By Jerry Jordan, Editor
LAS VEGAS – The decision by the Haas F1 team on who will replace Nikita Mazepin will come as soon as Wednesday, team owner Gene Haas confirmed in an interview with Kickin’ the Tires, as he stood on pit road just prior to his NASCAR Cup Series teams taking the green flag in the Pennzoil 400 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Yeah, we are talking about that right now, we will have something by Wednesday, though,” Haas said. “We have a couple of candidates. You know how that goes, we’ve got to see if we can get them on board but the good news is that it started at the beginning of the season and not the end of the season or in the middle of the season. So, in that respect it was good.”
Haas confirmed pressure from his NASCAR team sponsors in making the decision to cut ties with Mazepin, his family and the connection to Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. He also said it is a financial hit but there was no real scenario to keep Mazepin.
“There was a lot of pressure from sponsors as far as the negativity of having a Russian sponsor and driver, so hopefully, it diffuses all of that, you know, politics. We are here to race cars not get involved in the politics but unfortunately, there was a lot of pressure. A lot of our sponsors on the Cup side weren’t real happy about having a Russian anywhere. There’s just a lot of feelings, heartfelt feelings, about what is going on.”
Mazepin is the son of Russian Oligarch, Dmitry Mazepin, who is a partial owner of Uralkali, which served as the primary sponsor for the Haas F1 team that Nikita Mazepin drove for. Uralkali is a publicly-traded company on the Russian stock exchange that is a major producer and exporter of fertilizer and Dmitry Mazepin is said to be worth in excess of more than $1.4 billion USD, according to numerous reports.
Haas said there is an obvious financial loss in making the decision but there was really no choice.
“Oh sure, less money,” Haas said. “But we’re okay.
“We were just getting overwhelmed. It was just so much intense scrutiny and negative publicity and everybody in the Western world is seeing these images of people being killed and becoming homeless and pushed out of their country. It is just overwhelming but nobody in Russia sees that. So, their point of view is well, ‘we are just doing a police action’ so, I think the Russians, let’s say, have a completely different point of view than what the Western world sees. And, you know, you wish that we could all see the same thing but we don’t. I think what we see, we see it from a free speech issue and all, and the media is just overwhelming of how much attention is paid. It’s on every single channel, top of the news every single hour so you just can’t escape it. The Russians don’t see any of that.”
Haas said there is a small amount of crossover between the F1 team and the NASCAR team, Stewart-Haas Racing, that he co-owns with three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart. He said the biggest thing that he takes away from the situation is there is a lot of difference between what the world sees and what Russia sees.
Asked if he was still friends with his now-former Russian business partners, Haas said, he thinks so.
“Well, I think so, you know, coming from the Russian people side it’s okay but it’s, kind of, the people at the top that make the decisions but obviously (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is making the decisions for all the Russian people and like it or not, that is the way they are going to go,” Haas said. “There really is a lot of difference, the perception of what the Russian see it and what the rest of the world sees it as. It’s, kind of, amazing. You’d think that we would all see it the same but, no, the Russians are completely 180-degrees from what the Western people see it as.
In a statement released by Nikita Mazepin earlier this week on various social media channels, he stated, “I am very disappointed to hear that my F1 contract has been terminated. While I understand the difficulties, the ruling from FIA plus my ongoing willingness to accept the conditions proposed in order to continue were completely ignored and no process was followed in this unilateral step. To those who have tried to understand, my eternal thanks. I have treasured my time in F1 and genuinely hope we can all be together again in better times. I will have more to say in the coming days.”
Mazepin’s possible replacements include Pietro Fittipaldi, Antonio Giovinazzi, Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen drove for Haas F1 from 2017 through 2020.