Schumacher Week – Legacy

On July 25th 2004, Michael Schumacher took victory at the Hockenheim circuit in the last of his championship winning cars, the Ferrari F2004. Fifteen years later almost to the day, his 20-year old son Mick drove some demo runs at Hockenheim in that very same car. The crowd were erupting with cheers for Mick, but it was no easy ride to get there.

Mick began his career in 2008 at the same kart track where his father started. For most of his karting career he went by the pseudonym Mick Bestch, using his mother’s maiden name to avoid media attention.

In his first three years, Mick committed to the Kerpen Kartchallenge Bambini races. He finished 4th in 2009 and won the following year. With the KSM Racing Team, he moved up to KF3 for 2011, competing in German championships and even finishing third in the Euro Wintercup. He did so again the following year, as well as securing third place finishes in the ADAC Kart Championship and DMV Kart Championship and 7th in the ADAC Kart Masters.

2013 would be the year that Mick would sneak out of relative anonymity, as he stepped up to compete at a European level. He took part in the CIK-FIA European, WSK Euro Series and WSK Super Master Series KF-Junior championships, and finished third in both the German Junior Kart Championship and the CIK-FIA Super Cup event. With it, the media started picking up that he was in fact Michael’s son.

In what would be Mick’s last year of karting, he would go by a new pseudonym Mick Junior, and finished runner-up in the Deutsche Junior Kart Meisterschaft, and the CIK-FIA European and World KF-Junior Championships. Tragedy followed in late 2013, as Mick was skiing with his father when Michael had the accident that resulted in the injury that has seen him away from the public ever since.

Mick has understandably remained very quiet about that fateful day, but he hasn’t let it prevent him from chasing his dream and, after what was predictably an emotionally difficult final year in karting, he would move up to cars for 2015.

Signing for the Van Amersfoort outfit, Mick would hit the ground running in his first weekend in the opening round of the German ADAC Formula 4 championship with a win in the third race at Oschersleben. He wouldn’t herald much more success that year, with only one further visit to the podium on his way to 10th overall.

For 2016, Mick moved to Prema PowerTeam and doubled up his commitments with a dual campaign in the German and Italian F4 championships. This is the point where Mick began impressing me. He took five wins in both championships and just missed out on winning both. He ended the year by finishing third in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 winter series.

Mick remained with Prema as he stepped up to the FIA F3 European Championship for the following year. The transition didn’t herald immediate success, with only a single podium and a 12th-place finish overall, third of the first-year F3 drivers behind Jehan Daruvala and outright champion Lando Norris.

So far, it was a career that was promising but hadn’t been hugely stellar. Understandably, he is carrying the burden of being the son of the most successful F1 driver of all time, and most sons of former drivers get grouped in with pay drivers. But 2018 would prove to be Mick’s year.

Remaining in F3, he began the year under the radar. It would be the second half of the season at the venue where his father had a lot of his career highs though that he would finally find form, Spa-Francorchamps. Earning pole position in the second race but having to retire, he battled team-mates Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong in race three and finally got that first win.

That was the start of a great run of form, as he went on to pick up wins at the following rounds at Silverstone and Misano. At the Nürburgring round, Mick joined an illustrious group of racers by picking up all three wins in a single Euro F3 meeting, a group that includes the likes of Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll.

With two further wins at the following round at Red Bull Ring, he overtook long-time series leader Dan Ticktum, a polarising figure who was being hyped up as Red Bull’s next F1 star. Ticktum openly suggested on his social media that there were factors towards Mick’s success, seemingly an accusation of cheating. Nevertheless, Mick sealed the championship, his first in car racing.

Before his 2019 campaign began, Mick had a choice to make. Prema often houses a lot of Ferrari young drivers, and with the F3 team being powered by Mercedes, Mick had gotten offers from both of his father’s former teams. He ultimately decided to go with Ferrari, the team that his father won five straight championships with, rather than the team he was with for his three-year comeback.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

On his debut in the Grand Prix-supported Formula 2 championship, he finished 8th in the feature race at Bahrain, meaning he would start on pole for the sprint race, although he was unable to keep his tyres in good condition. However, the week after driving his dad’s 2004 F1 car, he repeated the performance he’d put in in the Bahrain feature race, this time in Hungary, and went on to win the sprint race too.

He also took part in tests with both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo after the Bahrain Grand Prix, and a seat looks set to open up at Alfa should Ferrari decide to either promote or drop current driver Antonio Giovinazzi from the lease Alfa seat. However, 2020 is a make-or-break year for Schumacher, as he faces stiff competition from his teammate, fellow Ferrari Academy driver and reigning F3 champion Robert Shwartzman.

I do rate Mick, but if he is outperformed in F2 this year by the highly-rated Shwartzman then that theoretically should be it for him. If he isn’t in championship contention or if the Russian outperforms him, I don’t think Mick should get that seat. But I believe Mick will do well, and hopefully he proves his doubters wrong and that he isn’t just there because of the name.

Mick has a cousin too, Ralf Schumacher’s son David who is a runner-up in the German Kart Championship, best-placed rookie in German F4 and will be racing this year in the same paddock, albeit in F3 for Charouz.

The Schumacher legacy lives on. Hopefully Mick does prove this year that he is worthy of a place in F1, and he can forge his own.

Images courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

Driver Spotlight: Arthur Leclerc – Out of his brother’s shadow

I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that I am a huge Charles Leclerc fan, seeing his ascendency from joining the Ferrari Driver Academy, and winning the GP3 and Formula 2 championships then graduating to Formula 1 with Sauber and now a Grand Prix winner with Ferrari, it has truly been incredible.

He’s also been proving to be quite handy on the Esports side, racking up both wins in the last two F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, winning the Veloce Versus 1v1 event and also streaming on Twitch with the many other F1 drivers taking to Esports scene, raising money for charity in a set of races called ‘Race for the World’ which he also won.

However in all but the most recent Virtual GP, there has been a Ferrari being driven by another Leclerc, this being Charles’ younger brother Arthur. For this year, he was picked up by Ferrari to be on their driver academy like his sibling four years prior and it would be easy to assume that there is a bit of nepotism involved, considering other members of the academy include the sons of Michael Schumacher, Jean Alesi and the grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi.

I thought I’d run you all through why I think Arthur Leclerc could be one to look out for in the future and his recruitment to Ferrari’s young driver programme isn’t merely just because of being Charles’ younger brother.

Whilst Charles arrived into single seaters in 2014 off the back of major success in the karting scene, Arthur was only just starting out in karts despite only being three years younger than his highly rated brother. Arthur actually managed to win the Kart Racing Academy championship in France, but due to budgetary issues, he was out of racing for the next four years and in that time, Charles made that climb up the ladder and into F1.

The older Leclerc always had that issue early in his career, they never had a lot of money and if it weren’t for Nicolas Todt, his career would have been over. So it was the same case for younger Leclerc, who only got back into racing because of backing from his uncle, who set up an e-bike company. This helped him seal a place in the relatively low-budget French F4 championship in 2018.

Despite not racing for four years, it was like Arthur had never been away! He won a reverse-grid race in his first event, held his own in a battle with eventual dominant champion Caio Collet at the Pau circuit, took pole at a very wet Spa-Francorchamps and had it not been for some rotten luck in the final round, would have finished runner-up. That year, he also became a part of the Venturi Formula E team’s junior programme, alongside a selection of drivers from single seaters, karting and Esports.

For 2019, he stepped up to the German-based ADAC F4 championship and took his first victory at Hockenheim which supported the German Grand Prix, and Charles was there to greet him when he pulled up into parc fermé. Arthur raced for the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz, and even with the single victory he finished third in the championship, behind the highly rated pair of Red Bull junior Dennis Hauger and the champion Théo Pourchaire, one of Leclerc’s teammates.

That result is mightily impressive considering the level of talent in that field, and the fact he had nowhere near the amount of racing experience of his peers. Despite being three years older than Pourchaire, he had eight years less racing experience, so bearing all that in mind, that makes Leclerc’s results even more impressive.

Whilst Pourchaire and Hauger are stepping up to the Grand Prix-supporting FIA Formula 3 for this season, Leclerc has gone in another direction and joined up with Prema – the team that his brother won the 2017 FIA Formula 2 championship with – in the Formula Regional European Championship. A lower tier F3 series that races for the most part in Italy.

Arthur is now 19, the same age Charles was when he won the GP3 championship. The Prema team was very much a dominant force in Formula Regional last season and even with highly rated teammates like Roman Staněk, Oliver Rasmussen and fellow Ferrari junior Gianluca Petecof, I am very confident that Arthur is the favourite for the championship.

Last time we had an F1 driver called Charles, he also had a racing driver brother called Arthur, I’m referring to the Pic brothers. Charles Pic raced for tailender teams Marussia and Caterham between 2012 and 2013, whilst his brother Arthur Pic got as high as GP2. This time round, Charles Leclerc is in F1 and is one of the top drivers, and with his recruitment to Ferrari’s programme, would it be so absurd to liken the Leclerc brothers to the Márquez brothers in MotoGP?

Marc and Álex Márquez won a championship apiece in the lower and intermediate classes of Grand Prix motorcycle racing and now they are teammates at the Repsol Honda team that Marc has won all but one MotoGP world championship with since joining them in 2013. Could Arthur join Charles at Ferrari in the next few years? It’s not out of the question! But I won’t get ahead of myself. For the time being, let’s see how Arthur does and see if skill and excellence is in his blood.

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Team.

F3 Russia: Shwartzman clinches title as Armstrong wins feature race

Ferrari academy driver Robert Shwartzman sealed the 2019 Formula 3 title in the Sochi feature race, but was denied a home race victory by his Prema teammate Marcus Armstrong.

Shwartzman qualified for the race on pole, his first since the season opener in Barcelona, with his sole remaining title rival Jehan Daruvala alongside him in second. But it was Armstrong starting from third who got the best launch of the three Premas, as he passed Daruvala off the line before slipstreaming Shwartzman for the lead through Turn 3.

While Armstrong went off into the lead ahead of Shwartzman, Daruvala’s chances of taking the title to the final sprint race all but disappeared. Shwartzman’s points gap coming into Sochi meant that Daruvala had to win the feature race to have any chance of snatching away the title, but after being passed by Armstrong he then lost further places to Niko Kari, Christian Lundgaard and Leo Pulcini.

Daruvala managed to repass Lundgaard for fifth on lap two, but struggled to gain any more ground as Pulcini had too much pace ahead of him to present an opportunity.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The early stages of the race were made tricky as light rain fell on some parts of the circuit, while the rest remained dry.

On lap 2 Bent Viscaal put his HWA into the wall at Turn 5, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car. Devlin DeFrancesco and Felipe Drugovich took advantage of the situation to gamble on a switch to wet tyres, although they were the only drivers to do so.

The VSC was withdrawn on lap 3, but on the following lap the full safety car was deployed when Leong Hon Chio, making his series debut with Jenzer, crashed out as well. The safety car remained out for two laps, during which the rain stopped and DeFrancesco and Drugovich both pitted again to switch back to slicks.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Armstrong managed the restart on lap 6 well to pull away from the field, although Shwartzman behind was caught by Kari and demoted to third place. Meanwhile, further back in the top ten Juri Vips hit the rear of Lundgaard while trying to position himself for an overtake, spinning the ART out of the points and earning himself a 10-second time penalty.

Once clear of Shwartzman, Kari set the fastest lap to close up to the back of Armstrong. On lap 9, the Finnish driver then went around the outside of Armstrong into Turn 13 to take the lead.

Armstrong continued fighting back against Kari over the following lap, but on lap 11 Kari’s lead seemed to be secured when Armstrong went deep into Turn 2 trying to retake first and instead dropped to fourth behind Shwartzman and Pulcini.

However, Kari’s time in front didn’t last long, and on lap 13 he was passed by championship leader Shwartzman into Turn 2.

One lap later Armstrong got back into the podium positions after passing Pulcini for third, then managed to work his way back past Kari for second on lap 17.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

With four laps remaining Shwartzman looked to have enough of a buffer to keep ahead of Armstrong, and wrap up the championship with a home race victory. But Armstrong quickly settled into a rhythm and closed steadily up to the back of his teammate.

At the start of the final lap, Armstrong pulled to the inside of Turn 2 and took the lead away from Shwartzman, who offered little defence with the title on the line. Armstrong then crossed the line with just over a second in hand over Shwartzman, to take his third win of the season and his first in a feature race.

Kari held on to third for his second podium of the year, with Pulcini fourth ahead of Daruvala, Pedro Piquet and Jake Hughes, who also took two points for the fastest lap. Vips managed to finish third on the road ahead of Kari, but with his time penalty dropped to eighth and will start on reverse grid pole tomorrow morning.

Sauber Junior Team’s Raoul Hyman scored his first points of the season in ninth, and Richard Verschoor took the final point in tenth.

David Schumacher, making his F3 debut for Campos in place of the injured Alex Peroni, finished in P22 after being spun around by Keyvan Andres on lap 11.

Sauber’s Fabio Scherer retired on lap 9, while the team’s third driver Lirim Zendelli withdrew from the round ahead of the race.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Alfa Romeo – Romain Grosjean’s last chance saloon?

Rewind, back to summer 2018. Buckling under the glare of the Netflix cameras, the heat from Cyril Abiteboul’s yellow submarines, and the demise of what was once his prized asset, Gunther Steiner had a tough decision to make. He was hanging over the eject button, beads of sweat heavy enough to fall and depress the thing theirselves, all the while Romain Grosjean waited for the decision.

He was ultimately spared by his boss, thanks to an 11th hour renaissance giving Haas the support they needed in the points tally, but one year on it’s a case of deja vu. Only this time, the situation’s different. Being bested by his teammate Kevin Magnussen again in the standings is one thing, but the two have been drawn like magnets to each other’s carbon fibre, and team morale is at an all-time low. The American dream could well be over for Romain.

If that button’s finally pressed, it’d be easy to think the jig is up for him in F1 entirely. What team’s even in a position to take on a 33 year old with a history of erratic form, radio outbursts and, if his current partnership is anything to go by, struggles with maintaining morale with his other side of the garage? Well, there is still one chapter potentially left in his book of tales: Alfa Romeo.

 

Before I delve any deeper, there’s a majestically-haired elephant in the room in Antonio Giovinazzi. Youthful rookie and Ferrari academy product, the natural assumption is that he’s safe for 2020. Even I think that, though there’s every chance Alfa could start to take a dimmer view of his potential if his results fail to pick up by the season’s end. So far 32 of the team’s 33 points have been scored by their talisman Kimi Raikkonen, with Antonio contributing a sole point, while the qualifying battle is 7-4 in the Finn’s favour.

This doesn’t tell the whole story. After his two-race cameo at the beginning of 2017, Antonio went 23 months without competitive racing – which has brought on an understandable rustiness to his craft – and has shown flashes of what made him such a formidable force in GP2 three years ago. Also, while he may be in the twilight of his career, Kimi’s shown no signs of hitting the brakes, driving like a man reborn throughout the season. Antonio’s results aren’t as black and white as they appear.

Serious questions will arise if he doesn’t improve in time for post-season though, and in an ever-sharpening midgrid slog Alfa need a much more even split of the points if they want to trouble the upper places in the Constructors’ table. Ferrari’s commitment to treating him as a genuine contender for a future race seat of theirs’ could evaporate too, what with Mick Schumacher waiting in the wings and the Scud suffering with the absence of a man who performed admirably in their simulator department.

If those results don’t come, and both Ferrari and their understudies decide Antonio is best placed back on the sidelines, there stands two options. Do they wait for Mick, and hope he can jump the final barrier to the big time? Or do they reach out for an experienced hand, and give the next scarlet prodigy time to find his feet? Mick himself has never been one to rush his progress, and his carefulness has worked so far. The latter stands as the best option.

Romain could become the most desirable free agent on their radar, if Steiner finally calls time, and despite the many flaws in his arsenal there’s benefits to a team like Alfa having him onboard. Firstly, those teammate issues I talked about? They won’t have them. Not only is Kimi arguably the most docile and unproblematic driver they could hope for, he’s also well aware of Romain after their two seasons together at Lotus in 2012 and 2013, when they worked fairly harmoniously as a duo. No red flags to be found there.

Alfa Romeo’s a harmonious team to be at in general, too. Romain’s a confidence player, and when he’s made to feel comfortable he’s undoubtedly capable of contributing star races for his team – he’s shown that at Haas in the past and especially with his against-the-odds podium in Belgium 2015 – so the lack of pressure in Switzerland would suit him down to the ground.

It’s also too frequently forgotten just how blazingly quick Romain is. The second half to his 2013 season was a comeback for the ages, with him acting as the only real threat to Red Bull and taking four podiums in his final six races. His aforementioned podium with Lotus in 2015, against the backdrop of financial woes and even bailiffs hounding the team, was a much-needed bright light in their season. His first season with Haas resulted in a beatdown of Esteban Gutierrez, with the team’s 29 point haul entirely down to him. He’s more than capable of hitting those heights again, given a fresh start.

The final reason the move makes sense is that Kimi won’t keep going forever. Alfa have gained immeasurably from having a sage head within their driver line-up, but once his contract’s up at the end of 2020 that’s likely to be his final contribution to the sport. Bedding in a like-for-like replacement in Romain, while Mick plies his trade once more in F2, would mean that when he’s finally prepared for the step up they have a known quantity alongside him – a strategy which has worked so effectively this season. 

If there’s any team that can get a tune out of Romain, it’s Alfa Romeo. And if there’s anyone who can fill the brief Alfa will need when Kimi hangs up his overalls, it’s Romain. Antonio still has the greatest claim to their second seat, but if he were to be deemed surplus to requirements, there’s a golden chance to plan for the future by recreating a flagging driver’s past. 

Mick Schumacher joins Ferrari Driver Academy

Ferrari have announced that they have signed Mick Schumacher to their Driver Academy ahead of the 2019 season.

In a press statement, Schumacher said, “I am thrilled that Ferrari has entered into a partnership with me and [that] my next future in motorsport will be in red, being part of the Ferrari Driver Academy and also of the Scuderia Ferrari family.

“This is another step forward in the right direction, and I can only profit from the immense amount of expertise bundled there. Be sure I will make everything to extract whatever helps me achieve my dream [of] racing in Formula 1.

“It is more than obvious that Ferrari has a big place in my heart since I was born and also in the hearts of our family, so I am delighted on a personal level about this opportunity as well. At this stage it is, however, also time to say thank you to my family, friends and partners who supported me all along and helped me arrive at this point.”

Zak Mauger / FIA Formula 2

Past alumni include Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi and the late Jules Bianchi, who was the first driver to be signed to the program when it was formed back in 2009.

Schumacher joins the Academy on the back of his title-winning campaign in the Formula Three European Championship, where he won eight races and finished on the podium on six other occasions. He finished the season 57 points ahead of second-place Dan Ticktum.

New Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that despite the more sentimental aspects of the signing, Schumacher had been picked first and foremost because of his racing talent.

“For someone like me who has known him from birth, there’s no doubt that welcoming Mick into Ferrari has a special emotional meaning,” he said, “but we have chosen him for his talent and the human and professional qualities that have already distinguished him despite his young age.”

Alongside his duties with the Academy in 2019, Schumacher will make his debut in FIA Formula 2, where he will compete with Prema Racing.

 

Featured image – Joe Portlock / FIA Formula 2