It was difficult not to feel nostalgic on Saturday when one of the most dominant and spectacular cars in Formula 1 history, the Ferrari F2004, took to the track at Hockenheim for a special demonstration run.

With its V10 engine in full song, Mick Schumacher enjoyed the honour of driving the car that his father took to 13 race wins – including victory at Hockenheim – en route to his seventh and final world championship.

At a time when the future of the German Grand Prix appears bleaker than ever, seeing a Schumacher back in a Ferrari at Hockenheim felt significant. Michael Schumacher’s success ignited a passion for F1 throughout Germany, helping take the sport to new heights in the country. There were two races each year as both Hockenheim and Nurburgring featured on the calendar, while there were as many as seven German drivers on the grid.

Fast forward to 2019, and the picture is very different. Even with a German marque becoming the most dominant team in sport’s history, and with a German driver fighting regularly at the front of the pack, F1 has been losing its grip for some time. Hockenheim only featured on this year’s calendar thanks to Mercedes stepping in to bridge the funding gap in return for title sponsorship, with a repeat for 2020 looking unlikely.

The only Germans racing at home this weekend are Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg. Despite Vettel’s huge success through the early 2010s with Red Bull, winning four world titles, he never managed to galvanise the nation’s fanbase in quite the same way Schumacher did.

“It’s normal that the biggest hype - I believe was when Michael started winning as he was the first German to win the championship - being the first, there is always more momentum and more interest,” Vettel said.

“I think the atmosphere last year proved that there is still very much an appetite for racing, but I also feel that the German crowd is a very fair and direct and honest crowd. So maybe some things that have happened in our sport didn’t help the popularity.”

Hulkenberg added: “We are a car country and we love our cars and the interest is still there. I think naturally some years, it’s a bit more, some years it’s a bit less. We have a spoilt history in racing, so that’s also one thing to consider – but I think in general, the appetite and the interest of the population is still very much alive.”

The interest in Mick Schumacher has been substantial amid hopes of re-sparking the fire that his father started back in the 1990s, explaining the push from F1 to make the F2004 show run happen this weekend. There was even a consideration of adding Formula 2 to the schedule to give Schumacher the chance to race in front of his home crowd.

A lot of pressure is resting on Schumacher’s young shoulders for the future of F1 in his country, especially with no other German juniors knocking on the door. While Vettel acknowledged the impact the possible return of the Schumacher name to an F1 race seat could have, he stressed Mick must not be rushed.

“I think it’s crucial that he’s given the time he needs,” Vettel said. “I think it’s fair to judge him and his racing like every one of us has been judged and will be judged, but it’s not right to measure and compare too much to other people and to his father. I don’t think it’s fair. It’s a different time, different racing but for sure.

“Michael was the one who set off a huge hype when we were kids, and therefore the name Schumacher is one hundred percent known in Germany due to him. Obviously to have Mick at the doorstep of F1 and one day hopefully joining would be huge and hopefully a big boost for Germany.

“On top of that, despite the name, he’s a great guy. He’s a nice kid. So I think our fingers are crossed for him. Hopefully he gets the chance one day and does well and brings some more enthusiasm.”

“For Germany that could be obviously another big ignition to motivate people to go back to a Formula 1 race,” Hulkenberg added. “So it could play a big part in that and it would be great to see.”

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff expressed his hope that Mercedes' current success in F1 could also build the foundations for bigger and brighter things in Germany in the future.

"The only team that is having a full nation behind them is Ferrari. This is historic and it is something we would be aiming for in a best case," Wolff said.

"But it’s also a situation that has to grow over many years if not decades. You have to stay in the sport for a long time, grow your fanbase and then it becomes less of a factor who drives the car, as long as it is a Ferrari. So I would very much hope that we are building the foundations today that in 20 years from now we can achieve such a status."

Wolff was also full of support for Schumacher, praising the way he handled the pressure of having such an iconic name.

“He is a great young man with a fantastic character and personality,” Wolff said. “A big name that sometimes can have a negative impact in Formula 1, because you are being put under pressure and he copes extremely well with that pressure.

“Now we need to give him time to properly develop as a young man and as a racing driver and I have no doubt that we will see him in Formula 1."

Schumacher has two modern-day F1 tests already under his belt with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, with his focus then shifting for F2 for the remainder of the season.

But the results thus far have not been so attention-grabbing, with only five points finishes, just one of which came in a Saturday Feature Race. Schumacher said he wants to show Prema’s “real pace” in F2 through the second half of the season, adding: “I don't think the points actually reflect what we are able and capable of doing.”

While the weight of expectation may be great for Mick Schumacher, his focus on F2 remains unshaken – as he knows that will be the real determinant in whether or not he can bring the Schumacher name back to F1, and perhaps rekindle some of Germany’s love for the sport.

Comments

Loading Comments...