The Formula 1 season kicks off this weekend in Bahrain, with the main questions being can anyone stop Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes from adding to their respective tally of titles (answer to both: Probably not).
But while there are expectations on every driver up and down the grid, they’re raised and then some even by F1’s stratospheric standard for the rookie driving the #47 for American team Haas; Mick Schumacher, the 21-year-old son of seven-time F1 champion Michael.
Father-son duos are nothing new in motorsport, even at the pinnacle of F1. Graham Hill was twice World Champion in the 1960s with his son Damon claiming the title in emotional circumstances in 1996, prompting the recently-departed commentary legend Murray Walker to state “and I’ve got to stop, because I’ve got a lump in my throat” (Hill Sr had been killed in a plane crash in 1975). Keke (1982) and Nico (2016) Rosberg are the only other pair to be crowned champions, but the list of famous names includes Villeneuve (1996 champion Jacques and his father Gillies, arguably the greatest driver never to win the title and killed in a racing accident in 1982), Fittipaldi, Andretti, and Piquet.
Mick Schumacher hasn’t made it to F1 on his name alone though. He’s the current Formula 2 champion, hanging on to claim the title in the season’s final race, also took the European F3 title in 2018, and a host of junior titles in karting where to avoid the obvious scrutiny he used his mother’s maiden name. He’s also had a whole offseason to prepare for his F1 debut, in contrast to his father. Michael was drafted in by Eddie Jordan’s team for the 1991 Belgian GP on the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit after his manager Willi Weber had sold Jordan on Schumacher’s knowledge of the track; in fact, he’d never driven it. Yet Schumacher qualified the underpowered Jordan in seventh, and despite not completing a single lap in the race due to clutch problems the legend was born, and before the next round he’d been snapped up by Benetton with whom he’d claim his first two world titles in 1994 and 1995. Mick would obviously be hoping for better luck.
But there’s the rest of the story. Normally someone in Mick’s position would have a host of family and friends with them, but his father will be absent this weekend and for who knows how long. Mick was alongside his father that late December day in the French Alps in 2013 when Michael suffered a serious and near-fatal head injury while skiing off-piste. That remains the last time Michael has been seen in public, with his current condition and recovery remaining a closely guarded secret, and evidently from interviews with Mick this week a subject that is clearly off-limits there too. It is certain however that Michael will be following his son’s progress from home.
And whether Mick can emulate even just some of his father’s achievements? Only time will tell.
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