RACE DEBRIEF

    With two rounds to go in the 2020 Formula 2 campaign, Mick Schumacher heads the standings by 22 points, while the son of seven-time F1 champion Michael is hotly-tipped to bring his famous family name back to the top level of motor sport in 2021. But as the 21-year-old reveals, if getting to Formula 1 is going to happen, he wants it to happen on his terms...

    “If I’m not racing, I am thinking about racing,” says Mick Schumacher midway through our deep-dive into his career to date.

    He is calm and relaxed when he talks, sat in full Ferrari gear, including the baseball cap and now mandatory mask. He’s currently in the best form of his F2 career, leading the championship with 191 points to fellow Ferrari Driver Academy member Callum Ilott’s 169, and seemingly on the cusp of making the step up to Formula 1. “My dream is F1,” he adds, “my dream is motorsport, and therefore, I am always thinking about it and always dreaming about it.”

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    But while the dual pressures of racing at this level, combined with those that come with having such a famous surname, are undoubtedly present in Schumacher, the smiley 21-year-old is certainly good at hiding them.

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    Schumacher currently heads the F2 standings by 22 points, with two rounds to go

    Schumacher’s been faced with this attention from the very first time he raced in go-karts to the moment he first set foot in the Formula 2 paddock in Bahrain, where he was greeted by an ocean of reporters and journalists jostling to speak to him at the back of the PREMA garage. It’s the reason why he initially chose to race under the pseudonyms of Betsch – his mother’s maiden name – and Junior, back in karting.

    “We tried to keep it on the less noticeable side as long as possible,” he explains. “Trying to have as much freedom for myself as possible. It gave me the opportunity to grow on my own and to understand how to be a normal kid and a normal racing kid.

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    “Coming to formula racing, we knew that there was going to be more attention. I wanted to race under my full name anyway and I am proud to have it on my car, I am proud to have it on my suits.

    “The media have always been around me a bit more than others, but we’ve always been quite respected in that area, in terms of, if I ask for the privacy I need, then they give it to me and I’m very grateful for that.”

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    Schumacher is currently locked in a battle at the head of the F2 standings with fellow FDA member Callum Ilott

    Stepping up to Formula 2

    Schumacher’s rise through the ranks has been more steady than rapid – and that’s by design. The German’s goal of reaching F1 has always been very much long-term, and there were to be no shortcuts – he wanted to arrive ready. Finishing second in both German and Italian Formula 4 in 2016, he went on to clinch the European F3 title in 2018, in his second season at that level.

    Then came the step up to F2 and the re-introduction of the Schumacher name to a Grand Prix weekend. This was the biggest challenge of his fledgling career, and he openly admits that the initial adaptation period “took a bit longer than I thought it would”.

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    “The Hankook tyres used in European F3 were more durable,” he explains. “I was coming onto a Pirelli tyre in F2 that degrades a lot, so you have to change your driving style. There is also the turbo, and the fact the cars are a lot heavier and a lot more powerful.”

    The jump between categories was massive, and not purely due to the change in tyre. From the outside, there was a certain expectation placed upon him, partly because of that name, and partly because the previous two champions, Charles Leclerc and George Russell, had both won the category at the first attempt – an important distinction being that they had risen from GP3, which used the same Pirelli tyres as F2.

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    Schumacher found the step from European F3 to F2 hard

    2019 was also stacked with experienced talent, the eventual top four made up of drivers with at least two years’ experience under their belts. For this reason, Schumacher insists that 2019 – which saw him finish 12th in the standings – was always intended as an acclimatisation year.

    “Everything is a learning curve,” he says. “If you take the time to go into detail, if you take the time to learn things right, in the long-term it will work out better than if you try and rush things.

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    “In the long-term, what I want to do is to create the perfect racing driver and become the complete racing driver. That’s why last year was so important, trying to understand every single bit of detail before thinking of the results.

    “I don’t want to talk about luck, but in ways, last year was a very unlucky season – we had a few reliability issues and some contact which was unfortunate, but I think that we always showed good pace, which is what mattered to us. Ultimately, I want to go to F1 being as best prepared as I can be and to do so, I have to also go through tough times, because during those, you learn the most.”

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    Schumacher had a difficult start to life as an F2 driver

    A career-defining season

    With his first season of F2 under his belt, Schumacher put pen to paper on another deal with PREMA and returned to the F2 paddock. If 2019 was about the experience, though, then he knew that 2020 would need to be a results-based campaign.

    Except it didn’t initially work out that way. He failed to enjoy the start of the season he would have envisaged, watching on as his fellow Ferrari juniors Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman took wins, podiums, and an early lead in the championship.

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    Schumacher steadied the ship though, going on to become arguably the most consistent, and the most complete, driver on the grid. His management of the new tyres this year has been exemplary, and it’s helped him to reverse a deficit of around 40 points to now lead the series by 22.

    “I am enjoying every day, just having fun,” he beams. “I am enjoying the driving, I am enjoying the work behind the scenes and I think that’s really one of the keys which has put me in this position. We’ve had some difficult races, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I think that’s brought us to where we are now and I feel very, very comfortable in the car.”

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    Schumacher says he has a great relationship with his PREMA team

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    Having complete trust in his PREMA team has also been a significant factor.

    “I think this is now our fifth season together, which is more than any other junior driver in this field. That shows that I have a lot of trust in them and that they have a lot of trust in me. I think that’s what is very important in this sport.

    “You try and grow together and PREMA have done a fabulous job. I am not saying that I’m ready yet 100% [for F1], but I am saying that we are fairly close.”

    Making the final step into F1

    Schumacher may well feel like he is close to being ready for F1, but so do two of his fellow Ferrari juniors, Ilott and Shwartzman. All three drivers have led the F2 table at various points in the season, and all have their eyes fixed on a prized F1 berth in 2021 – with the Haas team seen as the most likely destination following Alfa Romeo’s confirmation of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi for next year.

    READ MORE: Haas boss Steiner accepts there are ‘pros and cons’ to potential all-rookie 2021 line-up

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    Schumacher wants to join his hero Vettel in F1 next year

    But Schumacher, for one, doesn’t appear fazed by the scrap between the trio.

    “I wouldn’t say it puts more pressure on me because my goal is to be at the top and to fight with the top guys,” he says. “If that wasn’t my FDA team mates, it would be someone else.

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    “The ultimate goal is F1 and I guess that is the same for everyone who is in F2, but there are very limited seats in F1. Who gets them in the end is something that only the bosses know. We don’t really speak about it and we don’t really get information about it.

    “For me, it’s important to talk about Formula 2, to focus on that 100% and to do my job right there. If I do that, then the attention is brought on to me – and the guys up there do notice what is happening.”