MEDLAND: Life under the sport's brightest spotlight

Image by Portlock/LAT

MEDLAND: Life under the sport's brightest spotlight

Insights & Analysis

MEDLAND: Life under the sport's brightest spotlight

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There was definitely a touch of hesitancy to Mick Schumacher’s early racing career. He would kart under his mother’s maiden name, and then as ‘Mick Junior’ before moving up to single-seaters.

That’s when it all started to become a big deal. Success in karting was one thing, but working his way up the ladder and taking on the Schumacher surname was a significant move. He was committed to a career in racing, and while the name might open more doors for him, it would also be every bit the burden that you’d expect following in some of the sport’s most acclaimed footsteps to be.

“I guess you can’t really say it was a certain moment (to decide to pursue a racing career),” Schumacher said. “Already in go-karts, I said ‘OK that’s what I really want to do, that’s what I want to do professionally’. So it started pretty soon that we took it quite seriously, and it worked out well. I’m happy to be here.”

He has already climbed all the way to Formula 2, but it’s that final sentence that rang so true as his first Formula 1 test came to an end. Quickly breaking out into a grin, Schumacher described his day in the Alfa Romeo with the same enthusiasm and joy as he had shown after his debut for Ferrari 24 hours earlier.

“I came into here to have fun and to enjoy it, and I did that 110%,” he said after the Ferrari run. “I guess you can see that I am smiling a lot and I enjoyed a lot, especially those last laps. With full power and everything it was just amazing, a complete feeling in the car.”

Schumacher said he was expecting a lot of fun from his second day in an F1 car, forgivable as it might have been if he had felt a little less excited to drive the Alfa instead the Ferrari with which his father created such a legacy. But there was an obvious edge to his second day; one where the fun became secondary to the desire to improve.

“Well, I enjoyed it, for sure,” he said on Wednesday night. “This time though, I was trying to really focus on working with the team, working on myself. That’s for sure still a lot of fun. I was trying to get more competitive. I worked on confidence, and all the points that yesterday that didn’t work out or had a feeling that I could have improved. It seems like it went well.

So what had two days in different F1 cars taught him?

“That’s a difficult question,” he admitted. “Just trying to take every single bit of those two days and really being able to transfer that to F2, try to use what I’ve learned here and try to put that onto the track in F2.”

Schumacher left his F2 debut in Bahrain with a decent haul of points. Image by Portlock/LAT

It’s a tricky Formula 2 field to judge this season, but Schumacher will need to pick up a race win or two to continue his momentum. In Sean Gelael he doesn’t have a teammate expected to challenge at the front, but who is nonetheless a driver with 45 races at this level under his belt. Most of the expected title contenders have deep experience, with Nick de Vries, Nicholas Latifi, Luca Ghiotto and Sergio Sette Camara all within one of Gelael’s number of starts.

And Schumacher knows that’s where he’s going to be ultimately judged by outsiders. His surge in the second half of the European Formula 3 season last year raised eyebrows, though respected figures within the category suggest that if there was any help, it was minimal. He still delivered the results.

This time, he needs to deliver on the same race schedule as Formula 1, right in front of team bosses. Tackling his first weekend in F2 – at arguably the most challenging venue – and then his first F1 tests just two days later was a big ask, but Schumacher has shown the mental capacity to deal with such a challenge.

Ahead of the weekend, Schumacher said F2 was his priority, but was pushed on the upcoming F1 running:

“Just concentrating in Formula 2?”

“110 percent.”

“And then the tests, do you cross that bridge when you come to it?”

“I guess that’s something I’ll focus on as soon as it’s time for it.”

Short and to the point, Schumacher’s answers came with a smile on his face that suggested he wasn’t unhappy at being asked, but rather enjoying not giving an answer the huge numbers of press swarming around him outside the F2 paddock were hoping for.

And they weren’t hollow words. His F2 results – two races finishing in the points and holding off de Vries to finish sixth without pitting in the sprint race – should attest to that. Granted, he was on reverse grid pole on Sunday, but given the pace advantage of DAMS and UNI Virtuosi Racing on a track where you can overtake, it was a very solid performance.

Rookies were never going to have it easy this year, because there was no pre-season testing in Bahrain like there was 12 months ago. Schumacher leaves Bahrain as one of only two rookies to score points in both races.

Even when on Tuesday night I tried to see if there was a part of him who just knew the right thing to say, regardless of whether it was actually true, Schumacher insisted he hadn’t even given a thought to his F1 tests until after finishing his F2 weekend.

For now, Schumacher is finding that the best method for dealing with the inevitable attention is simply dropping the visor and rolling out of pitlane. Image by Portlock/LAT

“It was not hard at all,” he said. “For me, it was very easy to separate that. For me it was F2 from the beginning, F2-focused, and after F2 was done, that’s the time I was kind of able to think about F1. I managed it really well. I was quite happy with how it went, so I think it was a very positive weekend, and a very positive week.”

When Schumacher pulled out of the Ferrari garage for the first time, he did so with cameras and media lining the exit. When he returned after his installation lap, he sat in the car with his immediate view down the pit lane blocked by photographers and journalists. Despite the endless attention, he said he can escape.

“It’s pretty easy,” he shrugged. “As soon as the helmet is on and the visor is closed, it’s just pure racing.”

The smile he cracked suggest it’s his favorite time, but he has no trouble dealing with all of the attention. It bodes well, because he’ll need that mental strength as interest only increases.

It’s early days, but the signs are positive. The Schumacher name looks at home in the F1 paddock once again, and the 20-year-old carrying it is determined to do it justice.

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