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‘All our hearts are very red’ – Mick Schumacher enters Ferrari maelstrom

The Guardian logo The Guardian 23/01/2019 Giles Richards
Mick Schumacher © Getty Images Mick Schumacher

Four years ago when Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick, made his car racing debut, there was an unmistakable sense of anticipation and excitement in the air. It was clearly the return of the Schumacher name to racing that had brought so many people to the unostentatious Oschersleben circuit in Germany.

The interest in Mick has only grown since but now he has joined the Ferrari driver academy, is set to compete in F2 and highly likely to test a Ferrari F1 car this season, Oschersleben was a bagatelle compared with the maelstrom the 19-year-old is about to enter.

He had been deliberately low key when beginning racing, competing under his mother’s maiden name as Mick Betsch and later Mick Junior. In 2015, however, at that German F4 series meeting it was Schumacher on the entry sheet. There were more journalists than ever before at Oschersleben. The crowd outside Van Amersfoort Racing’s tent was five deep and the fans, in large numbers for an F4 race, proved the family name is still a draw like no other in Germany.

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His father raced for Ferrari between 1996 and 2006 and won five of his seven world championships between 2000 and 2004. Ferrari won the F3 title last year and on Saturday announced they had signed Mick to their academy.

The family connection with the team was acknowledged by the young man after competing at the Race of Champions over the weekend. “I’m hugely proud to be able to work with Ferrari, such a great team and huge amount of history, especially combined with my dad,” he said. “I’m really proud to be able to be part of it. All our hearts are very red.”

Mick was 13 when his father sustained a brain injury in a skiing accident from which he has yet to recover. He has since pursued a careful path that has put him on the brink of F1 and potentially to follow his father into the most prized seat in motorsport.

Ferrari's Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen (L) celebrates winning the pole position as he poses with Mick Schumacher, German racing driver and son of seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, after the qualifying session at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on September 1, 2018 ahead of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images) © Getty Images Ferrari's Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen (L) celebrates winning the pole position as he poses with Mick Schumacher, German racing driver and son of seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, after the qualifying session at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on September 1, 2018 ahead of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

He entered the European F3 Championship in 2017 and, after a season getting to grips with the series last year, won eight of the final 15 races to take the title. This year he steps up to F2 with the same Prema team and the move comes with no little expectation.

The Italian team have won six of the seven European F3 championships in which they have competed. In GP2 (now F2), they have two out of three – boasting drivers’ champions in Pierre Gasly in 2016 and Charles Leclerc in 2017. Leclerc, also a member of the Ferrari academy at the time, completed a superb season for Sauber last year and will join Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari this season.

Leclerc was a star in the making but even in 2017 when I interviewed him at Prema he was accompanied by a Ferrari representative. Just being on the books of the Prancing Horse comes with great responsibility before you throw the Schumacher name into the mix.

Gallery: Michael Schumacher in his peers' words (Read Sport)

The attention he will now receive will be of another level. Equally, he must come to terms with a new car and the Pirelli tyres it uses amid experienced competitors such as Nyck de Vries and Britain’s Jack Aitken.

On top of which it is likely he will make his debut in an F1 car. There are two scheduled tests in 2019 and out of the four days two must be run by a driver who has competed in fewer than two F1 races, a criteria Mick meets.

A Schumacher once again behind the wheel of Ferrari, even for a test, would lead to a media frenzy and he has already tasted what might be coming. In December 2014 he had a minor off in testing at the Lausitzring speedway that was reported as a “terrifying crash”.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JANUARY 18: Mick Schumacher of Germany during the ROM first practice as part of the Race of Champions Day 1 Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on January 18, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Humberto Romero/Getty Images) © Getty Images MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JANUARY 18: Mick Schumacher of Germany during the ROM first practice as part of the Race of Champions Day 1 Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on January 18, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Humberto Romero/Getty Images)

Holding it together under the harshest of spotlights is his new task but there is confidence he will be up to it. Lewis Hamilton is optimistic Mick can cope. “He has got great talent like his dad,” the world champion has said. “So I don’t think it will be a burden.”

If he is feeling that weight, Mick has worn it well. At Oschersleben he went from 19th to ninth and a podium place for best rookie. The crowd filed out happy they had perhaps been there for the start of something special. Mick has gone on to prove he has every intention of living up to the Schumacher name but the real challenge lies ahead.

Gallery: Sons who followed in their father's footsteps (Read Sport)

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