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One way or another, Michael Schumacher was the focus of considerable attention over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.
For one thing, Lewis Hamilton came into the weekend one short of the legendary German’s all-time record of Formula 1 pole positions. He was expected to match it, and he duly did.
More than that, though, Spa-Francorchamps is a track synonymous with Schumacher perhaps more than any other. He won here six times and this year’s race was the 25th anniversary of his first grand prix victory.
A few days beforehand, it was announced before the weekend that Schumacher’s 18-year-old son Mick would be doing a demonstration run before the race in one of his father’s old cars.
It was not the exact car in which Schumacher won that race brilliantly on a typically damp Spa day – no running 1992 Benettons were available. Instead, Mick was driving a car from 1994, the year his father won his first world title.
The idea had come from Sabine Kehm, Michael’s long-time manager, who has looked after all the family’s public relations since the skiing accident in 2013 in which he suffered severe head injuries and since when he has not been seen in public.
Mick, who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps and is racing in the European Formula Three series, said he “didn’t hesitate for a second and didn’t have any doubts” about doing the run.
“When I heard the car would drive here, I was straight away on for it and just wanted to do it,” he told BBC Sport. “I am happy I have done it now.
“It was just great. It was a pleasure for me to drive and it was emotional and fun and amazing. There is a lot of history with it and I’m really happy I was able to drive it.”
Born in 1999, Mick is too young to have many memories of his father’s major successes – he was only seven when Michael retired for the first time at the end of 2006.
But, unsurprisingly, he is proud of his father’s career.
“I learned a lot about it,” he said. “I always look back and it is just nice to see what he has reached and all his tricks and stuff.”
It was well planned. Mick did a test in the car at Spa on 9 August to ensure he felt comfortable in what he would be doing. That went well and the test went ahead. He was wearing a special custom-made helmet, half in his own colours, half in the ones Michael used when he raced at Benetton.
“I guess it’s just good to have both sides on,” he said. “We still have a big piece of history with it and to be able to put it on my helmet is another step.”
The secrecy surrounding Michael
The demo drive was about celebrating his career, not focusing on what has happened since, about which his son is obviously more than aware. It was made very clear before his interviews that Mick would not answer questions on his father’s health.
It was a poignant moment to see that famous blue, green and white car again lapping this track where Schumacher actually won in 1994 before being disqualified for a technical infringement – one of many controversies in that contentious, dramatic and tragic season.
There is no further update on Schumacher’s condition. All that has been said since he came out of a medically induced coma six months after the accident and was transferred to his home in Switzerland is that he cannot walk.
That was part of a statement made to a German court by a lawyer employed by the Schumacher family in a court case against the German magazine Bunte. The lawyer later added to CNN that Schumacher “cannot even stand with the help of his special therapists” and that he could make no further comment.
The wall of silence surrounding Schumacher’s condition is not going to change any time soon. The family’s position is that Michael always kept his private life guarded, so they feel it is what he would want now, too.
Mick has doubtless had his own private battles with the situation, ones he has no inclination for now to share with the wider world. Perhaps one day that time will come.
If he makes it to F1 one day, he will doubtless face the questions one way or another. But by then he will be older and perhaps better able to contemplate the potential consequences and ramifications of the answers he might give.
Will a Schumacher be back in F1, he was asked? A smile. “Hopefully,” he said.
There is a long road to travel before then. For now, he can revel in this emotional day and a new connection with the legacy of a father he hopes one day to emulate somehow.
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