Mick Schumacher will compete in Haas colours again for the 2022 season – and it remains the best place for him.
The Haas and Schumacher combination seemed something of a mismatch when it was confirmed. Schumacher, the reigning Formula 2 champion, heading to a team with no interest in developing a competitive 2021 car.
Ultimately, the result was as expected. Schumacher has spent the vast majority of the season at the back of the field alongside his team-mate Nikita Mazepin, both yet to score a point in 2021.
What this season with Haas has successfully done so far, though, is dull the expectations. There have been some big shunts for Schumacher in his rookie campaign, so just imagine if he had suffered them with a team further up the grid. The criticism would have been overwhelming.
Of course, for a driver so highly rated, it could be argued that once this rookie campaign is in the bag, Schumacher should be given a chance in a more competitive seat. But has he really earned that?
Ex-F1 driver Mika Salo made a valid point when claiming Mazepin is “now almost matching Mick for pace”. The days of a gulf in class between the pair have gone, and in recent rounds we have indeed seen plenty more on-track battles between them.
That in itself is no criticism of Schumacher as despite all the negative press, Mazepin is indeed a capable racing driver. And remember, Schumacher does have a tendency to take one season to settle into a new category and then excel in his second.
So again, now you could argue that if this is his trend, surely he needs a better car for 2022 in which to take that big step.
The question is, though, where would he go?
Schumacher is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and the Scuderia’s team principal Mattia Binotto recently confessed they have hit a barrier in finding F1 seats for their juniors.
“It’s a shame that obviously there are very little opportunities for seats in F1,” Binotto told Autosport.
“And there are not many alternatives. I think a driver is really very strong, he is always finding somehow maybe an opportunity, but it’s something on which we need to help, the introduction of rookies in F1.
“Certainly as Ferrari we are trying to promote the young drivers. We’ve got our own Ferrari Driver Academy, we are giving them as much opportunity as they can have to drive an F1 car.
“So it’s somehow important as well to try to create opportunities in F1.”
So with a Haas seat there for Schumacher, it is far better for his Formula 1 future to simply hang on to it, otherwise he would risk finding himself squeezed out of the sport.
There was one other potential option for the German racer, that being Alfa Romeo, but for several reasons it was a risk Schumacher did not need to take.
Firstly, 2022 will bring about a brand new set of regulations and so with radically redesigned cars, there is no guarantee the Alfa Romeo package will still beat Haas’ in 2022 since both teams have been fully focused on next season all throughout the 2021 campaign.
Also, Alfa Romeo, it seems, are not looking for a long-term solution for that second seat alongside Valtteri Bottas.
They have locked down Bottas on a multi-year deal, but the ultimate goal on the other side of the garage is to call up Theo Pourchaire, the Sauber-backed youngster who is making waves in Formula 2.
Having only just turned 18, Alfa Romeo boss Frederic Vasseur does not want to rush the Frenchman into Formula 1, though he is “convinced he, at one stage, will be one of the best ones [for the future]”.
Exactly when Pourchaire will arrive is uncertain, but it could yet be as early as next season. But if not, then the team are unwilling, it seems, to offer a long-term deal to anyone else and risk blocking that path.
So if Schumacher had gone to Alfa Romeo for 2022, he could have ended up being a one-year stopgap for Pourchaire who, if continuing his current form, could not realistically stay in Formula 2 beyond 2022.
That would then have left Schumacher out of a drive, potentially furthering Ferrari’s headache.
Sometimes we do not have the luxury of finding so many options to choose from and we simply must grasp the one which flags up, merely for the sake of keeping a foot in the door.
This was the exact scenario which played out for Schumacher, and so his only clear opportunity at a long-term Formula 1 future was to sign a new deal with Haas.
Where the American-owned outfit will rank in Formula 1’s new era remains to be seen, and if there is no improvement in their fortunes then Schumacher and Ferrari can look seriously at alternatives.
But for now, he simply had to guarantee his place in Formula 1, and that is what has happened. Job done.