Nikita Mazepin has a history of getting himself in trouble. His is a pretty checkered past to say the least – one that includes punching Callum Ilott in the face after a disagreement following practice at the Hungaroring back in 2016.
And yes, there’s a reason his past is being brought up when talking about the present. That offense – when the pair were racing in European F3 – earned Mazepin a one-race ban. Given that Ilott’s team manager stated the pair were separated and then Mazepin returned to attack him again, it’s not unreasonable to think that punishment was more than a bit lenient…
There have been numerous social media indiscretions (about which I’ll always err on the side of caution, because full context can be hard to glean unless you’re right there with him) but even the on-track signs are still concerning. Mazepin has earned multiple time penalties this year for his driving, the most recent coming the final F2 feature race in Bahrain where he picked up two separate ones for forcing other drivers to take avoiding action to his late defensive moves in a straight line.
If we excuse those as being borderline errors when trying to race as hard as possible, then the reaction to ending up just the wrong side of that line needs to be taken into account. In Spa, Mazepin was handed a five-second time penalty for forcing Yuki Tsunoda off track, costing him the win after the flag. An understandably annoyed Mazepin punted his P2 marker board out of the way when returning to parc ferme, nearly striking Tsunoda in the process.
He clearly still needs to control his emotions a little better to be a stronger driver on track, but off it he’s going to have to learn a hell of a lot more quickly. And Haas needs to be central in helping him do it.
The latest controversy involves a video Mazepin posted of himself groping a female sitting behind him in a car, and tagging the woman in question – Andrea D’IVal – in the post. She responded once the whole thing blew up, defending Mazepin and saying “nothing from that video was serious at all,” but there were already calls for him to be sacked.
And that reaction comes from his past. I can’t say I feel Mazepin deserves any benefit of doubt simply for putting such a video online — even if D’IVal’s response suggests the actual context might somehow earn him some — and there’s some hope in the Haas statement that the team feels the same way.
“Haas F1 Team does not condone the behavior of Nikita Mazepin in the video recently posted on his social media,” the team said. “Additionally, the very fact that the video was posted on social media is also abhorrent to Haas F1 Team.”
Mazepin’s behavior is clearly wrong, so we’re still talking about different levels of wrongdoing here, but just how wrong is very much dependent on context and feelings or emotions that we can’t know just from seeing a short video clip. So instead of delving into the nuance and second-guessing all the different potential scenarios, I’m only focusing now on the fact that he somehow thought anything like that was a good idea to let get on to his social media account in the first place.
(I say “let get on” because D’IVal claims to have uploaded it to Mazepin’s account herself “as an internal joke”.)
In what universe does a young driver — who has just been confirmed with an F1 team, and who already has a poor reputation to work on — think that filming such an act, regardless of context, and then allowing it to be uploaded to his account can in any way be received positively? What was he expecting to be the end result?
And herein lies the problem: the lack of consequences.
Mazepin’s concern is never going to be about the end result if severe consequences are never handed out. Did punching Ilott have any significant impact? No, it didn’t. He missed one race of a three-race weekend, or put another way, the fourth race of a 30-race season.
Did hitting his marker board at Spa and almost collecting Tsunoda have any significant impact? No, it didn’t. He was given a suspended five-place grid drop that never came to pass.
Did the accumulation of his driving penalties have any significant impact? No, they didn’t. They cost him the win – or seven points – in Spa, and dropped him from third to ninth in Bahrain, losing him 13 points. That’s 20 points in total that would have moved him up one position in the final drivers’ championship, and made no difference to his Super License situation and graduation to F1.
The penalty points he got on his F2 license this year also disappears once he joins F1 next season, so his history in that sense is erased.
And if you keep being allowed to do things without suffering severe consequences, then you’re not going to change. This is why Haas needs to take strong action.
I get the importance of Mazepin to the team from a financial point of view. Haas has never hidden that. I also understand the argument that when you ally that to a guy who is quick, does sometimes come down the right side of racing hard, and can win races in a spec series, you’ve got a good candidate for one of your drivers.
But history suggests that driver is going to give you a number of off-track headaches that could really hurt your brand, your team dynamic and in the absolute worst case, other drivers or personnel in the sport.
Does Mazepin care? Probably not. He just wants to go racing in F1, and if he gets the chance to do that and delivers enough on track, then in many ways he won’t need to care. But he will care if he’s made to, and that responsibility doesn’t only lie with Mazepin himself, but with the people in power around him.
Up to now, the people with most power have been his backers — basically companies either owned or controlled by his father — who have been helping him through his career. I’m not using his financial clout as a stick to beat him with, but when that backing comes from sources that clearly won’t drop you if you step out of line, then you hope the team he is about to race for on the global stage might do so.
If Haas doesn’t ensure there are proper consequences for his behavior, then it will be enabling it, showing that Mazepin is too important to the team to be punished. And it is likely that it will have to deal with more of the same.
But if Haas takes its responsibility seriously, then it will find ways of ensuring there are repercussions when Mazepin steps out of line and find a way of correcting that behavior so we’re only debating the merits of his driving in future.
A statement isn’t going to do it.