Feature F1 Unlocked
DRIVER MARKET: Lawrence Barretto assesses the chances of a return to the grid for Schumacher in 2024
It took quite some time for Mick Schumacher to come to terms with the fact he had lost his seat on the Formula 1 grid, after Haas opted to dispense with his services at the end of 2022.
That is an understandable response given Schumacher, son of the great seven-time world champion Michael, had only had two seasons in F1, the first of which was with a year-old car that was woefully off the pace and difficult to get to grips with.
Sources say Williams was a potential landing spot for him had Logan Sargeant not achieved the required Super Licence points to take up his seat in F1 this year – but even when lining that up as an option, the Schumacher family knew it was the longest of shots.
Links to Alpine never materialised into anything serious and with no other seats elsewhere, the door for a race seat had been slammed shut. There was a back-up plan, though, in the form of a reserve role with his father’s former team Mercedes.
This was far from ideal but comfortably the best option available. In joining the Silver Arrows, Schumacher hoped to keep himself relevant by attending races and staying in people’s minds.
He would get a front row seat to learn how an eight-time world championship-winning team and two world class drivers in Lewis Hamilton and George Russell operated.
And he would get track time in current machinery. That chance came last week in Barcelona when he completed a day’s running as part of a Pirelli tyre test. It allowed him to keep his hand in the game – and get a feel for the car that he is spending hours driving in the simulator each week.
The team are very happy with Schumacher’s approach, work ethic and output. Hamilton and Russell both thanked him specifically for the nine hours of simulator running he did back at Brackley on Friday night that transformed the way the car felt after a difficult practice and played a key role in the team achieving their first double podium finish of the season.
Nine hours – running past midnight – in the simulator is a huge effort. It’s an intense job. Former Mercedes sim driver Esteban Ocon told me breaks were limited to the bathroom and dinner when he fulfilled the role, with the driver then getting very little sleep before heading to the track to join up with the team for the weekend.
Ocon said at the time that an app on his phone which tracked his sleep said he had just 26 minutes of good quality sleep from Friday into Saturday after a simulator session to help analysis data from the two practice sessions.
That kind of hard work from Schumacher – work that directly impacts performance – has not gone unnoticed internally and will not go unnoticed elsewhere in the pit lane.
And Ocon is proof that doing that role can lead to a second chance, the Frenchman joining Renault after a year on the bench with Mercedes.
Alex Albon did the same after losing his seat at Toro Rosso, the Thai driver acting as Red Bull’s reserve and working his socks off to deliver across the board – and that earned him a seat at Williams, where he has gone on to flourish.
Nyck de Vries, of course, is the most recent example of how waiting in the wings can deliver. He stepped in at Williams to replace the unwell Albon at Italy last year and scored points on his debut. That led to a full-time F1 debut with AlphaTauri this year.
And of course Daniel Ricciardo is currently in the same position as Schumacher – the Australian is third driver for Red Bull after leaving McLaren a year before his contract was due to expire. He too has an eye on a racing return in 2024 but like his German rival, knows that pulling it off will be a challenge.
Schumacher knows a shot at the Mercedes works team is a non-starter for 2024. Russell is already signed up while Hamilton is seemingly just a coffee with boss Toto Wolff and a squiggle away from committing to the Silver Arrows once more.
Ferrari let him go from their driver programme so like his former team Haas are not an option. Red Bull, Aston Martin, Alpine and McLaren have their line-ups nailed down.
That just leaves Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and Williams as possible landing spots. If Zhou Guanyu continues to perform strongly, a spot at the Sauber-run team – which Schumacher was loosely linked to for 2023 – is unlikely, while AlphaTauri have some very strong options internally that they are eyeing up in the shape of Super Formula championship leader Liam Lawson and F2 driver Ayumu Iwasa, who is currently third in the standings.
Williams are backing Sargeant to come good and deliver alongside Albon, leaving them with an unchanged line-up.
For now, it’s looking difficult for Schumacher – but there is a long way to go this season and several seats on the grid that are far from cemented.
And he can take heart from the likes of De Vries, Albon and Ocon, who turned a reserve role into a springboard back on to the grid.
For now, he must just keep doing what he’s doing and see how the dominos fall as the season unfolds. And at least at only 24-years-old, time is on his side for now.