Sports and politics are the modern-day versions of the Capulets and Montagues. Romeo and Juliet were destined to be with each other even though their families detested one another, but today, people try with desperation to keep politics out of sports to no avail.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Haas has decided to cut ties with Dmitry Mazepin and his company, Uralkali. As a result, his son, Nikita Mazepin has lost his seat for the upcoming 2022 season. It was no secret that Mazepin was there in large part thanks to his father’s monetary contribution to the team, but with the flow of money turned off, there was no reason to keep him around.
“Haas F1 Team has elected to terminate, with immediate effect, the title partnership of Uralkali, and the driver contract of Nikita Mazepin,” the team said in a statement. “As with the rest of the Formula One community, the team is shocked and saddened by the invasion of Ukraine and wishes for a swift and peaceful end to the conflict.”
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This move comes after a series of decisions designed to punish Russia for its invasion. Previously Formula 1 had announced that they would no longer be racing on Russian soil, and Motorsport UK announced that no Russian nor Belarusian would be allowed to race in their events. Mazepin himself issues a statement on his Twitter account.
Mazepin’s performances in his rookie season in 2021 had some fans asking for him to be sacked well before anything political had happened. He routinely found himself a considerable amount of time back from his teammate Mick Schumacher and finished 21st in a 20 driver championship. Although Rober Kubica raced in just two races, he finished ahead of Mazepin at the season’s end.
The attention is going to quickly turn from Mazepin to who will replace him, and with a weekend of testing in Bahrain in under a week, it’s going to be a quick process from Haas. It has previously been reported that both Pietro Fittipaldi who has raced in a myriad of different series, most recently in Indy Car, and Antonio Giovinazzi who was axed by Alfa Romeo after a disappointing 2021 season are in conversation to occupy the seat.
Those two drivers are far from the only options for Haas, however. By far the most intriguing option for the team is Australian driver, Oscar Piastri. Currently with the Alpine Academy, Piastri won the Formula 3 championship in 2020 and then won the Formula 2 championship in 2021, but he is left without a seat for the 2022 season as the driver who wins the Formula 2 championship is not allowed to race in the series again. Additionally, fans have been calling for a return to Formula 1 for Nico Hulkenberg who has plenty of experience but has never stood on the podium despite 179 starts.
As of now, there is little reason to expect Piastri or Hulkenberg to replace Mazepin, but fans continue to have their voices heard across social media as they beg for their preferred driver to get that chance. Haas team principal Guenther Steiner has suggested that Fittipaldi would be the preferred option for the team, and that should come as any surprise. Fittipaldi has been a test driver for Haas since 2019 and has filled in on a couple of different occasions, mainly after Romain Grosjean’s fiery crash in Bahrain in 2020.
When it seemed all but settled that Fittipaldi would take the full-time role with Haas, reports came out that it could in fact be Giovinazzi who replaces Mazepin. At this point, it seems likely that one of the two will be driving for the American team this season, but it will be interesting to see who actually ends up being there.
Both drivers have some experience although it comes in different ways. Giovinazzi has raced in Formula 1 for the past handful of seasons with Alfa Romeo, starting 62 Grand Prix. At times, he has shown to have a fair bit of pace in a relatively slow car, routinely qualifying higher than his teammate Kimi Räikkönen. His race pace left something to be desired, however. Giovinazzi scored only three points all season long and never finished higher than 10th.
Fittipaldi’s experience comes from being with the team for a considerable amount of time. He has seen time in the car that could prove to be valuable given the short nature of this replacement, and he will have a good idea of how the team works. He would already have relationships with those in the team, and while he may lack the raw pace of Giovinazzi, it could take less time for him to adjust to the car and therefore, would offer Haas the best chance of scoring points if their car is good enough.
The unfortunate thing for Haas is that there is likely no right answer as to who to bring in this close to the start of the season. No matter what, they will have to figure things out on the fly, but making the best choice possible right now could be critical.
The only thing that is more important for the team than picking the right driver is finding a new title sponsor. Without that, who knows how long Haas has any drivers at all.