Why it is too soon for Formula 1 to give up on Mick Schumacher

·6-min read
Mick Schumacher arrives at the track. Barcelona, May 2022. Credit: PA Images
Mick Schumacher arrives at the track. Barcelona, May 2022. Credit: PA Images

If the early years of Mick Schumacher in Formula 1 have taught us anything, it is that Haas is no place for a young driver.

But Ferrari should have known that already, of course.

They should have known it as long ago as 2016, Haas’ first season in F1 and the only previous time a Ferrari-affiliated driver raced for the team, when Esteban Gutierrez failed to even score a point in a car in which Romain Grosjean sometimes worked wonders.

When the time came for Ferrari to find a place on the grid for Schumacher during his title-winning F2 season in 2020, the best solution for all concerned almost seemed to make too much sense.

At Alfa Romeo, the team he was originally lined up to join, Schumacher would have followed in the footsteps of Charles Leclerc, the greatest of all Ferrari graduates who flourished in a fine debut season there in 2018.

He would have benefited from the guidance of Frederic Vasseur, a team boss with a reputation for nurturing young talent, and had the experience of learning from drivers as decorated as Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas – a better mentor Zhou Guanyu could not wish to have in 2022 – all while representing an established team and one of the most historic brands in motor racing.

In opting to expose him to the Haas experience instead – the smallest team in F1 with an under-developed car and a team principal not exactly shy in expressing his feelings in Guenther Steiner – Ferrari mishandled Mick from the start.

It should be no surprise, then, that at his lowest moments over the last two seasons Schumacher has had the look of a little boy lost.

It should also be no surprise that as he faces an uncertain future, the leading candidate to replace him for 2023 is reportedly Nico Hulkenberg, an old pro whose plug-in-and-play quality – best demonstrated during his Covid cameo appearances for Racing Point in 2020 – would be welcomed by a Haas team who live only for the present.

In signing Hulkenberg, without a permanent seat since 2019, Haas would not so much be replacing Schumacher as filling the hole of experience left by Grosjean, reluctantly released by the team along with Kevin Magnussen two years ago.

The occasional missteps and inevitable inconsistencies that come with working with a young driver have evidently frustrated the team at times, but it seems particularly cruel that both Haas and Ferrari appear to be giving up on Schumacher at the precise point he is starting to come good.

His costly early-season accidents in Saudi Arabia and Monaco masked some of the progress (including a first Q3 appearance in Spain) Schumacher, renowned for making a significant step in his second season in the junior categories, had made in 2022.

Yet from the moment Magnussen and Schumacher combined to deliver the team’s best qualifying result since 2018 in Canada, the latter has generally been the stronger of the Haas drivers, scoring his first F1 points in successive races in Britain and Austria.

More would have come, potentially, had he not suffered an engine issue in Montreal and a slow stop at Zandvoort – having secured the team’s first Q3 slot since the mid-season arrival of the heavily revised VF-22 car the previous day – Haas all too willing to point out Schumacher’s shortcomings but rarely their own.

If it was hoped that Steiner’s preparedness to be publicly hard on him was a case of a team principal challenging his driver to earn his place for 2023, the revelation last month that Ferrari – the company with whom his father had so much success – are set to withdraw their support for Schumacher at the end of the season left little room for interpretation.

It may be that the closest he ever comes to driving for Ferrari will be those occasions he was wheeled out, complete with tribute helmet designs, in his father’s classic cars for demo runs at Hockenheim and Mugello.

Given their haphazard handling of his career until this point, however, being dropped by Ferrari may prove to be a blessing in disguise.

As it has became increasingly obvious his place at Haas is in severe danger, a number of his fellow drivers have spoken in support of Schumacher.

Haas' Mick Schumacher chasing Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the British Grand Prix. Silverstone, July 2022. Credit: PA Images
Haas' Mick Schumacher chasing Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the British Grand Prix. Silverstone, July 2022. Credit: PA Images

In that four-day stretch between the announcements of Sebastian Vettel’s retirement and Fernando Alonso’s arrival at Aston Martin, the former was not shy in suggesting Schumacher – a driver whose metaphorical hand he has held since the start of his F1 career – as his potential successor.

More recently, meanwhile, Esteban Ocon – perhaps wary of being partnered with his sworn enemy Pierre Gasly – has pushed publicly and with some regularity for Alpine to take a chance on his “good friend” Schumacher.

And Jost Capito’s restrained assessment of Nyck de Vries’ chances of a 2023 Williams seat following his stand-in appearance at Monza has led to suspicions that a deal with another driver – potentially Schumacher, heavily linked to the team since the summer break – is on the horizon.

Schumacher clearly has many admirers across the wider F1 paddock, yet it is a source of regret that he seems to have so few within his existing environment.

Sending him to Haas was always likely to be a case of wrong team at the wrong time, ending any hope of a smooth start to his F1 career before it even began, and if Ferrari have been disappointed by his lack of development it is largely on them for not providing fertile ground for personal growth.

But look closely enough, and keep resisting the temptation to draw comparisons with his father, and the signs of promise and progress are there.

Even if Haas have a sudden change of heart – Steiner revealing he was just testing him all along, now come here and sign this – at this stage Schumacher, provided an alternative seat is available, would be well advised to get out while he still can.

If he is to retain any chance of a fruitful career, it is imperative that his next move is to a more holistic team better geared for a driver’s development – more patient and forgiving of his mistakes, willing to work on harnessing his potential and see the good as well as the bad.

It is too soon for F1 to turn its back on him and a new beginning might just be the making of Michael’s boy.

Read more: Ranking the contenders to replace Fernando Alonso at Alpine in 2023

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