Caption photo 2: Naughty boy Nikita Mazepin backed by billionaire father. Photo / Supplied
Don Kennedy on Formula One
Three rookies will race in F1 when the revised season gets under way in Bahrain on March 28.
Two weeks before that, those rookies together with the other 17 drivers contesting the 2021 championship will have the benefit of test sessions in Bahrain, the venue having been moved from the traditional Catalunya track in Barcelona, Spain, because of the Covid situation.
The three rookies are Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin, the son of a Russian billionaire, and Yuki Tsunoda, a Japanese driver who has come through the Red Bull junior driver programme.
Schumacher and Mazepin are replacing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen in the Haas team, while Tsunoda will replace Danii Kvyat in the Alpha Tauri team, which is a sister team to Red Bull.
All three have relatively impressive F2 form to back up their selection as F1 drivers, although inevitably some critics will say Mick has got the drive because of his famous father, that Nikita has got it because of the money his father can bring to the Haas team, while Yuki could be there thanks to Honda.
Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve knows better than most what it is like to race in the shadow of a famous father, in his case, Gilles Villeneuve, who only won six grand prix, but was a fan favourite because of his flamboyant driving style and speed.
He memorably had a wheel-banging last few laps duel with Rene Renoux in the 1979 French GP. Sadly, Gilles was killed during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian GP at Zolder, and became an icon.
When Jacques joined Damon Hill at Williams in 1996, he demonstrated that his father's speed had been passed down to him, by taking pole position in his first F1 race in the inaugural Australian GP at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne.
Hill, the son of two-time world champion Graham Hill, won the race from Villeneuve, and went on to win the championship and become the first driver to emulate his father by becoming world champion.
Jacques went on to become world champion in his own right in 1997 but cannot claim to be the son of world champion, as his father's best championship placing was second in 1979 behind his Ferrari teammate Jody Scheckter.
In 2016 Nico Rosberg became world champion, emulating his father, Keke, who was the champion in 1982.
Michael Schumacher won the championship in 1994 and 1995 with Benetton, and then five in a row between 2000 and 2004 for Ferrari. He retired in 2006, only to return for three relatively fruitless seasons with Mercedes between 2010 and 2012.
After retiring again, he suffered a serious brain injury in a skiing accident at the end of 2013. He was in an induced coma for many months and the family has kept his medical condition a secret, citing privacy, even though his fans continue to purchase Schumacher memorabilia.
"Mick has been under pressure for years because of his famous name," Jacques noted.
"That's the big difference with his competitors from the same generation. That surname helps and open doors that remain closed to others, but it is also accompanied by high expectations and the necessary pressure. People want to see immediate results from you, and you get a lot of questions about your father.
"It's hard to answer that, for example when you get the question of who you want to thank after a good race. The press wants to hear you thank your dad, but that's hard for Mick.
"He's done well over the years. But in Formula 1, you start from scratch and have to prove yourself again."
That record includes winning the 2018 F3 championship and the 2020 F2 championship. For his part, Mick doesn't see comparisons with his father to be a negative thing.
"I think it's okay, it doesn't bother me at all when I get questions and the comparison," he told Bild. "Of course, I have to go my own way. But my father is, for me, the best there has ever been in the sport. Why would I then want to distance myself from him?"
Haas team boss Guenther Steiner says it is an "honour" to have the Schumacher name on the Haas books.
"The Schumacher name, through Michael, is a legend in Formula 1," he told Autosport.
"To get his son in is fantastic and I think it is an honour for us. If we think back to when Michael was driving, he had this aura and now we have his son in our team.
"To have Mick is actually an honour, but it comes with a lot of pressure as well, I'm fully aware of that and not under any illusion."
It may be a tribute to what Mick has achieved so far, that his soon to be teammate Mazepin says it is his job to beat his teammate.
Mazepin was announced as a Haas driver at the end of last year, but a video showing him groping a woman has nearly ended his chance to drive in F1 before it has started. He has apologised and the team will stick with him, and in return he has promised to give his "one shot" in F1 everything he can.
"You know when you get into F1 there is almost one shot at it, I believe, and it has never been a consideration of how that would be for me," he said.
"I had this opportunity come up. We decided to take it on and, regardless of what Guenther has said, I would say that my job is to outperform my teammate, as always, and do the best I can. So, the pressure is still there on my shoulders. I believe I am ready for F1 and I want to show it to the team first of all."
Mazepin's opportunity has come about partly due to the sponsorship his billionaire father Dimitry can bring to the team, and Steiner is not apologising for the benefits of that connection.
"At some stage, if you have a business, you invest for a while and then you need to try to make it sustainable and a business, and that is part of it," Steiner says.
"We established Haas as a name in F1. It is a well-known team now and we are open to more commercial partners. If it comes together, Dimitry Mazepin has got a company and if he comes together as a sponsor, then why not?"
Some would say the "why not" is because pay drivers are considered less talented than those who have got there purely by their driving, not the size of their wallet. Arguably a recent example is Lance Stroll, who brought money to the struggling Williams team when he joined F1 in 2017.
He finished third in the Azerbaijan GP that year, a feat he repeated twice in 2020 with third place in the Italian GP and the Sikhir GP, as well as his first pole position in Turkey.
Stroll moved to the Racing Point team in 2019 because his billionaire father, Lawrence, bought a majority shareholding in that team which has been rebranded to race as Aston Martin this year.
The team faced a lot of criticism for replacing Sergio Perez, who won the Sikhir GP for the team, with F1 veteran Sebastian Vettel. Thankfully that seeming injustice has been overridden by Red Bull who have been smart enough to sign Perez to drive alongside Max Verstappen.
Former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan, who is often in the F1 paddock these days as a TV pundit, has weighed in on Aston Martin signing Vettel.
"I like Vettel a lot but I think Aston Martin made a mistake signing him," he said.
"The last two years against Leclerc at Ferrari have been pathetic. I don't know why he looked so bad, he won four world titles. But I think he's past his peak. In any case, I would have kept Sergio Perez."
Jordan also has an opinion about Lance Stroll.
"Lance is like a lucky bag. You never know what's inside. Sometimes he drives well, sometimes he drives extremely badly. He's anything but consistent."
In reference to Tsunoda, Honda motorsport boss Masashi Yamamoto says it was a "long cherished wish" for Honda to bring a Japanese driver into F1.
"We've been keeping an eye on him since his Formula 4 season. He is a good driver with a good base speed, great adaptability and an aggressive driving style. In Formula 2 he finished third in his first season and he achieved a rare high level for a debutant in that class."
It remains to be seen how the three rookies perform. Sir Lewis Hamilton sits at the other end of the spectrum, with the most wins (95) in F1 and last year equalled Schumacher as a seven-time champion and expects to make it eight this year. But at the time of writing, he has still not signed a new Mercedes contract.
If Jordan had a say, Hamilton might be absent from the grid this year.
"Apparently the parties disagree on the terms. I just heard that Lewis wants more than Mercedes are willing to pay.
"If I were the boss at Daimler, I would show him the door - either you drive on our terms or you go."
He recalls former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone saying after Ayrton Senna's death in 1994 that while he was shocked and sad like everyone, they needed to "stop whining-everyone is replaceable".
"Lewis should know that by now," Jordan added.