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How Haas’ Changes Could Work Out For Everyone

Mick Schumacher of Haas after the qualifying ahead of the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on November 19, 2022. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Assessing Nico Hulkenberg’s return to F1 with Haas and how Mick Schumacher’s career might benefit from losing his seat.

The decision by Haas to drop Mick Schumacher in favor of Nico Hulkenberg has divided opinion amongst the F1 fandom. Many of Schumacher’s fans have vented their anger with the perceived treatment of their man by the team, with many others believing signing the veteran is a shrewd choice. A look into Haas’ choice and what options are open to Schumacher.

Safe and fast, Hulk is the right man for the job

The decision makes total sense, as would have been keeping Schumacher, but it seems the team had very little patience with the youngster after two heavy – and costly – shunts early in the season. Schumacher had much more inter-team competition in 2022 with the return of Kevin Magnussen to Haas. Despite the Dane scoring points in early races – as well as a Friday Pole Position in Brazil with Schumacher 20th – Schumacher, in terms of race classification, overall became the strongest of the two, out-finishing Magnussen 8-4.

Many have felt the treatment Schumacher received from Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner, including some very public dressing-downs, were, on the whole, unfair. And despite the disappointment felt by his fans, it is possible a move away from Formula 1 for at least one year may be a good thing for the son of 7-time World Champion Michael.

For Haas, the move to sign Hulkenberg is a sensible decision. The fellow German has gained a reputation for being a trusted stand-in driver for teams in the years since his last full-time drive with Renault in 2019. Many knockers of this choice have been quick to address that Hulkenberg, despite starting 181 Grands Prix, has never scored a podium finish. However, it would be fair to say that since his 2010 debut, Hulkenberg has never driven for a seriously competitive team in which podiums were likely, and for the teams he did drive for, he showed his talent, reflected in amassing 521 points.

For this reason, I suspect Haas will have made the choice based on experience, believing a wise old owl would be less inclined to take risks and crash the car. The team’s big-money sponsorship deal with MoneyGram for 2023 might have eased the pressure on Schumacher, and the financial burden any crashes might’ve brought, but it seems their mind was made-up. It is also worth noting that Hulkenberg and Magnussen’s infamous exchange after the 2019 US Grand Prix might also have been viewed as a good PR stunt for Steiner, bringing the two men together in the same outfit.

Mick’s possible benefit

For Schumacher, the move may well be a blessing in disguise. Speculation is now strong that he may be signed by Mercedes for their Third Driver position, replacing the outgoing Nyck de Vries. Toto Wolff has confirmed talks are underway, and the Austrian has been quoted as saying that the ‘intelligent, well-mannered’ Schumacher ‘deserves a place’ in the sport, adding he is ‘close to our heart because of Michael or the whole Schumacher family’. The move is, in my opinion, an easy decision.

With all doors to a Ferrari drive in the near future seemingly closed to Schumacher (still contracted as one of the Scuderia’s academy drivers), switching allegiances to Mercedes just like his father would be wise, given the Silver Arrows’ stature, despite an uncompetitive 2022 by their own standards. His talent may be accentuated by the possible guidance of Sir Lewis Hamilton, and the environment within the team could enable Schumacher to feel comfortable and wanted, an environment he was apparently lacking with Haas. Viewing the potential move with some cynicism, signing Schumacher would be another good example of PR, as Mercedes will be ensuring the famous name once again belongs to them. But Wolff, despite being a combative and emotional presence in the paddock, also often conveys a personable and loyal side to his character, and I believe his wish to sign Schumacher is all for the right reasons.

What will Schumacher’s role entail if he joins Mercedes?

Back in days of yore, F1 teams’ reserve – or ‘test’ – drivers were signed to take part in the various test sessions over the course of a season. With these test sessions banned since 2009, the role is largely restricted to being on standby in the case one of the two drivers is unable to race and providing a number of sessions in the team’s simulator. This is an important part of a team’s development, and the input of the driver can often make or break a team’s race weekend.

One example of this is Ferrari’s successful 2018 Canadian Grand Prix, and the aid of their reservist, Antonio Giovinazzi. With their cars only being as high as 4th in the Friday session, the Italian was asked to partake in an experiment of strategy changes in the simulator, and the resulting change gave Sebastian Vettel a race win from pole, the German apparently crediting Giovinazzi for the victory. If Schumacher possesses the work ethic for the benefit of his team in the way his father did, Mercedes will have gained a very invaluable figure.

Any extra racing?

One question that could be asked is what else, if anything, can young Mick do in his hiatus from F1 racing? A logical option, should he join Mercedes, would have been to compete for their Formula E outfit, but its operation closed after a successful three seasons. Many jobbing F1 drivers have competed in FE, including Giovinazzi, who raced last year whilst still a reservist for Ferrari but only one seat is available for the 22/23 season, which is with McLaren. Whilst its FE team will be using Nissan power, the organisation’s relationship with Mercedes is close, given their previous F1 successes together, as well as its existing engine deal.

DTM could also be an option for Schumacher, as, like FE, the German touring car championship has been a popular stomping ground for drivers with Formula 1 experience. The chances of Mercedes wanting Schumacher to gain some extracurricular activity is high, but it is not a given, nor would it be a necessity. What will be important is coming into a top team and being able to attain some valuable experience in a winning team with a winning mentality, and if Schumacher shows application, he may well be viewed as a long-term successor to Hamilton. It may just be that some unglamorous work behind-the-scenes for a top team will be far more beneficial than another year of racing with a minnow.

Featured Image Credit: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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