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Formula 1

Which F1 rivals are ‘missing out’ on Wolff-lauded Schumacher?

by Edd Straw
6 min read

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says rival Formula 1 teams are “missing out” by not employing Mick Schumacher as a race driver.

Schumacher is chasing a racing return in F1 after spending two difficult seasons with Haas, an experience Wolff suggests “burned” Schumacher. He was dropped by Haas at the end of last season and also severed ties with Ferrari, having originally joined its driver academy in 2019.

In Schumacher’s rookie season, the Haas was uncompetitive thanks to a lack of investment in the 2021 car, while he struggled in more competitive machinery last year and was publicly criticised by the team for several big accidents before being replaced for this year by Nico Hulkenberg.

The 24-year-old is now Mercedes reserve driver, meaning significant amounts of simulator work and even a return to the cockpit driving a Mercedes W14 in a recent Pirelli tyre test.

Schumacher’s opportunities for a full-time seat next year appear limited, although unsubstantiated rumours have linked him with a move to Williams in place of Logan Sargeant.

It’s inevitable that Wolff will talk up his reserve driver as it would be illogical not to. Schumacher’s two years with Haas and his Mercedes reserve role means he is one of the few drivers who has current F1 experience and therefore would at least be considered by any team needing a new driver. But it is unclear how strong a contender he is for a return to the grid.

Wolff says Mercedes can’t do anything to compel a rival Mercedes-powered team to take Schumacher – who Mercedes announced on Thursday will drive the W02 his father Michael raced at the Goodwood Festival of Speed next month – but is keen to talk him up at every opportunity and emphasised his potential in the right environment.

Mick Schumacher Toto Wolff Mercedes F1

“Wherever I can speak highly of Mick, that’s what I’m doing,” said Wolff when asked by The Race what he and Mercedes are doing to help facilitate a racing return for Schumacher.

“In the end, it’s every team’s authority to decide on the drivers and I very much respect that our contracts with the teams were never ‘you have to take our junior driver’ or ‘you have to take our reserve driver’, because when I was at Williams, I wanted to have my own choice.

“But I think teams are missing out, to be honest, I think he was burned last year. You need to provide an environment and framework that is different to every driver, we are different human beings and I believe whoever gets him will have a very good pilot.”

Where to?

With Lewis Hamilton expected to sign a new Mercedes deal shortly, there’s no possibility of a race seat with Mercedes. That would be a long shot even if there was a vacancy given Schumacher has not shown any signs of developing into a top-team driver.

Further down the grid, the only teams that appear to have the possibility of a vacancy for next year are Alfa Romeo, Williams and Haas. The latter can be dismissed given the way its relationship with Schumacher ended last year, but the other two at least offer a chance.

Valtteri Bottas is under contract with Sauber for next year, but Zhou Guanyu isn’t as yet.

Given his form, he is well-placed to stay on. But with the team gradually evolving into Audi’s works team over the coming years, there is a desire for a German driver that could help strengthen Schumacher’s case.

Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo Logan Sargeant Williams F1

Williams seems unlikely to drop Sargeant during the season despite what some of the more wild rumours suggest, although Schumacher could be a contender for that drive next year. Sargeant has shown flashes of genuine pace during the season so far, but has struggled to put together ‘complete’ race weekends.

While chasing an opportunity to return to the grid, all Schumacher can do is continue to make a positive contribution for Mercedes. His efforts during the Spanish GP weekend earlier this month were singled out for praise.

Based on what he’s seen from his reserve driver, Wolff is confident Schumacher would be a valid stand-in should either of its regular drivers be unavailable for a race. But he is eager for Schumacher to find a race seat elsewhere.

“It’s great to have a mature, successful and experienced Formula 1 driver supporting us in the sim and with his feedback, that is of tremendous advantage,” said Wolff.

Mick Schumacher Haas F1

“On some of the European grands prix, having him in the sim overnight and providing data for the Saturday is a super advantage for us.

“The other side is that if one of George [Russell] or Lewis were to have fish poisoning – well, Lewis can’t have fish poisoning, it would be avocado poisoning – then we know we have a super guy that will drive the car and drive the car well.

“And as much as I like the situation for the benefit of the team, I would prefer every day of the week that Mick sits in the cockpit and actually races.”

Was Schumacher really ‘burned’?

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Sunday Monte Carlo, Monaco

Schumacher’s two-year stint with Haas was clearly difficult and ended with ill-feeling on both sides. But when push comes to shove, his performance level wasn’t as good as it needed to be to ensure the team kept him on.

The costly crashes and the frustration with what the Haas team, rightly or wrongly, saw as problems with the approach of the Schumacher camp as a whole could have been ignored if he proved to be stunningly fast.

Mick Schumacher Haas F1

It matters less whether Schumacher was burned, and more what he has learned from the experience and how he reacts to the lessons. There’s no doubt he will benefit from a year immersed in the Mercedes team as reserve, just as Esteban Ocon once did, and given the miniscule pool of drivers with relevant F1 experience he has to be considered a factor in the driver market.

Schumacher certainly has more to offer in F1, although nothing about his career constitutes an irresistible case for him having another chance. That puts him in a tricky situation of being a good candidate for a race seat but not a great one.

Realistically, that puts his fate in the hands of others as it needs one of the few teams that could have a vacancy to lose faith in an incumbent and need an alternative.

Having Mercedes and Wolff on his side is a positive and Schumacher’s intelligent approach is a positive, as is the fact he has had moments where he has shown genuine quality – such as Austria and Silverstone last year where he secured points, as well as weekends when he had the edge on Magnussen when the Haas wasn’t a points threat.

Whether all this adds up to another chance is probably 50/50.

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