Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Formula 1 needs to stop making excuses for Haas’ 2021 driver, Nikita Mazepin. Here’s why
TRIGGER WARNING - This article discusses sexual assault. Please don’t read if these topics make you feel uncomfortable - your safety and mental health are priority.
Far too often, the Formula 1 establishment fails to take action to condemn inappropriate actions of senior figures within the sport. The behaviour of Nikita Mazepin - whom Haas F1 Team recently confirmed would drive for them in 2021 - cannot be treated in the same way. He is a repeat offender, and his presence in Formula 1 fundamentally violates any promises of equality or ethics from the FIA.
On Tuesday night, Mazepin posted a video of himself from the passenger seat of a car, in which he films himself reaching into the back of the vehicle and inappropriately groping a woman’s chest. The victim can then be seen attempting to move away from him, and covers the camera and raises a middle finger towards it.
The video has been unanimously labelled as inappropriate, and appears a clear example of sexual assault. It is almost unfathomable, then, that Mazepin posted it himself, on his own social media account.
On Wednesday morning, Mazepin released an apology for his behaviour:
“I would like to apologise for my recent actions both in terms of my own inappropriate behaviour and the fact that it was posted onto social media.
I am sorry for the offence I have rightly caused and to the embarrassment I have brought to Haas F1 Team.
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."
For everyone that recognises the severity of the situation, this apology is not an apology at all. Mazepin’s statement only apologises for his behaviour in the context of him as a Formula 1 driver, but his offense is unacceptable as a human being. It is blatantly obvious that his regret is only for anything that will negatively affect his career, and does not come from any place of genuine remorse. This statement entirely fails to mention his behaviour and how it was inappropriate; he does not apologise to the victim nor offer any sort of explanation for what he has done. Mazepin has made it explicitly clear that any responsibility he takes is solely to protect his career.
After the incident gained attention on social media, the victim released a statement on her Instagram page, which claimed that her and Mazepin were “friends” and that the incident was a “joke”. However, users were quick to point out that although she had been tagged in the video, her and Mazepin did not follow each other on the platform. Less than 30 minutes later, the two both followed each other, leading many to believe that the victim had been pressured to excuse Mazepin.
Mazepin’s behaviour is shocking, but it is just the latest in a series of transgressions on his behalf, and so far, his career has escaped any consequences for his behaviours.
The one controversy that has been well-documented is his physical assault of Formula 2 Vice-champion, Callum Ilott. In 2016, Mazepin punched his then-European F3 competitor over a qualifying session. The incident led to Mazepin receiving a single race ban, and has been discussed more recently due to Haas signing Mazepin over Ilott, who led the F2 championship for a significant length of time this season. As a result, Mazepin’s entry to the team has been labelled as a further shift towards Formula 1 as a sport for billionaires of talented drivers, regardless It means so much more than that, though - this Tumblr post details how Mazepin’s entry is a vote of confidence in oligarchy power by the FIA. The Russian driver’s behaviour is far worse than simply buying a seat. He is not the innocent racing driver looking to save a team, as other ‘pay drivers’ have been. His contract itself is dangerous for everyone within the sport.
His behaviour might come as a shock to some, but from people who have followed his career this year, it is unfortunately not that surprising. When his contract was announced on December 1st, a female Formula 1 fan took to Twitter to document her experiences with the Russian driver. This included posting screenshots of conversations with him dated November 1st 2020, which show him asking her for nude pictures. She then declines to do so, and he calls her a “fan girl playing hard to get”.
Mazepin’s social media record is, as Haas called it, abhorrent, and it doesn't stop there. Just last month, Mazepin posted a culturally insensitive Instagram story that mocked the current COVID-19 pandemic. On multiple occasions, he has made inappropriate comments on Instagram:
in one instance, he laughed in reply to a comment mocking Yuki Tsunoda, the F2 driver whom he has had multiple incidents with this year, that calls Tsunoda a sore loser, and makes a culturally inappropriate comment towards the Japanese driver
In another, he replied “this is a real world” to a comment where a user states they had received a racist message after criticising Mazepin in a respectful manner
When free practice was delayed at the Nurburgring, George Russell went live on Instagram; Mazepin commented on this live, saying “I have a secret about you mate that some people might call a coming out”, which many interpreted as homophobic
Last year, Mazepin also filmed himself hosting a lavish party with other Russian influencers on a day of mourning in his region, after 9 people were killed in a mining accident at one of his father’s company’s mines, Uralkali.
Mazepin’s behaviour off-track is inexcusable, but do not be fooled into thinking that he has enough talent to excuse it. Whilst the Russian’s performances in Formula 2 this year have been impressive, they have consistently been marred by on-track aggression and dangerous defending. By the penultimate race of the 2020 F2 season, Mazepin was just 1 penalty point away from a race ban. Mazepin was demoted from his race win in Spa for repeated aggressive defending against Yuki Tsunoda, and received 2 5-second penalties in the Sakhir sprint race for the same transgression, against Felipe Drugovich and, once again, Yuki Tsunoda. Mazepin’s behaviour is flat-out dangerous, and there should be no place for it in a Formula 1 paddock.
Regardless of the nature of the latest incident, the fact that it has not been followed up with an instant dismissal says a lot about F1’s current climate. Mazepin posted a video that appeared to depict his sexually assaulting someone on his own social media, and he believed he would get away with it. The true intentions of his actions are almost irrelevant when the video appears so awful to viewers. Nikita Mazepin go unpunished for appearing to sexually assault a woman, and that raises a serious question about how much damage he can do before someone stops him.
This isn’t Haas‘ responsibility alone. Whilst his behaviour cannot be condoned, it is important to remember that his contract secured hundreds of jobs within the team, and felt to them like their only option. The truth is, F1 should never have gotten to the point where this can happen. It is the responsibility of Formula 1 as a whole to ensure it never happens again.
Nikita Mazepin’s behaviour this week isn’t a first-time offense. What it is, is a clear statement of intent - the intent to continue pushing as many boundaries as possible. Mazepin will continue to disrespect the most basic principles of being a decent human being, because he believes that he can buy his way out of any problem. So far, Formula 1 has not given him any reason to doubt this. Now, we have an opportunity to refuse to accept his behaviour. Formula 1’s constituent parts can choose to sweep such blatant injustice under the rug, or it can make an example of Mazepin and can condemn him once and for all.