Michael Schumacher’s son, now in F2, will drive a lap in his father’s old car and it could be timely for a threatened circuit
This weekend’s German Grand Prix will almost certainly be the race’s farewell to Formula One, for the time being at least. It bows out with a flourish, a back to the future moment as a Schumacher climbs once more into a Ferrari, recalling the heady days when Michael sold out Hockenheim year-in, year-out. This time it is his son Mick at the wheel, a driver trying to make his name in his own right and who might yet bring the fans flocking back.
On Saturday, before qualifying, Mick took to the circuit in the Ferrari F2004, driven by Michael in 2004 when he took his seventh and final world championship. Today he will do another lap before the drivers’ parade. In 2004 Michael won at Hockenheim in a season he dominated, taking 13 victories and claiming the title at Spa, with four races remaining.
In those days Hockenheim was a sell-out, with 120,000 fans at every race. Michael’s career began in 1991. He took his first title for Benetton in 1994 and Germany could simply not get enough of the bricklayer’s son. There were two races in Germany each season in 1995 and 1996 and between 1999 and 2006, the year Michael retired for the first time.
It was based on the special relationship between “Schumi” and his fans, many of whom came for him rather than F1 , a devotion that was never replicated for Nico Rosberg or Sebastian Vettel. Even with Vettel in the hunt for the title last year Hockenheim attracted only 71,000 specators. With next year’s calendar almost full it seems highly unlikely Germany will make the bill.
Might it return? Well as the fans luxuriate in the sight, sound and memories that the F2004 invokes, Mick may be the man to make it happen. He is racing for the Prema team in F2 and the weight his name carries here should not be underestimated. The F2 series is not competing in Germany this weekend but Mick is featured in a four-page piece in the race programme.
At Hockenheim his compatriot Vettel acknowledged Mick’s potential importance to racing in Germany. “Michael was the one who set off a huge hype when we were kids,” he said. “Therefore the name Schumacher is 100% known in Germany due to him. To have Mick at the doorstep of F1 and one day hopefully joining would be huge and hopefully a big boost for Germany.”
The 20-year-old has been with Prema for four years since his second season in F4 in 2016. Having won the F3 title last year, he was taken on as part of the Ferrari driver academy in January. Now, however, he is in the crucible of a tough competition, which will decide whether the Schumacher name returns to F1.
Prema is run by the husband and wife team of Rene Rosin and Angelina Ertsou. He is team principal and she focuses on media. Founded in 1983 by Rene’s father, they have enjoyed remarkable success and of late have been the feeder team of choice for F1. Charles Leclerc won the F2 title with them in 2017, as did Pierre Gasly in GP2 in 2016. They have nurtured Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon. Now Mick is under their wing.
The team was chosen by the Schumacher family and it is understandable why. In their motorhome Rosin and Ertsou have a distinctly friendly, familial feel. “We are here for the competition, we are here because we love to win,” says Rosin. “But drivers are coming to us because we treat them like a family. It is important drivers feel comfortable working with us, that they are confident, that they trust the team. If you are too cold and just treat it like a daily routine job they won’t feel the passion and will to win we put in place.”
This might be the best possible atmosphere in which to bring Schumacher on. His father remains in recovery from the skiing accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury in 2013, a heavy burden for any young man. Yet it is one that Mick seems to bear well, believes Rosin. “He is quite relaxed,” he says. “He is mature for his age but he is bringing this weight and dealing with that without any issues.”
Mick is still developing as a driver and doing so in the spotlight, as demonstrated at his first F4 race at the unglamorous Oschersleben circuit in April 2015, where the turnout was far higher than usual and fans readily admitted it was Mick they had come to see. In F2 the scrutiny has been even more intense and at times Mick has struggled. He has made errors and had some bad luck as well as he gets to grips with the junior formula. He is 14th in the championship and has scored only five top-10 finishes.
He is treating it, as he must, as valuable experience. After a spin in Baku was costly he took it on board. “I have learned from it. It won’t happen again hopefully and I will take that as a lesson and try and grow from that,” he said.
Despite the travails Prema remain confident. “Dedication is one of his greatest strengths,” says Rosin. “He wants to understand the technical details to perform well. His racecraft is also really good, he almost always makes the right decision. He has a good knowledge of how every change in the car affects his driving style. That’s a good driver characteristic.”
Going even further is now the goal but he and the team know this will not necessarily happen overnight. With the Schumacher work ethic to the fore, a long winter of preparation paid off and in 2018 he dominated the second half of the season.
Mick took five wins in a row in the final third before wrapping up the title at Hockenheim. He returns to the scene of that success for what must be an emotional moment in driving his father’s car. A tribute and crowd-pleaser all in one but Mick desperately wants more and Rosin believes he may yet prove a chip off the old block. “Some people were criticising him at the beginning of 2018 but I knew it was just a matter of time,” he says. “From the third race he was already on the top two rows and by the fourth race he started winning and then it was like a machine.”