Mick Schumacher is unbelievably calm for someone carrying such a weight of expectation. You might even say unreasonably calm.
He is set to make his Formula One debut with American team Haas this year, aged 21, but it feels like people have been expecting big things of him for a long time. It is hardly surprising given his surname.
Schumacher is the son of seven-time world champion Michael, one of the greatest racing drivers of all time. Until Lewis Hamilton’s achievements last year, Michael’s 91 grand prix wins were unmatched by anyone.
The burden created by a famous relative has hurt plenty of racing careers. Bruno Senna never came close to living up to Ayrton’s quote, “if you think I’m fast, wait until you see my nephew”; in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr spent years struggling under the weight of carrying his father’s incredible legacy.
Mick Schumacher comes with similar hype and expectation. He is the spitting image of his father, for one thing, and he sounds remarkably similar — if you close your eyes and listen to an interview, you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to a young Michael.
Schumacher is backed by the Ferrari team his dad won five championships with, which helped secure his drive with Haas, a Ferrari engine customer and technical partner. He’s tested for the famous Italian team and at last year’s Tuscan Grand Prix, Ferrari’s 1000th race, he drove his dad’s title-winning 2004 car in a promotional run. It was an incredible moment.
To cap things off, ahead of his debut at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix Schumacher requested the ‘MSC’ initials used by his father on F1’s official timing screens.
It is difficult to stop this story tugging at the heartstrings. But, perhaps because it has always been there, Schumacher seems utterly unfazed by all of it.
When asked if his surname has ever felt like a burden, he told ESPN: “No, definitely not.
“I’m very happy to have it. I drive and racing because I love the sport and love what I’m doing. I don’t see it as a burden, no.
“Obviously for me it’s no different as it’s always been around and I feel very comfortable in the position I am in. I’m very proud carrying the name into Formula One again and being able to race and feel my performance.
“I keep it and wear it very proudly.”
Of course, there is another layer to this story beyond the son of a legendary driver making his debut.
Michael Schumacher’s current medical condition remains a closely guarded secret. He suffered a serious brain injury while skiing with his son in December 2013. Official updates on his condition are rare.
Sadly, unofficial updates — those from so-called friends of the family or people with a tenuous link to the situation — are not so rare. Years of sensationalist reports in tabloid newspapers, and from some outlets which really should know better, have only hardened the Schumacher family’s desire to keep sensitive details out of the public eye.
With that context, the family is understandably sensitive about putting Schumacher in the firing line when it comes to media interviews. That explains why family spokesperson Sabine Kehm sat in our Zoom interview, albeit with audio and video switched off.
Kehm was Michael’s PR manager for much of his career and has been the one to issue any statements on his condition since December 2013. A good rule of thumb is that any story on Michael’s condition which does not feature a quote from Kehm can be treated with a degree of suspicion.
Having a team communications representative sit in on an interview is not unusual in F1, but this is different. The Schumachers can be forgiven for wanting to go against the norm.
Kehm is protective of the rookie and makes sure questions do not venture anywhere near that topic.
After all, Schumacher is just a young man trying to forge out his own career. From the beginning, he was determined not to enter F1 on the basis of his dad’s fame — he started racing under his mother’s maiden name, Betsch — or simply as a feel-good story following his dad’s accident.
Ferrari has helped Schumacher’s career to this point but he has backed up their support with results on the race track.
He won the Formula 3 championship in 2018 and then won F1’s official feeder category, Formula 2, in 2020. While some doubters remain, some who point to a weaker F2 field in 2020, for example, it’s difficult to argue against those achievements on paper. He’s done everything that has been asked of him so far.
Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are among the drivers who arrived in F1 with less pedigree in terms of junior championship victories to their names.
“It kind of proves to myself that I am able to drive, which is good!” Schumacher jokes, in reference to those two championships.
Even by his own admission, it took a while for Schumacher’s talent to show itself . He credits his father’s advice for helping him, but admitted it took a while for everything to click into place.
“There are always tips and tricks and dialogue change that [he] tried to teach me at the time,” Mick says of his father. “In go-karting I didn’t really understand it because it didn’t make much sense to me, I was trying different things and probably wasn’t at the level but still achieved the things I wanted to achieve in karting.
“The moment I went to Formula cars everything made sense suddenly, I had the best teacher and I’m happy to have made it all the way now. I’m happy to be here.”
Those early lessons clearly had an impact. When Schumacher describes his own race craft it is easy to see shades of the traits which defined his father.
“Already back in karting I was very good at analysing what was going on around me. So, basically if I saw a gap I wouldn’t think much about it, I would just probably drive into and see what happened afterwards.
“Most of the time it happened to be the right choice so I think that’s one of my strengths, I would call, in that case.”
Schumacher is quick to play down expectations for his rookie year. Not only is he racing for the backmarking Haas team, he goes into his first season with limited track time.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, F1 whittled down preseason testing from six days in 2020 to just three this year, which Schumacher had to split with new teammate Nikita Mazepin.
“I would be ready to go racing tomorrow,” Schumacher said ahead of his final stint in the car. “I have to say it feels even better driving this car than I expected. You drive a car but… this is really fun.
“It is not something I will quickly get bored of, so looking forward to driving more tomorrow, and the race cannot come quick enough. So I’m really looking forward to the season. I would love to drive every day. I could put in another eight days and go straight into the race weekend.”
The number 47
As of 2014, F1 drivers now pick one driver to accompany them throughout their career. Schumacher has chosen number 47.
Although it is not the official reason, he likes the fan theory that it stands for the fact he is racing “for seven” – seven being his father’s number of titles. That is why he chose that second digit and the four is the number he raced and won with in Formula 3.
As four (Lando Norris) and seven (Kimi Raikkonen) are taken, 47 became the natural pick. Forty-seven is also the sum of all the birthdays in his immediate family added together.
“It was natural for me to choose it… there were too many coincidences which weren’t maybe coincidences! I’m happy with it and I’m glad it wasn’t taken, I think it looks great on the car”.
Schumacher likes the idea of destiny and fate around his debut year. During the interview he points out that his rookie campaign lines up with the 30-year anniversary of his father’s debut at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix.
It also coincides with the return of his father’s old rival, Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard’s comeback means the grid will feature a Schumacher, an Alonso, a Vettel and a Hamilton – surnames accounting for a combined 20 world championships — for the first time since 2012.