A photo of F1 racing car in an article about Nikita Mazepin
Fans protest Mazepin's appointment with #WeSayNoToMazepin on Twitter. (Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash)

Nikita Mazepin Faces Backlash From Fans After Earning F1 Racing Spot

The Russian driver has exhibited destructive behavior in the past, including allegedly assaulting women and putting other drivers in harm’s way.

Thoughts x
A photo of F1 racing car in an article about Nikita Mazepin

The Russian driver has exhibited destructive behavior in the past, including allegedly assaulting women and putting other drivers in harm’s way.

Haas, the American Formula 1 (F1) team, recently announced its 2021 driver lineup: Mick Schumacher, the son of F1 legend Michael Schumacher, and Nikita Mazepin.

Even before the lights out of his first F1 Grand Prix, Mazepin was making headlines. He posted a video to his Instagram of him groping a woman’s breast in a car. Many fans found this video incredibly offensive and noticed the woman’s attempt to move away from Mazepin as he touched her.

Andrew Benson covered the controversy and subsequent apology in the BBC. He wrote, “The video was posted on the Russian’s Instagram account and later deleted. ‘I am sorry for the offence I’ve caused and the embarrassment I have brought to the Haas team. I’ve let myself and many people down,’ said Mazepin, 21. ‘I have to hold myself to a higher standard. I will learn from this.’ A statement from Haas said the team ‘does not condone the behaviour’ of Mazepin in the video, adding the incident ‘is being dealt with internally.’ It added: ‘The very fact that the video was posted on social media is also abhorrent to the Haas F1 team.’”

Mazepin posted his apology on Twitter but has since deleted the tweet. The woman in the video initially claimed she and Mazepin were friends and it was all in good fun, but later Instagram stories from her account paint a different picture of the night’s events.

Matt Gallagher, a presenter for WTF1, posted screenshots of the woman’s Instagram story. The story features a blue screen with the question, “What advice would you give to your younger self?” The woman replied, “Mine would be: don’t let anyone touch or disrespect you again.” In another story where someone advised, “Don’t drink too much tequila in yacht Dubai party,” she replied, “Don’t drink with a–holes, better.”

Mazepin has demonstrated a pattern of troubling behavior. In 2016, he punched driver Callum Ilott in the face after Ilott blocked his new tires. Some sources reported that Ilott was in the running for the vacant Haas seat, but ultimately he will be a test driver for Ferarri in 2021.

Mazepin was also one point away from a race ban due to his reckless driving in the Bahrain Formula 2 (F2) race. He forced racer Yuki Tsunoda off the track entirely, a move many deemed irresponsible and dangerous, including well-established F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo.

The now infamous video isn’t Mazepin’s first inappropriate use of social media. He liked and laughed at a comment suggesting Tsunoda should quit racing and join the Kabuki Theatre, a racist dig at the Japanese driver. Tsnuoda will race for F1 team AlphaTauri in 2021.

Mazepin also replied to a fan complaining about receiving racist hate from his fans with the comment, “This is a real world,” seemingly dismissing the fan’s valid complaint about trolling. In screenshots uploaded by a female fan, Mazepin pressured her for nude pictures in exchange for tickets to the paddock.

You may find yourself asking, “How does Mazepin have an F1 seat with this sordid history?” The answer is simple: money. Mazepin’s father, Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin, is the majority shareholder and chair of Uralchem Integrated Chemicals Company and reportedly has a net worth of 7.1 billion U.S. dollars.

Dmitry Mazepin attempted to buy the F1 Force India team before it went to Canadian Lawrence Stroll, who converted the team into Racing Point. Dmitry Mazepin continues to sue the administrators of the sale, arguing that he placed the highest bid and should have ownership of the team.

While he was unsuccessful in his attempt to purchase a team, he seems to have bought his son a seat at Haas. Pay drivers, or drivers who utilize their wealth to gain a seat, are not unheard of. Sergio “Checo” Perez, who will drive for Red Bull Racing in 2021, is a pay driver, as is Lance Stroll, son of Lawrence Stroll, who drives for Racing Point.

Principal of the Haas team, Guenther Steiner, defended Mazepin’s status as a pay driver. “When I spoke to Niki [Lauda] a long time ago he said, ‘I came to Formula One thanks to a bank that sponsored me. I was able to buy a steering wheel.’ And he was World Champion three times…If someone is good and has financial support, they have a better chance than someone who is as good without financial support. Why choose the one without financial support?” Steiner said.

Well, Steiner, I have an answer to your seemingly rhetorical question. You choose the one without financial support because they are a better driver and less momentously disastrous for your brand. #WeSayNoToMazepin continues to trend on Twitter, a hashtag that does not exist in protest of any other driver on the grid. It demonstrates the fans’ distaste for Mazepin and his behavior.

Also, how dare you compare Mazepin to racing legend Niki Lauda. Lauda was funded via a bank loan, not his oligarch father. Lauda was also an incredible driver and strategist. He didn’t punch other drivers in the face or make a fool of himself in the media. He also overcame a crash that nearly killed him and returned to F1 to continue to win championships. There is no comparison to Mazepin.

Nikita Mazepin is a liability to Haas and F1 as a sport. He has proven he has no marketing tact with his flagrantly offensive usage of social media. He repeatedly demonstrates disrespect to women and their bodily autonomy. He is an unsafe and rash driver, which puts himself and others at risk on the track.

If Mazepin keeps his F1 seat, Haas and the FIA (the F1 governing body) are actively choosing money over morals. The message that they will send forth is that you can sexually harass and assault women, assault other drivers and support discriminatory beliefs while holding an F1 seat. While Haas deals with the incident “internally,” the rest of the fans have to sit and wait. It’s a painful wait, particularly for female fans, who feel betrayed by their sport, and female Haas and F1 employees, who wonder if their employer will foster a safe and inclusive work environment.

If the FIA wants to affirm their new motto, #WeRaceAsOne, which promotes inclusion in the sport, they need to get rid of Mazepin and replace him with someone that reflects the values of that statement. Will Haas and the FIA stand with what the fans want and what is right? Or will they bend to the will of Mazepin money?

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