I'm not happy with Haas's new livery. Here's why...
Once again, Haas has proven that it cares more about money than morality. Things should be better than this.
It's finally happened. The new Haas car, the VF-21, has been unveiled and as part of that we've seen Haas's new livery for the first time. As you'd expect from the buy-in from Russian billionaire oligarch Dimitry Mazepin and the addition of his son Nikita to the team as one of the drivers, Mazepin Sr.'s mining company Uralkali is the big sponsor on the car. This has meant a rather distinctive change of livery for 2021, to put it one way. It's a livery change that, personally, I'm not very happy about at all. In fact, I'd rather have seen William "Bad Santa" Storey and Rich Energy make a re-appearance on the car like some rumours suggested than the livery we're seeing right now.
Why do I think that? I'll explain why. It's all down to a certain country whose colours are represented on the new livery and the situation in sports and politics that surrounds it, as well as a title sponsor with blood on its hands and a driver who to say is a controversial figure in F1 would be a massive understatement...
As anyone who's been following the Olympics or indeed any kind of major international athletics or sports for years now will know, Russia doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to playing by the rules. We've all heard of the doping scandals that have permeated things so much that, regardless of what kind of sport it is, Russia has been effectively banned from them. This is something that started in 2019 with a four-year timespan. Whilst Russian atheletes can still compete, they have to compete as athletes not tied to any nationality until at least 2023. Daniil Kvyat managed to escape this rule due to him coming into Formula 1 in 2015 before the ban was put in place and so did Sergey Sirotkin as he got his full-time Williams drive in 2018, but that ban definitely does apply to Nikita Mazepin who will not be racing under the Russian flag when he lines up on the Formula 1 grid in Bahrain very soon.
The Russian flag is still represented in the Haas team though. The colours of the new Haas livery are the colours of the Russian flag. The exact colours. There is zero difference. Whilst the livery is not illegal and has been fully approved by the FIA, the message it sends is one that isn't brilliant. Whether some people on the internet (you all know who you are) like it or not, Formula 1 is a sport and an elite-level sport at that. The kind of physical conditioning required to drive a Formula 1 car is akin to that of a long-distance runner and a fighter pilot combined. Yes, it isn't an overt political message so it technically is fine under the FIA's rules on what liveries can and can't have on them. But, it is definitely a message.
If Russia can't have a driver race under the Russian flag, they'll just put the Russian flag on the car instead. Whilst WTF1 made a good joke about it that I and no doubt countless others had a good laugh about, the reality of the whole situation is kind of scary. It's a very cheeky and very defiant statement.
Now, let's move onto politics, because here's where things get messier. Russia's President Vladimir Putin is seemingly on even more of a quest to become a Julius Caesar-style 'dictator for life'. Putin has pursued relentless campaigns against people who oppose him, his latest victim being Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The lawyer and anti-corruption activist was recently been poisoned with a nerve agent in a similar situation to what happened to Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018, something which he implicates the Russian FSB in. He's also been sentenced to 2 and a half years in a 'corrective labour colony' in Pokrov, Vladimir Oblast, coming off the back of suspended sentences he received in 2013 and 2014 for embezzlement charges that are widely believed to have been politically motivated. Just within the last couple of days or so, the US and EU have imposed fresh sanctions on Russia because of the recent events surrounding Navalny.
With everything that's going on surrounding Russia's upper echelons right now, it should be pretty obvious to you why having the colours of the Russian flag displayed prominently on a Formula 1 car may not be a brilliant thing. Not only is it fairly tone-deaf as a symbol to people who are understandably unhappy with Putin's Russia, but as I said earlier it's a very cheeky act of defiance in terms of the accepted rules on political statements. It's not technically illegal, of course. It's not overt. But it is cheeky.
What about Dimitry Mazepin and his company Uralkali? Well there's even more horrors to unfold there. In 2018, a fire broke out at a Uralkali mine in Solikamsk, which is around 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Moscow. 9 workers were confirmed to have been killed in the fire. That wasn't the first time a serious accident had happened at the Solikamsk facility either, as back in 2014 and 2006 two other major incidents (a sinkhole in 2006 and an inflow of water in 2014) happened that seriously compromised the safety of Uralkali's workers. The 2014 incident pushed shares in the company to a record 4-year low and the 2018 incident was so serious that an investigation was opened by Russia’s Investigative Committee, the state body in Russia that investigates major crimes, over potential health and safety breaches.
What was the Mazepin family's reaction to this? They danced. Literally. Whilst the families of the dead Uralkali workers were having their funerals, Nikita Mazepin was spotted enjoying himself in a nightclub with a couple of models and a few Russian celebrities.
If you thought things couldn't get worse from this point, they absolutely can. Uralkali's owners been openly accused of trying to "suck the company dry", with stories coming out over multiple decades of safety concerns being routinely ignored and major players in the company taking their money and running off to America, Greece and the well-known billionaires' playground of Monaco. Should a company like this with so much controversy behind it even be a title sponsor for a Formula 1 team? I don't think so at all. Whilst previous dodgy sponsors such as Rich Energy, T-Minus and (to a certain extent) Rokit did have their issues, none of them were openly involved in things that actively harmed people as much as Uralkali has.
Finally, we come to the final piece in the horrible puzzle and that's good old 'Maz' himself, Nikita Mazepin. I shouldn't need to remind people of what he's done but, as a reminder, here is why people aren't happy about him being on the grid. There is a huge amount of evidence that he has a pattern of sexually harassing women and that goes beyond the infamous video of him groping a woman in the back of another person's car. He also has a history of poor behaviour towards other drivers (he most notably punched Callum Ilott back when they were both racing in the GP3 series when Illot blocked Mazepin during a practice session) and of doing dangerous moves on-track like what we saw him do to Yuki Tsunoda, Felipe Drugovich and Jehan Daruvala last year in Formula 2.
Mazepin gets away with all of this. Why? Because his father is a billionaire and owns a share in the team. Nikita Mazepin doesn't face any proper punishment for his actions because he can pretty much get his way out of everything. Being a billionaire's son is not an excuse for his terrible behaviour as Lance Stroll (son of former fashion tycoon, Circuit Mont Tremblant owner and Aston Martin CEO Lawrence Stroll) and Nicholas Latifi (son of Sofina Foods magnate and McLaren and Williams investor Michael Latifi) are both nice and well-behaved individuals who put their all into their roles as drivers for Aston Martin and Williams respectively. His behaviour isn't even representative of Russian Formula 1 drivers in general as Sergey Sirotkin and Daniil Kvyat were both well-liked by fans and the media, even if they weren't the best drivers ever when it came to the race weekend.
If all the accounts about him are to be believed, Mazepin is truly a horrible, horrible individual who uses his status to do anything he wants and get away with it. That's what the whole situation with Mazepin comes down to. He is well aware of the power he has as the son of an incredibly wealthy and influential man. He can do pretty much anything he wants and he has little to no remorse about anything. He only started caring in any way once he was caught out and even then his apologies had absolutely no substance. It's truly an embarrassment to the sport that he is still allowed to be there and an embarrassment to everyone at the Haas F1 Team who is working hard for the team to do as well as possible after the awful year for them that was 2020.
This whole situation is yet another embarrassment for the Haas F1 Team. It's proven once again that Haas cares more about money than morality. The team will be happy to put any old schmuck's sponsorship on the car so long as they can pay up, no matter how controversial they may be. The fact that Haas is still insistent on carrying on with carrying a livery that despite not breaking the FIA's rules on political statements is definitely somewhat of a political statement, representing a country on that livery whose leader is embroiled in one of the most controversial political scandals in recent years, having a title sponsor who are known for shady practices and a driver whose actions have already been talked about enough for me to not have to remind you about them is an absolute shame. It's a shame to the sport and a shame to the fans who watch it and follow it religiously.
All this is why, personally, I'm not happy with Haas's new livery. I really hope Haas recovers from this in some way. The Haas team is definitely full of people who mean well and really care about their work and they have a brilliant driver and wonderful human being in the form of Mick Schumacher. The constant controversy Haas brings to its name is unfair on those people and I genuinely, sincerely hope it gets better. It needs to get better.