2020 is Mick Schumacher's Last Chance Saloon
I think I speak for most Michael Schumacher fans by stressing that we *all* wanted his boy to be good. We all still want his boy to be good. But 2020 is young Mick Schumacher's Last Chance Saloon.
Now six years since the then 13-year-old watched his father's helmeted head strike a rock whilst they skied in the French alps, our hero is still laid up in his mansion on the private shore of beautiful Lake Geneva, unable to walk, speak or even reflect upon his sensational career. But Mick, having subsequently raced through the top karting, Formula 4 and Formula 3 categories, was by the age of 20 now staring into Formula 2 - the tantalising final step before F1. Not just that, the headline writers couldn't get enough as an uber-exciting period for Mick began, as the key member of Ferrari's driver academy and getting a go or three at the wheel of both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo's 2019 cars. The sky was obviously the limit for Mick Schumacher.
Then came 2019.
Now, it wasn't annus horribilis for the blonde German, whose ever-thickening neck reminds us more and more of his father every time we see him in his red Deutsche Vermogensberatung cap standing alongside Sabine Kehm in the paddock. It's just that it was an annus notparticularlygreatis. Just one win is not particularly good. And the fact that Anthoine Hubert, who was killed at Spa, still finished not one but two places ahead of Mick in the championship is definitely not particularly good.
No one will really say it explicitly, but Schumacher's name, face, connections and - yes - his skills and junior category results gave him pretty much the best imaginable springboard to a long, safe and brilliant Formula 1 career. But suddenly, young Mick is not in the headlines. He won't get a super licence at the end of 2020, let alone a F1 contract, if he doesn't substantially up his game. The rumours, momentum and golden F1 test opportunities have dried up for now. And Mattia Binotto diplomatically (but tellingly) declared that no one in the Ferrari academy looks quite ready for Formula 1, even in 2021.
In short, Mick's meteoric rise to the brink of one of the greatest and most emotional father-and-son tales in the history of sport has bottomed out and become stuck on a sausage kerb. So what went wrong?
One of my favourite Formula 1 quotes has been uttered proudly and repeatedly by Martin Brundle, who says every driver can be put into one of two categories: someone who is giving pressure, or someone who is taking it. Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel last year was the perfect example of the taking-giving dichotomy, but the difference here is that Vettel has four world championships and a wealth of experience to fall back upon. All Mick had was a seemingly perfect opportunity to launch his F1 career. So did he blow it?
All throughout Mick's formative career, his family and his management - spearheaded now by the all-female team of mum Corinna and manager Kehm - tried desperately to keep that enormous pressure in check. None of us can imagine what it's like to be Michael Schumacher's boy, let alone what it's like to break into Formula 1 whilst total mystery surrounds the basic well being of one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, who just happens to be your conspicuously absent father. In his karting days, Mick was entered into races as 'Mick Junior' or 'Mick Betsch' (his mother's maiden name), which at least relieved him of the burden of carrying one of the most famous racing surnames ever on his cockpit. Expectations were also kept low, as the media message before every single season to date as his career progressed seemed to be 'There's no rush', 'It's a learning year', 'The dream is Formula 1, but only when I'm ready'.
Unfortunately, that message is now getting old. The baby-faced Schumacher is moving out of the phase where he gives pressure to the likes of Antonio Giovinazzi, and into a phase where he takes pressure from a fresher and newer generation of young drivers, like Leclerc's newly Ferrari-signed brother Arthur. It's tempting to conclude that Mick has either not fully capitalised on one of the greatest opportunities ever presented to a young driver in Formula 1, or the weight of the ever-swelling expectations became ever heavier as even younger F1 rookies made their mark.
It's often said that sons of former drivers, or sons of billionaires, have an easy road to Formula 1 - and that's true to a point. If Mick's dad was Lawrence Stroll, he would have been on the grid long ago, apparently immune from the usual need to keep the boss happy. But Lance's darker days will come too, because a name, buckets full of cash, and little black books of connections will only take you so far in Formula 1. In politics, business, and a million other industries, you really can fake it til you make it, but in a racing car, there is no hiding from the harsh reality of that steering wheel, throttle and brake pedal.
So this year, there will be no gift F1 test drives, no supercharged media coverage, and no more learning seasons, excuses or chances. Incredible privilege and excellent genes have delivered this young man the opportunity of a lifetime, but only stone cold results delivered in harsh daylight and powered by sweat and grit in the loneliness of a cockpit will carry Mick Schumacher to the Formula 1 grid. The Formula 1 train has pulled up at the station, and 2020 is make or break for this young man. What's your money on?
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