Formula 1: Sky expert Ralf Schumacher looks ahead to the next race at Spa-Francorchamps exclusively on F1-Insider.com. Schumacher talks about his nephew Mick, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel.
Mr. Schumacher, how do you assess the first half of the season in Formula 1?
Ralf Schumacher (46): It was very exciting. The fact that someone is finally interrupting the Mercedes dominance is, of course, a balm on everyone’s soul: both for motorsport fans and for everyone who reports on it. Above all, because emotions are running high between Mercedes and Red Bull. It started out relatively harmless with the slogans and behind-the-scenes politics. But that has turned into real aggression between the teams, the team bosses and the team managers. And since Silverstone, also between the drivers. That, of course, adds an extra spice to the whole thing. I find the thin-skinnedness of the Mercedes managers particularly interesting when Lewis was criticized.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff actually called for more respect for Hamilton after the accident with Verstappen at Silverstone.
I can’t understand that and think it’s a shame. Because no matter what and how many titles someone has, we are all human, mistakes can be made. For me it was a mistake by Lewis Hamilton, which of course had great consequences for Red Bull. I think it’s terrible that you can’t talk about it openly. I also don’t know if it’s such a bad thing when Lewis’ action at Silverstone was described as amateurish. After all, Lewis isn’t a monarch, he’s still a human being who goes to the toilet just like the rest of us.
But the rock is shaking in 2021 more than it has in a long time. Was Hamilton driven into error by the intense pressure from Max Verstappen?
I think he simply realized in the sprint race that he’d have to overtake quickly in the main race. You can’t criticize him for that at all. A racing driver only has a tenth of a second to make up his mind. Once he has made up his mind, it’s too late. So it was a miscalculation. But my God, that’s racing!
Verstappen is extremely strong this year, he also has a very strong car, yet Lewis Hamilton is leading the world championship. What are Red Bull and Verstappen doing wrong?
Nothing at all. You have to remember that Max had a blowout in Baku while clearly being in the lead and was then cleared off the track twice through no fault of his own, the last time by poor Bottas’ professional bowling. Again, as with Hamilton at Silverstone, there can be no suggestion of intent. From Verstappen’s point of view, it was just bad luck.
And luck for Mercedes…
…exactly. You shouldn’t pay any attention to the conspiracy theories (about Bottas’ starting maneuver in Hungary; ed.). No collision was intentional. It’s debatable that Mercedes has a very strong standing in the background of Formula 1 due to its successes in recent years and certainly carries some weight in one or the other protest. Toto Wolff going to the stewards is not the norm either. But that also happened in the past, and I actually find it more entertaining. But then everyone should do it.
What do you expect from the world championship duel starting at Spa?
I think the two will clash even more often because neither wants to give in. The question that comes to mind first and foremost is: What was Red Bull able to do during the summer break? Because one thing was already noticeable: In Hungary, I would have had Red Bull significantly stronger than Mercedes on the list due to their aerodynamic efficiency. Mercedes also had grip and balance problems up to that point. But they made clear progress after Silverstone. Spa usually gets cold, weather capers are a daily occurrence in the Ardennes. Before Hungary, I would have seen Red Bull in front at Spa, too. But now I’m not so sure. Perez is anything but a blind fish in the car, but the difference between Max and him in Hungary was serious. Max can’t cushion that in the long run if Red Bull doesn’t make another step.
Does Verstappen have to be a bit more cautious in general because the title is at stake now?
No. Because once again, it was never his fault. He’s developed further, isn’t poking into all the gaps this year like he used to. What Max still lacks is experience. But he can’t do anything about that. He’s still very young and he’s run down everybody who’s been there so far. He never really had an experienced teammate who could teach him anything. He had to teach himself everything at Red Bull and the team relied on him completely. It was different with Lewis, who came from McLaren. He had completely different drivers next to him, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button. When it comes to working together, Lewis and Mercedes are still a step ahead. With exceptions like in Hungary, where he drove alone to the restart, with rain tires. That was his mistake, that must not happen to him.
For family reasons, you’d have to keep your fingers crossed for Verstappen so that Hamilton doesn’t overtake your brother Michael for the eighth world championship title.
No. I’m always happy for whoever is best. For me, they’re both on par, they both deserve to be world champion. Somehow, of course, you wish for a change, but that has nothing to do with Michael, Lewis or Max. In the end, the better man will win.
Everyone is waiting for Mercedes to announce George Russell as Hamilton’s new teammate. Are you waiting too?
I firmly believe that George Russell will be in the Mercedes next year. Anything else would be totally incomprehensible for the future. Lewis is 36, two or three more years and then the cheese will be eaten. He also has many other opportunities and ideas, be it music or fashion. Mercedes has to prepare for the time after Lewis. And Max Verstappen is no longer an issue for now.
But how will Hamilton react when a young British shooting star drives alongside him?
Russell will put more pressure on Lewis. I thought his performance in the Mercedes last year in Bahrain was incredible. George didn’t really fit in the car because of his size. And even though he didn’t fit in the car, he would have won if the team hadn’t made the mistake at the pit stop. That was a great performance. Lewis knew that, too, and that’s why he came back really quickly in Abu Dhabi.
How do you rate Fernando Alonso’s comeback?
Alonso’s last race stands for itself. That’s how I know him. The way Hamilton cut his teeth on him reminded me of the time I tried to pass him – many, many years ago in Barcelona. I think it’s great what he’s doing. Of course, the end of his career is also in sight, but so far we have to say that it’s not a failed comeback. Ocon has to really stretch himself to keep up with the supposed old man. Because at the end of the day, Ocon has to thank Alonso for his victory in Hungary.
Sebastian Vettel took some time to get to grips at Aston Martin. How do you rate our new flagship Green and regime critic so far?
After all, we have freedom of expression. I think it’s great that Sebastian is standing up for certain things off the racetrack. Some things I find very courageous. Of course I was happy for him in Budapest, even if he had a bit of dusting luck there. But he made it happen. It was a shame, of course, that he was disqualified due to the team’s mistake. Nevertheless, he’s now managed to regularly finish ahead of his teammate again. Now it’s up to Aston Martin to keep things moving upwards. What Stroll had in mind – getting know-how through good connections to other Formula 1 team bosses – has only worked to a limited extent. He’s learning that painfully right now. Of course, this second place or even a victory would have brought Aston Martin an incredible amount. That’s why they fought for it.
Will Vettel and Aston Martin get the big chance in 2022, when all the teams have to start from scratch?
The problem is that structures don’t change overnight. Rumor has it that a lot is happening in the background right now. There are some in the team who haven’t quite understood this reorganization. I still call it Jordan, the many names before, after and in between, that’s all nonsense. One thing is certain: This was always a compact squad that managed to achieve a lot with little budget. Now, all of a sudden, there was money, but they didn’t pick it up. Now they’re bringing in new people as well. In Formula 1, it simply doesn’t work in one year. I would like to remind you how long it took at Mercedes. The Mercedes success of today started with Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug. Many people forget that.
And you’re forgetting your brother…
…Of course not! Michael had his share, too. My only point is to say how long something like that takes. Unless a lucky throw succeeds.
Would you still continue in Vettel’s place?
Yes. You can see the smile on his face at the races when he’s driving in front. He also tries hard not to look too grim when things aren’t going so well. The fire is definitely still burning, you could see that. But only he can answer the question. How long does he want to get up in the morning and risk his life, especially when he can only drive around in the midfield?
Let’s move on to your nephew Mick: How do you rate his performance?
Mick has done very well so far. You just see it too rarely, unfortunately. In the Haas, he only drives around at the back and you can only compare him directly with his teammate. In Hungary he was really good in the duels with Verstappen, Hamilton and co. He kept the cars behind him for a long time, didn’t make any mistakes, didn’t overrun the car. That shows what kind of overview he already has.
But he’s also had a few accidents….
The accidents are unfortunate, yes, but I had a problem with the way Günther Steiner criticized him publicly. As a driver, I wouldn’t have put up with that and would have grabbed him. You can ask Eddie Jordan about that. I really like Günther Steiner, but it didn’t have to happen. No driver wants to read in public how his team boss criticizes him. That should happen internally. Nor would Günther Steiner want Mick to call his car a “crappy car” in the press. He’s right about that: Too many accidents happen, and the team can’t afford that. Mick knows himself that it wasn’t ideal to crash in the free practice sessions. I also don’t think the criticism was overly harsh. It was just communicated in an unfortunate way.
Is Haas still the right team for Mick in 2022? He can’t go to Alpha Tauri.
As an uncle, that would be my preference, of course, because I think he would have a better chance to show his potential there. Haas continues to work with Ferrari and Mattia Binotto is obviously very happy with Mick, as he just said in an interview. This is more important for Mick’s future than Günther Steiner’s criticism. If Haas manages to return to its old successes, I would be very pleased. The team would deserve it, the mechanics and also Günther.
How does Mick deal with the attention?
He’s doing extremely well. We see a completely different Mick than we did last year, when the pressure in Formula 2 was great. In the interviews, you notice that he’s becoming more and more relaxed and easy-going.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator
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