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EXCLUSIVE: ‘I have to prove I still deserve a chance in F1’ – Mick Schumacher on losing his Haas seat, and his plan to get back on the grid
The 2023 season has been the first year since he started karting as a child that Mick Schumacher has had to sit on the sidelines and watch others compete. After losing his race seat with Haas after two years with the American squad, he found refuge at Mercedes who took him on as a test driver. Now all he wants is a chance to prove he has what it takes to get himself back on to the F1 grid once again...
As we sat down in the quietest corner of a very professional Mercedes motorhome in Brazil, the calmness juxtaposed by the carnival-like atmosphere outside in the Sao Paulo paddock, Schumacher starts by reflecting on his year – which has since seen him secure a race drive for next year, even if it's not in Formula 1.
“It’s obviously a very long season so I think we are pretty much at the end here already,” he says. “But the new role is a very different role compared to what I've had in the couple of years and especially the last two years.
“In general, I’ve just been trying to embed myself in the team and learn as much as I can to also widen my horizon a bit compared to what I've had in the last couple of years, just to whenever needed be ready to jump in.”
‘Everything happened rather late’
So, how did Schumacher get here? After all he is a driver with a fine racing pedigree having won both the Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships before making the jump to F1 with Haas in 2021, where he impressed many as a rookie.
But in his sophomore campaign he struggled in comparison to his new veteran team mate Kevin Magnussen. In the intra-team head-to-head battle, the Dane scored 25 points compared to Schumacher’s 12, and out-qualified him 16-6 – although Schumacher did hold the upper hand on Sundays, leading 12-9.
This dip in form, as well as several major – and expensive – crashes such as in Monaco and Japan, prompted many to speculate about his place within the team. Those murmurs continued all year until Haas confirmed at the season finale in Abu Dhabi that the experienced Nico Hulkenberg would be replacing him.
“Obviously, everything happened rather late,” he tells me. “I got told the day before the last weekend started that I was not going to be on the grid in 2023. So, it’s a bit late to go and look for other places which obviously isn't great.
“But yeah, we took that option up which Mercedes had given us earlier that year that if nothing would be opening up, I would have a space here, so that's what we did and here we are now.”
‘Always had very close ties to Mercedes’
Schumacher revealed that Mercedes extended a lifeline in the form of a reserve driver role to him with three races of the 2022 season to go. He was initially hesitant to accept the offer as he harboured hopes of keeping a race seat.
However, with the 2023 grid decided, Schumacher joined the Silver Arrows, a team with which his family had close ties – with his father, Michael, having been a part of their junior programme in the 1990s before coming out of retirement to race for them in F1 in 2010.
Looking up to the ceiling and from side to side as he struggles to recall the memory, Schumacher reveals: “I went to Brackley in 2010, maybe. The first time I really remember was really in 2014 but it was for a sim session at the time.
“Obviously to return there now was obviously in some ways very interesting. To get to see how a big team like Mercedes operates in Formula 1 is something very special.
“But also, to understand now how all the procedures worked having worked one year with them it’s been very mind opening and interesting for me to be part of this.”
‘Everybody has the same insecurities’
His new role sees him serve as the backup driver to seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and highly-rated fellow Formula 2 champion and 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix winner, George Russell.
The German spends plenty of time in the simulator going through set-up directions for the pair and their engineers, with his experience of driving this generation of cars in 2022 for Haas an invaluable string to his bow.
Using that knowledge – alongside what he learned in his 150-lap outing in the W14 in Barcelona back in May – he often sits in meetings looking to add any helpful comments when he can, while also preparing himself in the event that he may need to replace one of the regular drivers at the last moment.
Offering a unique insight into what he has taken away from his year working with Hamilton and Russell, the 24-year-old said: “I think that for me what people forget – I was aware of it but it’s still something which you don't think too much about – is that everybody is human, and everybody has the same insecurities.
“That for me was my biggest learning. Some of the questions when driving myself which weren't answered then, have been answered here. That everybody is going through some stuff especially while racing and it was great to have that experience.
“But also, obviously you know why they are as good as they are because of the approaches they take. It’s great to see also Lewis who has been with the team for so long, the connection he has to the team, they can talk without using words and understand each other and that I think is something which is quite special.”
‘Something has gone wrong and sometimes it’s a bit hard to understand'
Schumacher’s work has been highly complimented this year by Hamilton and Russell, as well as Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff – who has regularly maintained that the German belongs on the grid. Even other members of the team and the F1 paddock have sung his praises, and while he appreciates it, he wishes it led to a seat.
“It's great that people recognise that,” he says smiling. “But unfortunately, I'm still here as a reserve driver, not as a prime driver. So, obviously something has gone wrong and sometimes it’s a bit hard to understand.”
Schumacher is of no doubt that he is good enough to command a seat on the grid, pointing to his championship-winning success in his junior career as a reason for his confidence.
He also has some good moments in his seasons with Haas to back up his argument – such as his back-to-back points scoring outings in Silverstone and Austria in 2022 – but he has plenty to prove if he is to get back on the grid. “I know I have to convince other people of my worthiness for this spot,” he adds.
His target is 2025, giving him the next year to prove himself again. He explains: “Unfortunately a lot of the contracts are multi-year deals so there is not really an opening for next year. So, it’s a bit of a tough spot to be in, but for 2025 there is a lot more openings and we will have to see.”
‘I will be keeping very close ties to Formula 1’
Before we get to 2025, however, attentions will be placed firmly on 2024, where Schumacher is set to continue his role as a reserve for Mercedes. He will also ply his trade away from F1 as he is set to race for Alpine in the World Endurance Championship.
Talking about his plans prior to these announcements, Schumacher said: “I think the important thing for me is not to be outside a car for too long and that's why we are trying to find a spot where we can race next year. Things are looking pretty good, [but] unfortunately not for Formula 1.
“Nonetheless I will be keeping very close ties to Formula 1 and hopefully that will allow me to also prove myself to the people of Formula 1 that I still deserve a chance in the pinnacle of motorsport and that I belong here.”