Mick Schumacher ended the 2021 Formula 1 season 19th in the Drivers’ Championship, with little on-track reward to show for a year of behind-the-scenes progress.
Haas endured the campaign with no upgrades on its car, leaving it destined to be the backmarker at grand prix events, often seconds off the pace. With such equipment, there was little chance of Schumacher making headway into the top 10 as points remained off-radar for the first time in the American-owned outfit’s history.
However, the 22-year-old was left satisfied with his performances throughout the year. There were, on occasions, costly crashes, such as at Imola, Monaco, Budapest and Jeddah. That impacted his qualifying or race result on multiple occasions.
But there were also highlights, as he consistently out-performed team-mate Nikita Mazepin and spectacularly made it into Q2 in Turkey, with his other progression into the qualifying segment marred by a Q1 crash in France.
Such mistakes were not all that surprising, given his rookie status. A key factor in any campaign is self-growth and an understanding of the sport – something that Schumacher believes was successful.
“I think we ticked most of the boxes,” he said. “Obviously one of the boxes was to score points. Even though we didn’t, it’s been a very successful campaign and we managed to get everything out of what we had.”
Pirelli’s notoriously capricious tyres were a key element Schumacher had to comprehend, despite having progress through Formula 2 on the Italian company’s rubber.
“Obviously, the tyres are very special in Formula 1,” he said. “It’s something that is not really in any other category the way that we have it with the tyre blankets and the way the windows formed, and when you drop out of the window or are over the window, it will be very different and the feedback that you get from the car will be very different. I think that’s probably the part that I have learned the most from.”
It didn’t faze Schumacher to be fighting at the back of the field despite spending the majority of his junior career competing at the sharp end. It allowed him to learn out of the spotlight – one magnified externally because of his famous surname – and ensured he worked closely with the team to extract maximum performance.
“I think it comes down to both,” Schumacher said when asked if his improvements were down to the team or himself. “The team and I, also working even better together, just figuring out what comments I need to give to get the right response also the right changes in terms of setup.
“In that sense, we are really figuring out our way and that will also help us for next year in many ways. I think if I would go back to Bahrain now, maybe we would start off stronger and even closer, maybe, therefore, be closer for the whole part of the season and then towards the end of the season, maybe pick up more and be even more in front of the others or at least with them.”
The new technical regulations that are coming into play this year provides Haas with an opportunity to jump forward in the pecking order, having targeted a return to the midfield respectability it enjoyed until 2020.
That should facilitate Ferrari-backed Schumacher in taking a step in his sophomore season. It has been a trend in his junior career, where he had a subdued first year in both Formula 3 and Formula 2 prior to the title in year two of his respective campaigns.
“As an approach for next year, there will definitely be more to expect and I also expect from myself,” Schumacher said. “Hopefully, I will be able to make the step as in the past but I am quite sure of that. Let’s get it started and we will find out along the way.
“I think that the preparation will be different in the sense that I know what’s expected of me. I have a clear view of what I need to do and obviously, I think therefore the preparation will adapt and change, in what ways, I can’t tell you because I will figure that out as I go.
“I don’t think there’s a clear and strict plan but it’s more of what I feel that I need to in that specific moment to be ready for the first year in that new concept of a car.”
Ultimately, Schumacher can only work with the car that lands in front of him, but continuing with the same outfit and working alongside familiar people ensures that there is a solid foundation to build his talent as he looks towards future success in F1.
“I still believe that since then [the start of the 2021 season] we’ve grown even closer together and I just know everybody working here so well by now and I feel that we’re all having a very good time, and frankly that’s all what the sport is about.
“It’s about enjoying working. Everyone is here because they love the sport and they have a passion for it. That’s just something that definitely helped me progress in so many different ways but also made me grow as a person so I am hoping next year will be an even bigger step.”