Mazepin’s problematic past and present: Formula One’s pay driver problem

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Nikita Mazepin has recently caused a new controversy which refuses to die down, much to Haas’s discomfort, who recently confirmed him for the 2021 season alongside 2020 F2 champion Mick Schumacher.

This recent incident in December led to widespread media coverage and backlash resulting in the #WeSayNoToMazepin campaign and a Change.org petition which currently stands at over 45,000 signatures calling for his removal from the Haas F1 team.

In said incident, Mazepin posted a clip to his Instagram story appearing to show him grope the chest of a woman from the passenger seat of a car, with the victim visibly uncomfortable, pulling away before putting a middle finger up at the camera.

The victim posted a statement to social media afterwards stating that she was friends with Mazepin, and the video was posted by her as an ‘inside joke’. However, as media attention shifted, the victim’s social media activity can be said to suggest otherwise. The victim replied to a comment which referred to Mazepin’s removal from Haas in a supportive manner, posted many Instagram stories which refer to the incident with statements such as ‘protect drunk girls’, and liked a comment which called Mazepin a ‘monster’ alongside other Instagram activity that can be similarly suggested to relate to the incident and contradict her initial statement. Neither the victim nor Mazepin follow each other on Instagram.

Mazepin’s behaviour is not an isolated incident

Haas put out a statement announcing that they have dealt with the issue internally and would not be publishing details, standing strong and reaffirming their 2021 driver line-up on Twitter after rumours of Pietro Fittipaldi replacing Mazepin circulated and backlash increased after Mazepin deleted his official apology.

Haas seem unlikely to change their decision despite the extreme backlash and the loss of five sponsors for the 2021 season, with Kevin Magnussen sponsor Jack & Jones already due to leave for the 2021 season, distancing themselves from the incident and the Haas team in a series of tweets.

However, Mazepin’s behaviour is not an isolated incident.

In 2016, Mazepin notably assaulted 2020 Formula 2 Vice-Champion Callum Illott, an incident that left Illott with a black eye, swollen jaw and cuts to his cheek and neck, and described as ‘visibly shaken’ by eyewitnesses, which lead to a one-race ban in European Formula 3 for Mazepin.

Frits van Amersfoort, boss of Van Amersfoort Racing, was “furious” at the decision, calling it “ridiculous”. He suggested through a football analogy that Mazepin should have been punished further by the FIA. “When you make a tackle on the football field and the other player kicks you, he gets a red card immediately. I’m utterly disappointed by the stewards and the FIA.”

Mazepin has had various other incidents on track or within the paddock since, receiving criticism in Formula 2 in 2020, receiving a penalty for hitting a P2 board towards Yuki Tsunoda, and finishing his second Formula 2 season only one penalty point away from an automatic one race ban, with accusations of dangerous driving across the season.

Mazepin has also been involved in many incidents away from the racetrack, such as an incident in which he was filmed partying on a day of mourning after nine people were killed in a mining accident at a Uralkali mine, a company owned by his father.

He has also replied to a fan complaining of racial abuse from his followers on social media with the message “this is a real world”. And, on an Instagram live with George Russell, he commented “I have a secret about you that some people might call a coming out”, which could be perceived as a homophobic comment, or at the very least an intrusive one.

Mazepin was filmed partying on a day of mourning after nine people were killed in a mining accident

Additionally, Mazepin has allegedly been abusive of his status, trying to elicit nude photos out of a fan in return for a paddock pass. The fan posted screenshots where the alleged Mazepin leverages his power to attempt to gain such photos. One quote from the screenshots read: ‘You are pretty hot. If you come to any races at any point, text me.’

If Mazepin is the voice behind these texts, he is arguably violating Appendix B (Code of Good Conduct) of the FIA International Sporting Code through “damage to the standing and/or reputation of, or loss to, the FIA, its bodies, its members or its management, and more generally on the interests of motor sport and on the values defended by the FIA”.

This leaves many feeling unconvinced by the #WeRaceAsOne campaign, or even questioning its validity, especially after the investigation into Lewis Hamilton’s Breonna Taylor t-shirt which led to a rule change. Many are concerned about the potential impact it could have on women entering the sport. The lack of response to Mazepin’s latest incident seemingly contradicts other FIA initiatives to improve female inclusion such as FIA Girls on Track UK and W Series who are due to support eight F1 races this upcoming season.

The questions remain: why has Mazepin not been punished publicly or removed from the Haas team? The answer is simply money. Haas have been struggling financially in the past few years. Mick Schumacher and Mazepin both bring large sponsors, Mazepin’s mostly affiliated with his father’s businesses.

Mazepin’s financial power is further demonstrated through his father’s companies bid for the Force India team in 2018, though they lost to Racing Point. Uralkali recently lost a court battle over the matter though their bid for the team was believed to be higher than Stroll’s. However, Stroll gained ownership of the team, cementing himself and his so in F1.

Why has Mazepin not been publicly punished or removed from the Haas team?

This demonstrates the power of money in F1 and Mazepin’s financial determination to gain a seat which many teams cannot afford to turn down.

Pay drivers have always been in Formula One. Many greats such as Niki Lauda were even classed as pay drivers. It’s not inherently a bad thing, with the most notable current pay driver Lance Stroll showing promise and his father’s bid saving the Force India team from administration. However, it leads to questions surrounding whether there should be a line drawn between upholding expected values and money. Should money allow violations of conduct to go unpunished? Should it influence team decisions and excuse circumstances of extreme backlash and arguable reputational damage? Does Formula One have a pay driver problem?

Mazepin is set to debut in 2021 in the Shakir Grand Prix after the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix. However, his first year is not set to look easy, with fan backlash unlikely to die down, sponsors withdrawing or distancing themselves, and other drivers such as Daniel Riccardo criticising him for dangerous driving in F2.

Only time will tell how Mazepin’s career will go from here but undoubtedly many will be hoping F1 does indeed say no to Mazepin.

Image: Jake Archibald via Flickr.

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