Off-roading on the ranch – Mick Schumacher’s happy place

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Mick Schumacher looks completely calm. There is a sense, even if just for a fleeting moment, that Formula One and the outside world are a million miles away. This feels like a safe space for him, the eerie quiet of the North Texas ranch broken only by the throaty engine notes of Schumacher’s off-road Can-Am Maverick X3 as he drives around a track. The circuit is dug into the brown Texan soil in the far corner of the 400-plus-acre property his family owns.

“I could do this all day,” he says with a grin as he removes his race helmet and steps away from the off-road buggy after one practice run.

It’s the old cliché about race drivers spending their free time driving cars, but you know Schumacher is telling the truth. This Mick Schumacher is not the same one you would find at a Formula One racetrack. There’s a different kind of calm about him. When the engine slows to a halt, the tranquil silence of the surroundings returns. The huge land around us feels like a sacred space, untouched, a place not sensationalised by documentary makers or photographers — this is the Schumacher family ranch, just north of Gordonville, Texas.

“It’s a retreat, a spot where I can do whatever I want,” Schumacher tells ESPN. “Not having the feeling that I’m observed or looked at. I just come here to enjoy my time.”

The entry to the ranch itself is a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of deal. There’s nothing obvious about it that would tell you one of sport’s most famous athletes owns this spot of land, nothing to say it is more noteworthy than any of the other gated properties which line Highway 377. This is remote and rural Texas — go too far north along the road and you hit the Red River, which divides Texas and Oklahoma.

The only giveaway about the property you are about to enter are three metallic horses which line the side of the road before a large black gate, with a big letter ‘S’ adorning either frame. Inside is a state-of-the-art facility for raising and breeding horses, owned by Mick’s mother Corinna, where his sister Gina, a professional equestrian, also trains.

Schumacher’s father Michael bought the ranch in 2012 to escape the fame and adulation of Europe and the rest of the world. Before the Schumachers arrived it had been untouched for nearly two decades and was home to roaming deer and bobcats. It was intended to be home away from home for the Schumachers and even in the age of ‘Drive to Survive’, Michael’s 23-year-old son can still enjoy the escape from reality the ranch was intended to be.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere here, basically,” Mick Schumacher says. “If I go shopping here no one notices. Even if I go into Dallas nobody really recognises me. So I’m definitely happier around here.”

When we spoke at the ranch in October, Mick Schumacher’s F1 future hung in the balance. It now looks likely to stall after two years — Haas is set to replace him with the more experienced Nico Hulkenberg for 2023. Schumacher’s next step remains unclear.

Schumacher’s surname and his father’s legacy — seven world championships and 91 grand prix wins — have followed Mick wherever he’s gone. He’s never shied away from it, but from the outside its felt like a huge cross to bear at a lot of moments of his young career, which included championships in Formula 3 and Formula 2 before he joined the F1 grid in 2021.

The circumstances might have changed since we spoke, but it is clear he has no intention of giving up on his dream of F1 any time soon.

When asked if he might have followed his sister’s footsteps or preferred a life on a ranch to one as a professional athlete, had F1 never been in the equation, he dismisses the idea.

“I never play with the thought of not doing racing,” he says. “Formula One is so much… I love it so much, so there’s no reason to think what I would do otherwise.”

Like Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Bruno Senna, Schumacher’s surname has been a help and a hindrance at different points in his career. It is hard to find F1 fans who do not want the story of Mick Schumacher to be a successful one. His karting career started shortly after his father was seriously injured in a skiing accident in December 2013. Michael’s current status remains a closely guarded secret — the family’s privacy has, for the most part, been respected.

It has created another level to the burden Schumacher has had to carry. The family has done its best to protect him from the questions. Schumacher has carried himself remarkably well for such a young man with so much on his shoulders. He has embraced who he is, racing with the number ’47’, which he says denotes that he is racing “for seven”, the number perhaps most closely associated with his dad.

“Pressure has always been part of my life. Especially since I chose racing as a profession. I think I’ve proven I’m capable of racing under pressure, probably even better than without pressure.

“I’m definitely in a happy place and comfortable jumping into a car and driving car.”

That’s what brought us all to this sleepy part of Texas. Schumacher invited a small group of Haas engineers and mechanics out to the ranch for a thank-you for everything in what has been, by his own admission, a roller coaster of a year. The expensive crashes Schumacher had at the start of the year gave Haas, F1’s smallest team, a big repair bill, and severely dented his chances of a third year with the American team. Ultimately that more than anything counted against him when Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner made the final decision, even if the results improved in the second part of the season.

As much as Schumacher relishes the quiet, he also relishes that rush of adrenaline racing drivers seem to be constantly chasing. A small group of us travel to a far corner of the property, through trees and undulating paths, until we come across a place which looks different to anything else on the ranch. You immediately notice a circuit with two big jumps, a sequence of hairpins, elbows, a banked corner and even a section which has become a boggy area too wet to drive thanks to heavy overnight rain. Schumacher simply drives around this part of the track on the day, eventually creating a rough new configuration in that corner of the track.

“I’m still trying to find that perfect lap,” Schumacher says before we get into the Can-Am for our 12-lap stint in the car, a statement true of every racing driver that has ever lived.

Schumacher’s off-road hobby started at the ranch. Originally there was no circuit, no designated place to drive — but who needs that when you have 400 acres of Texan grassland to play with.

“Usually we just drove around the woods and stuff, so was probably more dangerous than having a racetrack! We decided to take up some space and build a racetrack on it. We’ve come a long way. This one was a standard Can-Am and now it’s become a hybrid race car.”

The story of how Schumacher came to own a modified buggy is thanks to another F1 driver — his friend Esteban Ocon, who not so long ago was encouraging his Alpine team to sign Schumacher for 2023.

On one day of tearing around the family property, Schumacher stopped for a photo, with a caption that read: “If I ever make an album — this would be the cover”.

Can-Am soon replied and it was Ocon who grabbed Schumacher’s phone, DMing the company known for its fleet of off-road cars and motorbikes, replying: “Hey guys! I was wondering if you could help me with upgrades for my buggy? Thanks a lot!”

Can-Am didn’t need a second invitation. The Maverick X3 we climb into is the fastest 1000cc UTV on the market — and it’s been modified to go even faster.

Schumacher knows the interview which follows our time in the car will cover similar ground — his future, the pressure of his surname, what he will do without F1, etc., etc. But when he’s at the wheel of the Can-Am, none of that seems to really matter.

Schumacher is still mastering both the vehicle and the course, but you can tell how much he enjoys it. The stabs of the throttle through one particularly fast left-hander get more punchy with each repetition, like he is remembering there is a tiny bit left in the car each time he comes through.

You can’t see, or hear, much of anything in the Can-Am, other than what’s going on right in front of your visor. Schumacher is completely focused on the road in front. It’s good he can’t hear me — whooping and hollering with delight at every turn and jump — but it is easy to imagine a giant grin across his face as he throws us both around the twisting, weaving track, spraying mud and dirt around the place as he goes. The inhibitions of Formula One, the fear of making a mistake or pushing too hard, are nowhere to be found. This is a racing driver driving fast for the pure thrill of it.

He seems disappointed when we have to get out of the car, even though he has a whole afternoon of it still to come with the friends and colleagues he has invited along for the day. Interview time. He is more relaxed out here. He is surrounded by friends and family and is clearly in a place he loves. You can’t help but wonder how long he would spend at the sleepy ranch if F1 wasn’t part of his life.

“Whenever I’m close I come out here, just do this all day or drive around, see the horses, pet some dogs! We’ve got lots of dogs out here.

“It’s just very different to the F1 world but also to the European world I would say.”

Attention shifts to his future and whether he will still be part of that Formula One world. Even though things have changed since that conversation it is clear Schumacher feels as though he deserves one more year in F1.

“I feel like I’ve had the chance to grow, I’m obviously still far away from where I want to be and what I’m capable of being,” Schumacher says.

“In Formula One you do need three years to become a full complete racing driver. So I’m taking my time but I’m also conscious about the fact I want to prove myself and show everybody what I’m able to do, as I did in Formula 3 and Formula 2.

“I don’t see a reason why I can’t do it in Formula One.”

As it stands, Schumacher will not get that chance next year, although he remains one of a handful of drivers with real experience of F1’s new generation of cars, opening up the possibility of a reserve role for 2023.

When asked about those mistakes, he said: “I think performance does overrule that. But it’s never great to have an accident.

“Formula One is a very costly sport. We’re trying to get the maximum out of it and sometimes you do have to go to that limit. This year’s cars are very different compared to last year so some of the approaches I had didn’t work. When we changed it going into Canada, things very much changed for the better.”

Clearly, Formula One is a sport Schumacher loves singularly. Whether he gets to continue it beyond 2023, in any capacity, remains to be seen.

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