Four championship, now using his father’s name. His opening race was at the Oschersleben Motorsport Arena, an unostentatious circuit in the middle of Germany. There were four times the usual number of camera crews and the fans were five deep outside his garage. Everyone I spoke to admitted they were there to see Mick. Attention has since only grown exponentially but he has managed it well. “I am OK with it, I decided I wanted to do this,” he says. “If that’s what comes with it I am happy to take it on. I don’t know what will happen in the next five or 10 years but I am proud of myself.”
In 2016 he moved to the Prema team, with whom he stayed until F1 and established a successful pattern. He generally has taken a year to adapt to a new formula and then accelerated. In his second season in German F4 he was second. Switching to European F3 in 2017 he won the title a year later and after joining F2 in 2019 went on to win the championship last year. “We have proven that I know how to drive I hope,” he says with a laugh. “That I am worthy of being in F1.”
The family remains intensely private about Michael’s accident and Mick does not discuss it but he is unequivocal about what an inspiration he remains. “I loved how he handled race pace and the strategy with the team,” he says. “Something I admire a lot. I really enjoy working with the team, getting the unity and building a family around me, which I am looking forward to at Haas. Building a relationship so we can understand each other without words.”
Michael famously united Ferrari around him and Prema’s principal, René Rosin, has witnessed Mick do the same. “Mick has been able to create one group, one team and that has made a difference,” he says.
His task at Haas is daunting, however. The team were off the pace last season and have already conceded that they will not develop this year’s car, focusing instead on 2022. Schumacher will have to prove himself in far from ideal machinery. Quite the crucible then but he has strong traits that are to his advantage. He reads races well and has shown a real touch for tyre management. His qualifying can be improved but he has delivered lighting quick starts and his racecraft has proved very strong.
Crucially, like his father, he can be relentlessly consistent. He took only two wins in F2 last year but scored points in 20 of 24 races, half of them podiums, including five in a row mid-season. He can be aggressive when required and his Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin acknowledged his defence is “on a different level” to his competitors. Rosin recognises these abilities. “His is race vision, his starts,” he says. “He knows how to be aggressive in the first lap, he was very good on overtaking, he knows where he can go and what he can do. That is one of his strengths.”
The Haas principal, Guenther Steiner, has called for patience this season but it won’t happen. The name, the legacy, the narrative of Michael’s son racing on while his father remains in recovery is impossible to ignore. Yet for Schumacher all of this remains background noise, a halo of distortion beneath which he is simply embracing his passion. “I love feeling the way I do when I drive,” he concludes. “I do it for myself, I race because I love it. That’s what drives me.”