Nikita Mazepin, to put it lightly, is not a well-liked driver in Formula 1. The fans have rejected him thoroughly and he has done nothing in 2021 to convince fans that he deserves to be in F1. But why is this? What makes him different to all the other rookie drivers on the grid this year?
To understand what is going on with Nikita Mazepin, we need to understand his background. Part of the reason for the hate directed towards him is because of his family, specifically his father. Nikita is the son of Dmitry Mazepin, a Russian oligarch who is the majority shareholder and chairman of Uralchem Integrated Chemicals Company.
It isn’t anything new to have a driver come from money in Formula 1. Many of the drivers do, but despite this, Mazepin is often ridiculed for this connection as many cite that this is the only reason he is in F1. Something that will become clearer as we go on.
Dmitry Mazepin at the end of 2020 became a major investor in the Haas F1 Team and following this announcement, two new drivers were revealed for the team, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, the son of the man who just invested millions into the Haas team. It was going to be an uphill battle from the beginning for Mazepin to earn the respect of the fans.
This happens all the time in F1, it is a business after all and running a team is extremely expensive. Mazepin isn’t the only child of a billionaire on the grid. Lance Stroll, currently driving for Aston Martin, is the son of billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll, who is the part-owner of the Aston Martin F1 Team. So why doesn’t Lance Stroll cop the same kind of derision that Mazepin does? It may be a combination of a few factors, some fairer than others.
A direct comparison with Stroll will help decipher the fan’s reaction to Mazepin.
Both drivers began their careers in karting and both were distinguished drivers. Mazepin in 2014 became the vice-champion in the Karting World Championship to current superstar Lando Norris. Not bad, but Stroll was a cut above. He was awarded the Federation de Sport Automobile du Quebec rookie of the year and driver of the year in 2009. Stroll then went on to become a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy. Mazepin went straight to Formula 3.
There was no Formula 4 for Mazepin and maybe he should have started there because his first season in F3 saw him finish an abysmal 20th in the championship. Whilst Stroll in his first F4 non-competitive season in the 2014 Florida Winter Series, took two home two podium finishes and a pole position. Stroll’s competitive car racing debut at the 2014 Italian F4 Championship saw Stroll as series champion, with seven wins, thirteen podium finishes and five pole positions. Stroll was earning his rise to F1.
Meanwhile, Mazepin’s debut as mentioned was lacklustre, but it also revealed something about his character. Mazepin was blocked during a session by Callum Ilott and Mazepin punched him in the face for it. Real classy. This resulted in a ban from the first race of the Hungaroring meeting. Illott’s team thought that the decision was far too lenient. He got off easy, and it wouldn’t be the last time.
Mazepin must have learned a lot in his first F3 season because during his second season he improved significantly. He managed to score 108 points, three podiums and ultimately finished 10th in the championship. But you only have to compare with Stroll’s first season in F3, in which he won a race, six podiums, and ultimately came 5th in the championship. Despite, Stroll’s father having a stake in his son’s F3 team, Prema Powerteam, Lance Stroll was proving that he could in fact drive well and he hadn’t punched anyone in the face.
Mazepin was slowly improving though. In 2018, he moved to GP3 and won four races (the most of any driver that year) and finished second in the championship. But once he progressed to Formula 2, he floundered once again, finishing 18thwith only 11 points in his first season. And again, he got better his second season managing to secure a podium and a win but his desire for victory in Belgium caused him to push Yuki Tsunoda wide. Mazepin was given a five second time penalty that would deny him another victory. Another example of his poor sportsmanship.
Stroll had continued to do very well in Formula 3 and so was fast-tracked into Formula 1 where he drove for the Williams teams in the 2017 season. Stroll did struggle early in the season but managed his first podium at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. This podium made him the youngest rookie and second youngest driver (after Max Verstappen) to finish on the podium in F1. Stroll continued to improve over his Formula 1 career, and he is now a solid driver, maybe not the best on the grid but he definitely deserves to be there.
While Stroll’s F1 debut was decent with some great results sprinkled here and there, Mazepin’s was marred with controversy before he had even gotten onto the track. The Haas team were in dire straits after the 2020 season with sponsors jumping ship at a rapid rate. Mazepin’s father essentially saved the F1 team and it seems to have been saved on the condition that his son would drive one of the cars.
This rubbed people the wrong way but most fans were used to this kind of thing, after all, Lance Stroll was in a similar position and he had proved himself to be a good driver, maybe Mazepin would do the same. Well, Mazepin didn’t do anything to improve his reputation.
On 9 December 2020, Mazepin posted an Instagram story in which he was groping a woman’s breasts inappropriately in the back of a car. The Haas Team immediately reprimanded his actions and called them “abhorrent.” Mazepin released an apology, “I have to hold myself to a higher standard as a Formula 1 driver and I acknowledge I have let myself and many people down. I promise I will learn from this.” What he will learn has been a matter of debate considering he deleted the apology after nine days, causing further controversy.
The incident got worse for Mazepin. After his ridiculously stupid decision to delete his apology, Mazepin then claimed that the incident was a misunderstanding as the pair were good friends. However, the woman in question posted a few choice things on her Instagram that go against this idea. She posted a photo that read, “protect drunk women” and “never let them touch you again or be disrespectful to you.” It started a trending hashtag #WeSayNoToMazepin.
This was before the 2021 season had even started and then we he actually did get into the car he was laughably bad. On race day at the Bahrain Grand Prix, he spun out on turn one, earning him the nickname, ‘MazeSpin’. He continued the season with many blue flag violations that eventually caused Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff, to complain to the FIA about Mazepin, “Michael, blue flags. Michael, this guy (Mazepin) makes us lose the position.”
Mazepin’s teammate, Mick Schumacher, has been at odds with Mazepin for much of the season for his on-track antics. His lack of sportsmanship again coming to the surface. In Baku, Mazepin had jinked to the right on the last lap in a defensive move as Schumacher was attempting an overtake. Mazepin claimed it was another misunderstanding as he thought Schumacher was going to pass on the left. He didn’t do anything against the rules but he did break the unspoken gentleman’s agreement most drivers abide by.
At the recent French Grand Prix, the duo went at it just 5 laps in when Mazepin went for a move along Schumacher’s inside that caused the German to run out of space and be forced to take the run-off area to avoid a collision. Schumacher didn’t verbally criticise Mazepin for the move but he did throw an angry gesture from the cockpit.
Schumacher told reporters after the race that,
“I think I have to talk to the team about it again. If that’s how it’s going to be in the end, then it’s like that. We do our thing, he does his. Most people can explain to themselves that it doesn’t have to be like that. At this level, I can’t quite understand it.”
Schumacher’s uncle, ex-F1 racer and current German TV host, Ralf, said of the incident,
“I have to say the only excuse I have is that Nikita is absolutely overwhelmed. He drives in too fast and doesn’t leave any space. Thank goodness nothing happened because Mick looked in the mirror, otherwise both would have been out. At some point the team boss has to say something, even if Dad pays the biggest bill.”
It’s not hard to hate Mazepin. His actions are what has caused most of the fan and team vitriol. His origins can be excused, as in the case of Lance Stroll, but what can’t be excused is the lack of respect, professionalism, and sportsmanship. Nikita Mazepin acts like the spoilt rich boy that he is and he doesn’t have the racing skills to convince people that he deserves to be in F1. Again, you only have to look at Stroll’s career in comparison to Mazepin’s and you can see a clear divide. Will he improve? It’s not impossible but his current F1 career has really not given any reason for confidence, especially as Schumacher has been turning heads despite the fact he is driving the worst car on the grid.