Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Maranello, 2020

The F1 driver Mick Schumacher must measure up against isn’t his father

2020 F1 season

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It’s almost poetic. At least, we’re not going to be allowed to think it isn’t. The son of the most successful Formula 1 driver ever will participate in an official grand prix weekend for the first time on home ground, at a track where his hero father won five times.

Mick Schumacher will slot into Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo for first practice tomorrow at the Nurburgring. Occupying the other car is no less a driver than the man who took on the enormous task of replacing Michael Schumacher at Ferrari 13 years ago: Kimi Raikkonen.

It’s fitting, in a way, as Raikkonen is one of few drivers who might be able to appreciate the burden of expectation the second-generation Schumacher has to live up to. But Michael Schumacher isn’t the relevant standard his son should be measured against at this stage in his career.

An opportunity to drive in first practice is big for any young racer. But it doesn’t usually get this much attention – fellow Ferrari Driver Academy junior Callum Ilott is unlikely to get as many column inches during his own run on Friday in a Haas as Mick Schumacher will.

Mick Schumacher, Ferrari, Fiorano, 2020
Mick Schumacher will make his F1 practice debut this weekend
For both drivers, the benchmark is obvious. Only one previous member of the Ferrari Driver Academy has made it all the way to Maranello: Charles Leclerc.

In the two years before he stepped up into the race seat with Sauber (now Alfa Romeo), Leclerc made eighth practice appearances with Ferrari’s customer squads, four each with Haas and his future team. Aside from signalling the end of Pascal Wehrlein’s tricky few years in F1, it felt like sensible grooming for a driver who both feet in the seat already, at least on a part-time basis.

Few Ferrari juniors had even made it that far. Current F1 drivers Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll are ex-FDA but parted ways after arriving in F1 (in Perez’s case) or just before (in Stroll’s). Giovinazzi remains in the Ferrari family but, well, it’s his car Schumacher is stepping into on Friday.

The FDA appointed Mick Schumacher in 2019, the same year Leclerc graduated to the Scuderia. Schumacher stepped into the Ferrari for the in-season test following the Bahrain Grand Prix. That race was the first time Leclerc demonstrated he was capable of beating Sebastian Vettel, taking pole and almost winning, while his team mate spun out of contention.

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Mick Schumacher, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit
Schumacher tested for Ferrari in Bahrain last year
Schumacher stepped up: The only first-time tester there, he took the second-fastest time of the day, edged by Max Verstappen.

Leclerc’s junior career was meteoric, culminating in back-to-back championship wins in GP3 and F2. More than that, the kid had real flair. He won with a style that evoked legendary racers, from his car being on fire partway through one F2 feature race victory to overtakes on such razor-thin margins they set your heart thumping.

Leclerc felt exciting, someone whose arrival in Formula 1 would prove something either about the sport – if a driver with so much on-track charisma couldn’t succeed there, then something truly was stagnating – or about himself – if all his hotshot youthful capabilities would seem childish against the big boys.

Previously Ferrari had taken their time over promoting their young stars – sadly, in the case of Leclerc’s godfather Jules Bianchi, this meant he never reached the Ferrari drive many felt he was due. But in 2018, with Vettel and Raikkonen underwhelming in the top team, and Leclerc impressing on his Sauber debut, Ferrari took the bold decision to gamble on youth, and handed Leclerc a Ferrari seat in his second season of F1.

Charles Leclerc, Haas, Silverstone, 2016
Leclerc made his F1 practice debut with Haas
With Schumacher, they have not had to rush him – the more usual Ferrari attitude, to be fair – and let Mick progress at his own pace. This appears to have served him well: He tends to take a season to find his feet in a category, then deliver. He did it in European F3 and he’s doing it now in F2.

Perhaps it’s unkind to call it ‘Assumed Ralf syndrome’ but there seems to be a widespread expectation that Mick Schumacher can’t possibly be as good as his father. He’s never done a season in F1, let alone in a championship-winning car but there’s a hype-dampening thing about it.

His and Leclerc’s junior careers are more similar than might immediately seem apparent. Schumacher has slightly more experience than Leclerc pre-F1 but, assuming Schumacher takes the F2 title this year, they’ll each have two junior championship titles (GP3 and F2 for Leclerc, European F3 and F2 for Schumacher) and two runner-up trophies along their careers.

The manner in which they achieved their successes is different. Leclerc’s titles were displays of dominance. Schumacher is not standing head and shoulders above the field in the same way. But they face different circumstances.

Although the championship changed its name from GP2 to F2 in the year that Leclerc won, the chassis was unchanged, both a well-known quantity and a more reliable car than the one used today. The series has changed quite significantly since then and the current machine has been beset with problems.

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Schumacher is one of five Ferrari juniors in F2
That doesn’t take away from George Russell’s win in his rookie year or Nyck de Vries’ eventual title in 2019. But for a telling point of comparison, note that the Artem Markelov who gave the best challenge to Leclerc in 2017 is tootling around at the back this season.

Schumacher is a consistent, sensible driver who has demonstrated a sympathetic touch with his chassis and tyres – the latter having switched to a new, 18-inch format this year. He is also emerging on top of a field thick with FDA talent.

The title previously looked set to go the way of Ilott or Schumacher’s rookie team mate Robert Shwartzman, who began the season strongly but faded. That Schumacher was able to make up the deficit, achieved via a run of podiums which brings to mind Lucas di Grassi’s efforts in Formula E, shows how he has built up confidence and put it to use.

Schumacher may not have the risk-taking zeal of Leclerc but his undemonstrative style is no less effective. He has proved he can make overtaking moves to bring home a strategic win or podium when it counts. That clinical execution, allied to speed, is exactly what any team in any series wants in a driver.

Callum Ilott, Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman, Ferrari, Fiorano, 2020
Ilott, Schumacher and Shwartzman will get F1 practice runs
If another Ferrari Driver Academy junior is likely to make it to Maranello, you’d have consider your money – and the Scuderia’s car – in safe hands with Schumacher. It’s not impossible for Ilott to beat him in F2 yet, but the momentum is with Schumacher at the right time, which is now.

Asked recently what he thought of Lewis Hamilton approaching his father’s record of victories, Mick Schumacher said he hoped to be in a position to claim it back one day. You have to admire that kind of chutzpah.

But when that increasingly likely F1 chance materialises, his father’s awesome achievements will not be a realistic benchmark to measure him against. First he has to prove he deserves to stay in the sport, and then that he should get a chance at the top team. Just like Leclerc did.

2020 F1 season

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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19 comments on “The F1 driver Mick Schumacher must measure up against isn’t his father”

  1. Bit wary of the “Clinical execution” bit.
    His father had too much of the execution part in his ruthlessness.
    Best of luck to Mick though for sure!

  2. I don’t like the idea of it but I suppose it’s inevitable Mick Schumacher will be compared to his father. It will add a lot of unnecessary pressure in an already highly pressurised world.

  3. All sons are inevitably compared in some way to their fathers. Doesn’t matter if you’re Mick Schumacher, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, or even Max Verstappen. And why should you care or hide from your parentage? All you can do, at the end of the day, is your absolute best job. And while there’s a bunch of added pressure on Mick and dumb people will prejudge based on your last name, at the end of the day, the only people he has to impress are the team officials in F1. He’s obviously doing that and is earning his seat by leading the F2 championship. So have at it, Mick.

    Most of the time, these Free Practice runs are paid for by drivers trying to get an F1 taste, of course you’re not gonna jump in your seat when Nissany drives FP1. But you sure know people tuned in when Max drove his first FP1 in Japan 2014. Same for Mick and I’m sure he’ll keep his head on straight and do his thing, learning what he can.

  4. This is more a comment on the article itself rather than Mick Shumacher (of whom I reserve opinion until I see more of him, but if he does well at least I can say I saw his maiden win at Hungary!)

    A great article by @hazelsouthwell. I love these pieces, racefans.net seems to be one of the rare places that actual proper journalistic content can be found (obviously from @keithcollantine and @dieterrencken also). Too many F1/race sites have sensationalist pieces which are very padded out and loosely formed around an informal comment, quip, or tweet.

    The level of insight and knowledge by the content providers on this site is second only to the clear passion they have for racing. I literally spend hours a week reading this site!

    1. Well said, @geekzilla9000.
      Great articles by the three of them, and I like to add @josh5holland for his contributions to the Stars and Strugglers articles (you hardly get praise when doing that bit).

      PS @KeithCollantine (from my wish-list): can we please have the Caption Competition again, and I preferred the old style round-up (not ‘What they Said’ and all the Social Media ‘flares’).

      1. @coldfly – a great point! the Stars and Strugglers is always a post-race weekend highlight and always prompts discussion in our living room!

    2. Jose Lopes da Silva
      8th October 2020, 9:47

      I sign this comment together.

    3. Agreed, I have nothing else to add to the article other than to say fantastic content, really enjoyed reading it and keep it up RaceFans

    4. @geekzilla9000 haha it is probably a bit of an indictment of the internet that I assume the @ mentions in the comments on this were complaints and didn’t look at them until now – thank you, I enjoyed writing this one

  5. I think Mick will be more of a Ralph than a Michael.

    Michael was a once in a generation phenomenon not seen since Senna and only seen again in Alonso, (maybe Verstappen, but he still has to put a championship together).

  6. Let’s not get ahead of ourselfs but if Schumacher jr. makes it to F1 and stays there he only has one team where he is heading. Ferrari. They already have Charles in there and if they want to make Schumacher jr. as their n.1 driver in the future where does that put Leclerc. Yes he has few years under his belt but if Charles is capable winning wc and becoming a new star where does that put Schumacher jr?

    I see Charles driving there for those years which he has signed. In 2024 Schumacher jr has alreary (if he signs now) 4 years of experience and that is a lot. Are we going to see these two in a same team somewhere in the future? If so it will be very fascinating to see what will happen.

    All in all future of Ferrari is looking really bright at least on the drivers side.

    1. As you mention @qeki, if Schumacher jr. steps up into F1 next year, he will probably need some time to get into it (as he’s done in most other series so far). They will almost certainly want to wait with next steps until the 2022 season as well, not to change anything for that year on the driver front (why they signed up Sainz for those 2 years as well).

      By then, we’ll have a decent feel how Leclerc is doing, where Ferrari are at, how Sainz matched up with his teammate and where Mick Schumachers career might be headed. By then, Ferrari can offer him the seat next to an already (somewhat) established winner like Leclerc as the opcoming talent for the future. If the car is a championship car, it will be built to suit Leclerc. If it’s not, they will be happy to have 2 drivers who can have a go at winning some races and having a Schumacher in there will only help the marketing more.

      But it is also possible that by then Mercedes will want him. I am sure that if he has the goods, the name will do the rest of the job to get their interest. For Ferrari to look bright by then, they first have to build a car that is capable of being at the front of the field.

  7. It’s nice to see @hazelsouthwell doing what seems to be more articles over the last days. I think it’s important to have a variety of journalists on a site and her work alongside Dieters has improved racefans a lot.

    1. Thank you @broke84 – I’m going to be helping out a bit more on the F1 side while Formula E is on downtime until January

      1. @hazelsouthwell Awesome, I look forward to reading.

  8. inb4 “Mick will end up as a failed talent” comments

  9. Michael Schumacher Snr. didn’t light the world on fire with his pre-F1 performances.

    Is it a case like all sports that the systems and selection processes evolve to provide a larger sample of talent who are better drilled for the jump to the big leagues (F1)?

    Leclerc has made his way through a more stringent more scientific filter than even the great Schumacher had done. Could Schumacher Snr. have made his way through that filter? Who knows.

    All a driver can do is tackle the sport and the sporting system as it’s presented to them. Schumacher Snr. obviously excelled at the navigating the sport as it was then (the politics, stretching the rules, raw talent and gathering a team including your team mate behind you all included). Hamilton has done the same and excelled in his era.

    I believe Mick Schumacher has arrived at the sport at a time when the pool of incredibly talented, well supported and extremely well vetted drivers are his competition. He has all the qualifications to warrant entering the sport without the name. I hope he gets the chance to pit himself against the Leclercs, Verstappens and the Russells and although there will be obvious comparisons with his dad by sensationalist media outlets. The “racefan” who keeps up to date with articles such as this one by @hazelsouthwell will be more interested in his progress Vs. his peers who make up arguably the most talented all round drivers in the history of the sport.

  10. Kent W Phillips
    8th October 2020, 14:16

    OK, I’m going to say it…

    I was/am a huge Michael Schumacher and Ferrari fan, and have been looking forward to the chance that his son Mick might someday compete in a Ferrari in F1. Relishing the opportunity as it now unfolds!

    The same can be said for another prominent driver, Dale Earnhardt and his son Dale Jr. in NASCAR.

    The same could be said of so many father/son opportunities over the years: Graham and Damon Hill for example. Jos and Max Verstappen for another. Gilles and Jaques Villenueve for yet another.

    At the same time, there are many other successful fathers whose sons or nephews did not fare so well. Genetic success is not, therefore a given. It still must be earned, as Mick has demonstrated.

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