How the DTM’s newest Schumacher is faring in his rookie year

The DTM is one of the most fiercely-competitive GT championships around at the moment, with grids pushing 30 cars and a strong complement of factory aces. Amid it all, GT3 rookie David Schumacher is finding a steep learning curve, but his champion teammate likes what he sees.

How the DTM’s newest Schumacher is faring in his rookie year
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David Schumacher is continuing a tradition of sorts this year. After his attempts to move into Formula 2 were stalled by a lack of sponsorship, the 20-year-old cousin of Haas Formula 1 racer Mick became the third member of his esteemed family to race in the DTM by signing for the Winward Mercedes GT3 outfit.

His father Ralf spent five years in the DTM with Mercedes between 2008 and 2012, after a fruitful F1 career that yielded six race wins. He took a best finish of second at the Red Bull Ring in 2011, the year he peaked with eighth in the standings, and twice claimed pole position.

David’s uncle Michael Schumacher, prior to making his name as a seven-time F1 world champion, made an instant and unforgettable impression on his DTM debut at Hockenheim in 1990 for all the wrong reasons. After cutting the first corner, the newly-crowned German Formula 3 champion had slammed his 190E into BMW points leader Johnny Cecotto – the DNF contributing in no small part to him losing the title to Audi man Hans Stuck. He made four more outings in 1991 alongside his World SportsCar Championship commitments with Mercedes, managing a best finish of 14th on the tricky Diepholz airfield circuit.

FIA Formula 3 graduate David has already matched that result at the Lausitzring, but it wasn’t a cause for celebration - coming after he’d qualified 10th and lost out at the start when he couldn’t see the lights. That’s been a familiar cause for complaint in the DTM this season, although organiser ITR has stopped short of committing to a fix before the year is out.

“For me, there’s got to be a solution to that,” Schumacher asserts as Motorsport.com sits down with him in the Winward truck on Friday at the Norisring. “These restarts are a pure lottery. Lausitzring when I started on P10, I didn’t see the lights and my team wanted to talk to me on the radio. But then we had a radio problem, and I couldn’t hear my engineer, so I missed completely the start and lost four positions before Turn 1.”

Schumacher, who took a breakthrough F3 win in Austria with Trident last year after drawing a blank in his 2020 rookie campaign split between Charouz and Carlin, has just finished signing a pile of autograph cards that he’d methodically worked through during Motorsport.com's prior chat with his teammate and defending DTM champion Maxi Gotz. A driver with Schumacher’s surname is always going to be in demand and draw scrutiny, even where the level of expectation isn’t truly reasonable.

Schumacher is following in the footsteps of his father Ralf and uncle Michael by racing in the DTM

Schumacher is following in the footsteps of his father Ralf and uncle Michael by racing in the DTM

Photo by: Andreas Beil

Where F3 is made up of young chargers learning together, there’s a huge discrepancy between the experience accrued by factory GT racers and a newcomer to the discipline such as Schumacher – not least because most have campaigned the same cars in endurance racing and logged countless laps contesting multiple 24-hour races per year.

Adapting to driving with much more weight and a roof overhead – “the cars are very big compared to what I’m used to” – plus Michelin tyres that aren’t as peaky as the Pirelli he drove in F3, while also learning the Anti-lock Braking System that is second-nature (if a regular source of frustration) to the top GT3 veterans, he concedes hasn’t been easy.

“It’s quite a big difference, it’s harder,” he says. “It’s more contact, I’m not used to that yet, so I’ve got to grow in this part in particular. Obviously also handling the weight of the car is something I’m not used to yet and will probably take a while.

"My dad helped quite a bit with that to get in contact with the people. But in the end, I’m delivering the lap times. My name is not delivering any lap times" David Schumacher 

“I made a step, for sure, I’m definitely making progress compared to my first tests. But there is still a lot to learn and improve on. I mean, there is still some types of corners I still don’t understand in the car, for example hard braking zones is something I still don’t really get so much with the ABS.

“It’s quite difficult for me to understand because the brake pedal keeps moving and then the pressure is changing and on the graph sometimes up and down. It’s a bit confusing for me, because I never had that in formula [cars] obviously, this is still some stuff that I really need to work on.”

All of that meant Schumacher was realistic in his expectations for the year.

“Learning, that’s it, only learning,” he says when asked for his pre-season targets. “Maybe one or two podiums if possible, but [that would be] just like the cherry on top of the cake. The main focus for me is only to learn as much as possible, to get in touch with the car, to get in touch with AMG, how does it work together, how does it work inside the team. To learn this was the biggest goal for me.”

Not putting pressure on himself is a common theme for Schumacher. That was also the case last November, when he turned out in Mercedes’ DTM rookie test for the Haupt Racing Team at Paul Ricard. Schumacher admits he was “unprepared” for what was to come.

Learning the nuances of GT3 cars, such as ABS, remains an ongoing process for Schumacher who is simply targeting learning in 2022

Learning the nuances of GT3 cars, such as ABS, remains an ongoing process for Schumacher who is simply targeting learning in 2022

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

“I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, just got in the car and drove my laps,” he recalls. “We had 10 laps to impress them. It was quite tough to get into a GT3 car, I’d never seen one in my life. I just worked as hard as I could with the team after the first run to analyse as much as I could to prepare myself for the second run, to get good lap times and good consistency. In the end, that’s why I’m sitting here now.”

The result was “a great deal with Mercedes” in becoming a Mercedes-AMG Junior.

“I guess my dad helped quite a bit with that to get in contact with the people,” Schumacher reflects. “But in the end, I’m delivering the lap times. My name is not delivering any lap times.”

If his Lausitzring qualifying – matching well-established teammate Lucas Auer to the thousandth – was the high point of the season so far, Schumacher’s races have been mixed.

After seeing the finish for both races in the opening round at Portimao, where he quipped that he needed to visit a sauna more often as he’d underestimated how hot GT3 cars get inside the cockpit, Schumacher has had four DNFs from his last six starts.

He was halted by a soft brake pedal in the opening Lausitzring race, retired from the second Imola race after clashing with Marius Zug and was out early in both Norisring counters – blameless in the first corner pileup in the opener before being caught out under braking for Turn 1 and running into Ricardo Feller in race two.

But Schumacher says he’s enjoyed the physicality of battles in the DTM, a “day and night difference” compared to single-seaters where even innocuous contact can result in retirement.

“I had so many contacts, so many mirrors broken,” he grins. “The battles are quite nice, I enjoy it a lot.”

Schumacher identifies qualifying at the Lausitzring, where he matched team-mate Auer, as the high point of his season to date

Schumacher identifies qualifying at the Lausitzring, where he matched team-mate Auer, as the high point of his season to date

Photo by: Andreas Beil

Inconsistency is only to be expected of a rookie – particularly when he has only two 45-minute practice sessions on Friday to perfect a set-up with engineer Andreas Riedl before qualifying. And Schumacher earns credit for fronting up when he’s fallen short. He describes the Imola weekend as “very bad”, admitting he “didn’t know why or what was going wrong”.

“It was a difficult weekend for Mercedes in total but particularly for me,” he says. “The first two sectors I was similar to Luggi [Auer] and in the last sector I lost half a second for some reason and I still don’t know why at this point.”

The limited availability of tyres for testing currently, due to supply chain issues that are also impacting other motorsport series, doesn’t help with providing answers.

"His approach, how he is starting a weekend, it’s nice to see and I could learn from that, not putting too much pressure, just driving and seeing what’s coming" Maxi Gotz

“For me it’s probably a bigger disadvantage than for any of the experienced guys,” Schumacher acknowledges. “In the end, they don’t need the experience for them, they need the experience for the team to get the right set-ups for the tracks and so on. But they are so experienced in the car, they know exactly what to do. So they get in, they do one or two laps and they are there. For me, I still need to get to this point.”

However, the sharing culture at Mercedes has been “a really big advantage” for Schumacher, who has access to data from the seven other Stuttgart cars to overlay with his own. It’s something he wishes had been available in F3, when “sometimes Prema were half a second faster and we were just sitting there with the mouths down and we didn’t know how the hell it was possible”. His teammates have been happy to be open and share too, and it’s “different approach” to working that Schumacher relishes.

For his part, Gotz deems Schumacher a breath of fresh air and believes the pair “can learn from each other”.

“David’s approach is different because he doesn’t know really the track here [at Norisring] even, the car in specific moments like in the race and quali, weather condition changes and so on,” says the 36-year-old. “He starts without putting too much pressure on it and he starts fresh, without any experience from the past.

Defending champion Gotz (following Schumacher in Portimao pre-season testing) says his rookie team-mate's approach is something he can learn from

Defending champion Gotz (following Schumacher in Portimao pre-season testing) says his rookie team-mate's approach is something he can learn from

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

“His approach, how he is starting a weekend, it’s nice to see and I could learn from that, not putting too much pressure, just driving and seeing what’s coming. I think this is sometimes better. He starts like from scratch and this is sometimes not bad to make a cut and start from new. I think we can learn from each other quite well.”

Schumacher is forward in admitting that “my goal is still to end up in F1 one day”, but could the DTM be a long-term career option for him?

“It’s a good question, I don’t know,” is his response. “I’m this year in DTM and we’ll focus on this year, but next year I will see. Whatever happens, I’m open for it.”

Schumacher is enjoying his DTM foray to date with Winward

Schumacher is enjoying his DTM foray to date with Winward

Photo by: DTM

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