Schumacher unbeatable to put title pressure on
EUROPEAN FORMULA 3 NURBURGRING (D) SEPTEMBER 8-9 ROUND 8/10
Schumacher domination in a red car at the Nurburgring invites all sorts of analogies between Michael Schumacher and his son Mick. But that would do a disservice to Schumacher Jr in what was by far and away his most impressive weekend in car racing.
His first Formula 3 European Championship win at Spa in July invited all the media attention, coming as it did on a circuit synonymous with his father, but that was merely the first step in a breakthrough year. At the Nurburgring, he became the first in the series to clean-sweep all three victories on a weekend since Lance Stroll in 2016, and it’s clear that he is now earning the rewards of a fruitful pre-season.
Schumacher’s first F3 season last year had moments of promise, hidden in the maelstrom of the midfield, but the Prema Powerteam squad worked tirelessly over the winter to ensure that his biggest weakness in qualifying would be rectified. “There are drivers who can do it in the first year and some who take two,” explained Prema boss Rene Rosin. “It’s normal. I was expecting these sorts of results from a driver like Mick since the beginning so I’m not surprised.
“Mainly the problem was qualifying – he was not able to achieve a very good lap time, which is so important in Formula 3 because overtaking is quite difficult. But we worked on that in winter testing and now he’s earning the results.”
Rosin’s words played true in all three races. Schumacher locked out pole for races two and three ahead of rookie Robert Shwartzman – who had earned race one’s pole – and points leader Dan Ticktum.
Schumacher not only dominated, but he was opportunistic at the one moment where victory looked slightly more unlikely. In the opener, Shwartzman’s pole counted for little when a new clutch led to a stall in his mock attempt and wheelspin at the getaway proper.
That meant Schumacher seized the lead into Turn 1, but he could not pull a gap. Not to be deterred, he was able to keep an edge of around a second as Shwartzman was reeled in by the quicker Ticktum, who considered several moves late on.
It was deja vu in the second race as the top three finished in the same spots once again, but this time Schumacher had drawn a more decisive gap from pole. Two safety-car restarts forced Schumacher back to the pack, but he left no chinks in his armour to Shwartzman and Ticktum.
Schumacher was thrown another challenge in the finale by team-mate Shwartzman turning the tables at the race start. His superior launch forced Schumacher into darting across the inside line at Turn 1 as Shwartzman challenged for the lead. But while the Russian was once again left in the slipstream of Schumacher, he could celebrate his best weekend yet in F3.
Schumacher’s dominance put the pressure back on series leader Ticktum, who entered the weekend 12 points clear of Juri Vips, but is now just three in front of Schumacher, who acknowledged “this weekend was the best of my career in motor racing to date”.
Motopark driver Ticktum, who believed Prema had found “something” at the
Nurburgring, felt that constant F1 speculation putting pressure on him to secure superlicence points for a title win was starting to “impact” his title challenge. “When I had all the F1 rumours, all I was thinking about was that I needed to win the title for the [superlicence] points,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was hurting me but there were a couple of situations that I probably would have done differently if I wasn’t thinking about it. Very quickly with my coach we decided to focus on the championship less, and more race by race.”
He proved his point in the first race with a ballsy overtake of Ralf Aron around the outside of Turn 1, keeping calm when his rival pushed him onto the kerb and keeping his foot in to move into third and onto the rear of Shwartzman. His back-to-back third places were followed by a slip to fourth in the finale after losing out to Alex Palou in the opening sequence of corners.
That slip-up looked minor compared to the down-on-his-luck Vips, an innocent bystander in the opener’s first-lap, firstcorner melee when Jehan Daruvala started a domino effect that led to Vips being punted out. He was again caught up in someone else’s accident in race two when Enaam Ahmed turned the Estonian around. Another title contender out of luck was Marcus Armstrong, who lost much of free practice to engine problems, and took a 10-place grid penalty for a new powerplant.
That meant that the championship is now tantalisingly looking like a Schumacher-versus-ticktum fight.
Schumacher was the master of all three races
Ticktum passes Aron on his way to third place in opening race
Shwartzman took a pole, two front-rows and three seconds