Mick Schumacher ready to step out of father's shadow as F1 legend's condition remains shrouded in mystery
Every lap, every word, every manoeuvre will be measured against those achieved by the ghost in Gland
Away from the bright lights and searing focus of a new Formula One world title fight roaring into life on Sunday the famous Schumacher name is trying to slide quietly back into frame.
Not Michael, of course, but a mild-mannered, fresh-faced 22-year-old with a wide smile and engaging manner.
This is Mick, only son of the fallen F1 superstar preparing for his debut with back of the grid American outfit, Haas.
It claws at the heart strings to reflect that his momentous milestone in Bahrain this weekend would surely have been the proudest moment of the old legend’s life.
Some are so romanced by the narrative about the son of the incapacitated seven-time Ferrari champion that they talk of a man/boy in the spitting image of his father and who even sounds like him.
It’s mawkish tripe. He’s better looking than his dad and his accent more cosmopolitan, more polished, perhaps a tad more European. Michael never got entirely away from his clipped Teutonic intonation and twisted English sentences. Mick is a little less Dick Dastardly around the jowls.
And there’s the problem for Mick. The same faced by every famous ‘son of’. How to become your own story and not another episode of your fathers’.
Jacques Villeneuve achieved it, Damon Hill and Nico Rosberg too but more have failed: a fleet of Fittipaldis, Andrettis, Brabhams and Piquets among them.
For any other driver, just reaching F1 would be the realisation of a lifelong dream. For a Schumacher it can only be the beginning. That is the weight of expectation he carries. Every lap, every word, every manoeuvre will be measured against those achieved by the ghost in Gland.
Mick arrives with more than just genes and racing pedigree. He has a hatful of victories in the two key formulae leading up to F1. So that means there is something there, even if it’s too early to divine quite what.
His father was, for all his peccadilloes, a once-in-a-generation talent. True speed allied to impressive race craft, determination and utter ruthlessness that often comes from those who started with nothing.
Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, in the midst of privilege and private jets it remains to be seen which of those attributes Mick has inherited.
He was there when his father crashed while skiing and suffered the kind of crippling brain damage he is unlikely to ever entirely overcome.
The real truth of his condition remains a closely guarded secret, hidden behind the discrete wooden gates to the sprawling family estate outside Gland, Switzerland, that has been turned from a sporting superstar’s enviable mansion hideaway into a fortress hospital.
The twin guardians of the racer’s legacy, wife Corinna and former manager, Sabine Kehm, have clearly decided the world will never see Schumacher as he is. That alone can only hint at the very worst of outcomes for the great man, reputedly still a quadriplegic, unable to walk or talk probably bed-bound or confined to a wheelchair.
This is what young Schumacher carries with him into the cockpit: unspoken family secrets, unanswerable questions.
All 20 drivers on the 2021 grid
Kehm is with the family still, helping guide the new generation, ensuring questions about Michael’s health stay off the agenda.
But Mick carries the family name with pride having chosen 47 for the side of his F1 racer. The four was his F3 competition number, the seven a tribute to his father’s title tally. But he admits he prefers a fan’s take on it even more: 47 equals ‘for seven’, ie racing for his dad.
His teammate is Russian Nikita Mazepin. If Mick is F1’s new poster child Mazepin is its made-to-measure bad boy.
He was slapped with a one race ban in 2016 for punching a rival and there was a distasteful social media episode that nearly ended his F1 career before it began.
So this year’s Haas story of sons and fathers has another layer. The love of Mazepin’s billionaire father, Dimtry has stretched to upwards of £50 million to buy his son a ride on the F1 rollercoaster.
But the Russian’s links with President Vladimir Putin and his team title-sponsorship deal in the colours of the Russian flag banned from global sport over Olympic doping has sparked an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The idea Schumacher would get to learn his craft in relative - note that word - obscurity near the back of the grid was always fanciful, even before family Mazepin added a pinch of cordite to proceedings.
But it would take a cold heart not to want this son of the old legend lying prone and unknowing in Switzerland not to have a happy ending.
Updated: March 25, 2021 09:39 AM