By Zoe Haylock
The 2020 F1 season is something no F1 fan will forget in a hurry. The paddock was full of drama; take Lando’s podium in Austria, Grosjean’s almost fatal crash in Bahrain or Perez’s win in the Sakhir Grand Prix. Another development was how Formula 1 embraced a message of acceptance, inclusivity and community.
F1 branded the motto ‘We Race as One’, which was seen all over the cars and circuits, with the rainbow emblem accompanying it. With leadership from Lewis Hamilton, an anti-racism campaign also ran throughout the season, albeit with some controversy due to some drivers taking the knee before every race and others not. Not perfect then, were these campaigns, but they did show a more compassionate F1 which engaged in the social justice projects and movements of our time.
However, a controversy late in the season has made F1 fans question the dedication the sport has to their newly found morality. Nikita Mazepin, the 21-year-old Russian F2 driver, was announced as driving for the Haas team in the 2021 season. Already, people were unsure about this given Mazepin’s history as a brutish and aggressive driver and personality.
In 2016 the driver was banned from an F3 race after attacking Callum Ilott, a driver many believed was the one who deserved the seat after being runner up in the F2 Championship. But the debate surrounding the legitimacy of his seat only grew in the days after the announcement when stories emerged about his conduct with claims of sexual assault. A video circulated that Mazepin himself shared on his social media which showed his inappropriate behaviour. On Twitter, there were women sharing stories of his harassment towards them. Many thought that this was it: Mazepin would have to go.
But this is F1 remember- a sport controlled by the powerful and wealthy. After the Haas F1 team conducted an internal investigation it was determined that Mazepin could stay. F1 kept the reporting of this very under the rug- with more fan-based, grassroots reporters taking a stand and commenting on the issue. What Mazepin has done is not just bad, it is illegal, but male-dominated institutions just see it as an inconvenience and not something that should be acted upon. Haas will gain huge financial backing from taking Mazepin on which was probably a leading factor as to why he has stayed, especially as the Haas team is in financial difficulty.
F1 said they were embracing more inclusivity, but in reality, this has not been the case. Those affected by Mazepin’s actions and the F1 community are the ones who have to pay the price. #WeSayNoToMazepin has been trending in the F1 community, with fans using social media to keep the issue alive and hold both Haas and F1 accountable. As a female F1 fan, it is sickening that a man who has done these things is going to be in the paddock next year. Like many companies and organisations, the outward message of inclusivity and equality is more important than the actual work to make these things come about.
Unfortunately, I am not surprised by the inadequate actions that both Haas and F1 have taken over this. Especially as a sport fuelled by money and overwhelmingly made up of men, Mazepin’s actions are not taken seriously. This 2020 season has brought to the fore many of the contradictions in Formula 1; on the outside, it may seem fairly progressive but in practice, this is far from true. On one hand, the cars brand rainbow emblems and next year the all-female W Series will be partnering with F1. But then, on the other hand, there are races in countries like Saudi Arabia which has one of the world’s worst records on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.
F1 needs to answer the question: do they want to be a modern, inclusive sport or not? Fans deserve better than the appearance of progress and deserve real change. This starts with choosing principles over financial gain and disallowing drivers such as Mazepin onto the circuit. Just because you say you believe in inclusivity does not make it so as, after all, actions speak louder than words.
Image: Paul Cuad via Unsplash