Mick Schumacher’s F1 career handed lifeline as Mercedes test begins

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' Mick Schumacher in the garage at the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix.

Mercedes reserve Mick Schumacher.

Mercedes will give Mick Schumacher a chance to shine at the wheel of their 2023 Formula 1 car in Barcelona on Wednesday.

Six months on from the rather dispiriting end to his Formula 1 driving career with Haas as it became evident the American team had lost faith in him after some high-profile mistakes, Mick Schumacher gets to jump back in a contemporary car on Wednesday – taking the wheel of the Mercedes W14 for a day of track time in Barcelona.

With Mercedes’ Toto Wolff springing to sign the unemployed son of the seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher as a reserve driver to work under race drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, the goal of helping him return to the F1 grid has been made clear.

Recent rumours suggest Wolff has even turned to former Mercedes colleague James Vowles, now team boss at Williams, to put forward Schumacher as a possible replacement for the struggling Logan Sargeant.

Williams are no stranger to taking a chance like that, given that Alex Albon rebuilt his career while off the F1 grid, with the British-Thai racer providing the template that Schumacher is seeking to emulate.

Alex Albon provides the template for a return to F1 racing

Albon, having been fast-tracked up to become Max Verstappen’s teammate at Red Bull, performed well initially but, bit by bit, lost his mojo racing alongside the Dutch driver, losing all semblance of speed and sure-footedness as the races ticked by. Knowing that the situation wasn’t tenable for a championship battle, Red Bull opted to replace him with Sergio Perez for 2021 – a canny move that paid off handsomely as Perez helped Verstappen to clinch the Drivers’ Championship that year.

But Red Bull didn’t turn their back entirely on Albon, signing him up as their reserve driver and giving him plenty of simulator work to help out with the development and setup work for the RB16B.

Albon’s contributions back at base were highlighted consistently throughout 2021, particularly by team management as Christian Horner and Helmut Marko would take every opportunity to praise their driver. This was no lip service either, as they went to bat for Albon on the driver market, helping him to secure a deal with Williams for a race comeback in 2022 – Albon now being seen as a solid and reliable pair of hands in the midfield.

“I’ll take the same similar approach that Alex did,” Schumacher told media, including PlanetF1.com, at the launch of Mercedes’ W14 early this year. “But, more than that, it’s also an opportunity for me to have, instead of one teammate, two teammates to look at and see what they’re doing.

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“Maybe I don’t have a direct comparison because I’m not driving, but I know how I would approach it and in that way, I can see what they’re doing and how they approach it.

“Say, if they have an oversteering car, what do they do with the tools? What do they do in terms of driving styles and basically learn from that and hopefully add to my toolbox, seeing some more tools to be able to help me when I come back.”

The opportunity to work with, and learn from, Hamilton and Russell has clearly earned their respect too, with both drivers taking the opportunity to praise Schumacher’s contribution as he carried out extensive simulator work after a slow Friday for Mercedes in Spain.

“We’ve got a great team, with Mick back in the simulator on Friday night and he did some great work, which helped us get on the right track on Saturday,” Hamilton said on Sunday, after coming home in second, while third-placed Russell said: “The work that Mick and the simulator team are doing overnight, they were there well past midnight to help us with the setup and get it in a good window for the race today.”

Mick Schumacher set for day of testing with Mercedes

So, off-track, Schumacher appears to be ticking all the correct boxes and, having not gotten the chance to drive in pre-season testing, Mercedes are giving him a reward for his efforts by letting him loose in the W14 for Wednesday’s Pirelli tyre test in Barcelona.

The test is a two-day event on behalf of Pirelli, to allow for the testing of 2024 compounds, with every team getting the chance to carry out such a test over the course of the season. Mercedes and Ferrari are the two teams on duty for Pirelli’s run programme on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Russell having driven the first day.

“Of course, a large part is really just what Pirelli wants,” Schumacher told F1-Insider over the race weekend. But while Schumacher will have to stick to the run programme as defined by Pirelli, that doesn’t mean that Mercedes can’t set him a challenge or let him off the leash.

“Maybe we can still squeeze in a little something,” Schumacher smiled.

Uncle Ralf Schumacher, who has been his nephew’s most vocal fan, spoke about Mick’s big opportunity in his column for Sky Germany.

“For him personally, this [test] is very important for two reasons,” he wrote.

On the one hand he gets a confirmation between the simulator work and reality. It’s very important for a driver to get a feel for the car. And then of course he can also show that he can be fast in the car. People will take a look and you can definitely draw comparisons to the other drivers and teams. Mick can set an exclamation mark – even in a team. He can show that what he drives into the simulator he can also do on the track.

“His work in the simulator was explicitly praised by Hamilton in Barcelona. I’m happy for Mick. Together with the engineers in the simulator, he makes decisions for the development and tuning of the car, so Hamilton and Russell have to trust him. When that works, it’s even nicer because then he becomes an important part of the team and is also seen as such. Mick has a say in the direction in which the car is developed and his feedback is extremely important for the team.”

While Haas’ signing of Nico Hulkenberg as the replacement for Schumacher has been clearly vindicated in light of his strong performances, Schumacher showed sufficient promise in his two years at Haas to warrant another chance.

While his name and the fact his dad rounded out his own F1 career with the Brackley-based team have no doubt opened doors for him to get him this far, only his performance behind the wheel will be enough to convince Mercedes he’s worth the effort of fighting for. The small step of impressing in the sim has resulted in progress but he now faces the far more daunting task of impressing while entrusted with the real deal. Wednesday may be a pivotal point for his entire F1 career, will Mick sink or swim?