#WeSayNoToMazepin, Even If Haas Don’t
Nikita Mazepin’s behaviour is unacceptable, and it is punishable - even if the FIA and Haas say differently.
TRIGGER WARNING - This article discusses sexual assault. Please don’t read of these topics make you uncomfortable - your safety and mental health is always the priority.
In the weeks between the Sakhir Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Nikita Mazepin, Haas’ newest F1 signing, found himself in major controversy after he posted an inappropriate video on his Instagram story. The Russian driver was already incredibly unpopular, and has a history of similarly inappropriate behaviours. Haas has now announced that they have no intention of dropping Mazepin for 2021.
Just a few hours after the now-infamous video of Nikita Mazepin, seeming to inappropriately grope his female ‘friend’ was posted to his account. The woman in question (who’s account had been tagged in the video) posted a statement to her story. This claimed that she and Mazepin were “good friends” and that the incident was “an internal joke” - a clear attempt to absolve Mazepin of any wrongdoing.
However, since then, the survivor has posted multiple stories to her Instagram page which resulted in people questioning the validity of this statement. She interacted with people on social media and began raising her voice about sexual assault and violence, using phrases that referenced the pain and frustration of being touched without consent. Whilst she at no point explicitly referenced the incident, on several instances she seemed to express her anger regarding the matter, and also liked comments that slated Mazepin for his actions, therefore adding doubt to the validity of her initial statement.
On the surface, this new evidence changes very little beyond the barebones facts of this case, because public opinion was already staunchly against Mazepin. Even if these facts escalated people’s anger, they changed very few people’s minds, because most could already see how obviously inappropriate Mazepin’s behaviour was. This makes it almost factual that this was sexual assault It strips Formula 1 of all reasonable doubt, and the outrage that this lack of response has prompted has removed any plausible deniability, too. Formula 1 cannot ignore the fact that they may have a sexual predator in the paddock - and yet it seems likely that they may do.
Haas F1 Team have since claimed that Mazepin will remain part of their 2021 lineup alongside Mick Schumacher, and claimed that “the matter has now been dealt with internally.” This reaffirms Guenther Steiner’s words from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he told the media that the outcome of any investigation may remain private. This casts doubt over the severity of which Haas treated this incident with: whilst their initial statement suggested they were firmly opposed to Mazepin’s behaviour, their refusal to to publish the outcome of the investigation is slap to the face for anyone that had hoped for justice.
Haas’ opacity over Mazepin’s alleged punishment raises serious questions about the team. If their punishment is mild enough that it can remain private, it’s unlikely to even scratch the surface of Mazepin’s actions. Another question is their motivation for keeping it private: the team are currently facing a major PR crisis, and risk being punished by the FIA, and they have taken the decision not to make public what this punishment was. For a team so used to scandal, you’d think they would know to be honest. Many have speculated that Mazepin has faced no punishment at all.
Mazepin himself has deleted the statement he posted to his social media platforms after the original incident, as well as all other Tweets, besides two that relate to his contract announcement with Haas. The purpose for this is unclear, although it is widely believed to be related to the internal investigation being undertaken by Haas.
It still seems impossible that Mazepin’s punishment could remain private. Haas are widely expected to fall to the very back of the field in 2021, and the FIA will likely be suspicious of the team’s increasingly close relationship with Ferrari, given the controversy that surrounded Racing Point this year. Therefore, it is in Haas’ best interests to be as transparent and onset as possible. If the FIA ask them to do something, the team has little bargaining power that affords them the ability to disobey - should the FIA wish to do anything. That still remains in doubt.
What this evidence does need to do, regardless of whether Mazepin will be punished or not, is demonstrate why this movement goes beyond opposition to an individual or his actions. It is vital that we give the survivor a platform to speak her truth, and we must not speak over her. The most important thing we can do to further her case is to reveal the circumstances that make it obvious that Mazepin is guilty. It is an incredibly privileged position to be shocked that Mazepin has made it this far unpunished - not when he had the reputation he did even before he was in the running for a Formula 1 seat. Admittedly, Mazepin’s behaviour is a special case in terms of extremity and publicity, but it should not be a surprise that he has gotten this far.
Not when the FIA refuses to cost-cut across motorsport and allows Mazepin into the limelight. Not when rising expenses forced Haas into buying a driver like Mazepin to save their company. Not when representatives of the sport are excused from their continuous inappropriate behaviour, not when fans are criticised for “cancel culture” when they ask for them to face consequences. Not when motorsport so staunchly refuses to assist people from minority and prejudiced backgrounds into the sport when they deserve it, thus meaning there aren’t enough victims of prejudice and discrimination like Mazepin pursues to call it out and ask for more. This shouldn’t be a surprise at all.
Dmitry Mazepin’s investment, the size of which has not yet been made public, makes it almost impossible for Steiner to pursue significant action against his new driver, because he now does not have the negotiating power within the team’s leadership structure to do so. However, it does not mean that Mazepin cannot face action. The FIA’s Code of Conduct could be invoked against Mazepin. Whilst Formula 1 has no provisions that allow it to intervene on private contract matters between teams and drivers, Appendix B of the International Sporting Code condemns and behaviour “to cause, by words, actions or writings, damage to the standing and/or reputation of, or loss to, the FIA, its bodies, its members or its management, and more generally on the interests of motor sport and on the values defended by the FIA.”
Haas have clearly demonstrated that they are unable to provide appropriate punishment, and therefore responsibility must fall to the FIA to do so.
Throughout the past year, the governing body has dedicated significant attention to improving it’s diversity and representation. However controversial, money and time were committed to #WeRaceAsOne, in order to fulfill the responsibility it believes it has in the fighting against modern social issues like racism and sexism. Further effort was committed in establishing the Girls on Track programme. However, this effort seems somewhat useless if Formula 1 cannot guarantee the safety of these young women, or cannot promise a system that prioritises their talent over those that simply possess more capital. A hashtag is a meaningless gesture if such clear violations of their pledge against prejudice continue to be allowed.
The question that remains, then, is whether Mazepin’s behaviour does violate the interests of motorsport and the FIA’s values. For the rest of the world, Mazepin’s behaviour violates the basic principles of decency and respect. But, as we have learned all too often, we cannot assume that these values correlate with those of the FIA. Regardless of the outcome, it is becoming increasingly clear that the FIA is not prepared for the possible consequences of a motorsport culture it has perpetuated. If Lewis Hamilton can be investigated for wearing a T-shirt that calls for the arrest of Breonna Taylor’s killers, Nikita Mazepin should face the same at minimum for his transgressions. One would be forgiven for assuming the same should happen, but this is motorsport. We are light years behind the rest of the world.
The fact that most fans are simply demanding that Mazepin loses his seat is clear proof of that. Here we have someone who has consistently displayed their prejudices on public social media profiles, has violated the basic principles of on-track respect several times, has proven himself to an unsavoury character even before this incident, and the FIA cannot promise to strip him of the highest privilege and opportunity it offers, even when their system proves there are multiple drivers more qualified and deserving of the opportunity.
Do not believe the FIA if they say justice is impossible. The circumstances that have forced a team to sign a billionaire driver, despite endless scandals, are a result of change the FIA has signed off on. Justice is not merely about the immediate situation. Justice needs to be transformative to - acknowledging that the system is broken and corrupt, and re-examining and dismantling it in a way that prioritises equality, equity and transparency, regardless of finance. A sport that this month announced it had produced 100% renewable fuel, that can make cars so durable they survive the most terrifying crashes, that constantly find milliseconds in lap time when aerodynamic innovation seems to be at its peak, is able to find a solution to this problem.
The question is simply whether Formula 1 wants to find one.