Words By Rob Barrie
After Hass’ decision to keep Nikita Mazepin, are we seeing another example of F1 focusing on greed rather than doing the right thing?
When Haas Formula 1 team announced their line-up for the 2021 season, Mick Schumacher seemed destined to captivate the fans’ attention. Being the son of Michael Schumacher, who is statistically tied with Lewis Hamilton for the greatest driver of all time, all eyes were on the young German’s entry to the pinnacle of motorsport.
However, it was his future teammate, Nikita Mazepin, who attracted the headlines, and for the wrong reasons.
The Russian driver, who has a history of controversy, posted a video on social media of him groping a woman. Immediately, there was a collective call from the F1 community for punishment. Pointing towards the ever-present slogan that F1 has displayed in the past season – ‘We Race as One’, fans called upon the sport to uphold the message it was so keen to promote. The hashtag #WeSayNoToMazepin regularly trends on Twitter such is the unified voice of fans.
The incident in question happened off-track, so the choice of action fell to his current employer, the racing team Haas. Haas swiftly condemned the video and said it would deal with the matter internally.
The FIA, F1’s governing body, also issued a statement in support of Haas’ response. There was a considerable media blackout from the team, with no update about the proceedings. From the outside, it looked an easy decision – carrying out, morally, the correct course of action and dismissing a driver who so brazenly had offended women not just in motorsport, but sport in general.
However, Formula 1 is a sport ultimately dictated by money and sponsorships, put simply: money talks. It was hoped from within the F1 community, though, that financial gain would take a back seat in proceedings and that Haas’ moral compass would resist the allure of mountainous funds. From Haas’ point of view, however, they were in a predicament.
They clearly do not possess the same resources of Ferrari or Mercedes and, upon joining Haas, Mazepin brings with him substantial cash injects via sponsors. Not forgetting, either, that his father is a billionaire; so regular top-ups throughout the season will not be a hurdle that needs traversing.
Dismissing the driver, therefore, would also realistically be dismissing any chance they have of further developing their car and consequently, any hope of moving up the grid in the forthcoming season would be all but diminished.
In late December, Haas finally emerged from their investigations and publicly backed their new driver, confirming he will drive for them in the forthcoming season, with any penalties issued by the American team staying behind closed doors.
Haas team principle, Guenther Steiner, called for Mazepin to “grow up” and although inside sources at Haas say Steiner was extremely annoyed, he was still ultimately part of the decision-making process that allowed Mazepin to stay. Steiner also pointed to other ‘pay to race drivers’ in Mazepin’s defence, seemingly implying Mazepin’s actions were dismissed because of the fact he brings in money.
Indeed, the issue that catalysed the fans’ uproar was clearly not Mazepin’s financial status. Steiner’s argument further rendered useless, of course, when one considers that other ‘pay to race drivers’ have no history of sexual assault.
Haas cannot act surprised, either, about the recent unfurling of events. Mazepin has a long history of controversial incidents. He is notoriously aggressive on track, not only pushing, but going beyond the rules of racing and incurring multiple penalties.
In 2016, Mazepin even punched fellow Formula 2 driver Callum Ilott. The chequered history of Mazepin should have sent warning signals to Haas, and his recent incident only cements the consensus that the Russian is not worthy of a Formula 1 drive.
After confirming Mazepin would not be sacked, there was widespread anger and frustration from fans of all teams. Haas’ acceptance of such deplorable actions has brought the sport, and its message of equality, into disrepute. The same sport that, with the aid of Lewis Hamilton, has been active in trying to achieve increased opportunities for women and ethnic minority individuals.
Though this work should be praised, the internalised and somewhat dismissive discipline of Mazepin’s actions, coupled with the ‘brushing of the saga under the carpet’ mentality from Haas, has created a certain redundancy in the steps the sport has taken towards a more equal paddock.
Therefore, Formula 1, it seems, is simply wasting its time in pursuing fairness and equality within the sport. By so easily disregarding such an important issue, a prime opportunity to show that the sport really does ‘Race as One’ unfortunately went unheeded, and with it, Formula 1 has not only turned its back on women, but every group vulnerable to discrimination too.