Nikita Mazepin – What’s All The Fuss About?
Who is Nikita Mazepin, and why is he in the frame for an F1 seat in 2021?
This year’s driver market has been very ‘2020’ – Fernando Alonso returning to Renault, which will be renamed as Alpine; Daniel Ricciardo to McLaren; Aston Martin entering F1 and snatching Sebastian Vettel after being dropped from Ferrari; Carlos Sainz Jr to Ferrari – and these are just the announced changes.
Currently, the focus is on Red Bull and Haas, and while the Red Bull situation is rather messy, you would think the Haas lineup should be fairly straight-forward. Haas has strong connections with Ferrari, Ferrari have two Ferrari Driver Academy members leading the Formula 2 championship, Haas have two seats available. Surely, Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott are shoe-ins for Haas?
Enter Nikita Mazepin, quite possibly one of the least liked drivers in the F1 circus. Why is this guy looking likely to get the nod for a 2021 Haas drive over the likes of Callum Ilott, and more experienced drivers like Nico Hulkenberg and Sérgio Perez?
To answer that, let’s firstly look back through the Russian’s history in the junior formulae:
Mazepin made his single seater debut in the 2014-15 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship season, participating in only the opening event at Losail, Qatar, joining the likes of Mathias Lauda, Freddie Hunt and Ryan Cullen. In a field of 14 drivers, Mazepin fared quite well, with a podium in just his second race, and two other points finishes. He finished P10 at the end of the season despite only participating in the opening event, finishing ahead of several full-season drivers.
For 2015, Mazepin participated in both the Toyota Racing Series and the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC full time, and dabbled in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0. He had very little success in all three championships, with Mazepin taking just one podium all year, at the Red Bull Ring in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC. In FR NEC, he finished behind drivers including champion Louis Delétraz, Jehan Daruvala and Dries Vanthoor.
Nikita Mazepin, driving for ETEC Motorsport in the 2015 Toyota Racing Series // Image credit: Speedsport Magazine
In TRS, he finished even lower in P18 out of 21 drivers, in a season including Lance Stroll, Santino Ferrucci, Arjun Maini, Artem Markelov and interestingly, Callum Ilott. For reference, Ilott only managed P16, however with a best result of P4 (x3), while Mazepin’s best result was a singular P8.
Despite a lackluster 2015, Mazepin moved up to the FIA European Formula 3 Championship in 2016, where he raced full time. He also continued in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, and made appearances in British F3, however none of these were full time. Notably, Mazepin scored a victory, his first in single seaters, on his singular British F3 appearace at the second Snetterton race.
In European F3 however, the story was far from the same – Mazepin endured an awful season, finishing last of the full-season drivers in P20, having secured just 10 points. Callum Ilott that season, racing in the same series, scored 226, however in the Ilott-Mazepin rivalry, that is not what 2016 is remembered for…
At the second event in Hungary, Mazepin felt he was held up on his qualifying lap in Q2 by the Brit. After the session, the Russian made his feelings known to Ilott, shouting at then-Van Amersfoort Racing driver before punching him in the face, giving Ilott a black eye and a swollen jaw.
The stewards’ decision after was also abominable – after 9 hours, it was decided that Mazepin would receive a race-ban. Not an event-ban, but a race-ban, meaning Mazepin would only miss the first race of the weekend and be free to participate in the following two. Frits van Amersfoort, boss of Ilott’s team, was furious at the decision, calling it a ‘ridiculous decision’. In full, he said, “This is a ridiculous decision by the stewards. Callum was attacked twice in the face – twice! The first reaction might be emotional, but then they were separated, and he was attacked again.
“He has a black eye, he has a swollen jaw, he’s been hurt, not just attacked.
“When you make a tackle on the football field and the other player kicks you, he gets a red card immediately. I’m utterly disappointed by the stewards and the FIA.”
Mazepin in European F3 in 2016, driving for Hitech GP // Image credit: The Checkered Flag
Both drivers remained in the championship for 2017, with both having better seasons, with Ilott taking multiple wins en-route to P4 in the championship. Mazepin on the other hand took a handful of podiums, and finished 236 points behind Ilott in P10. Its safe to say that so far, Ilott looks to be the much better choice for Haas in 2021.
Then came 2018, where Mazepin and Ilott would team up at ART Grand Prix for the final GP3 season, along with Jake Hughes and the late Anthoine Hubert. Going on past performances, you would expect Ilott to have the better of Mazepin in equal cars, however that proved not to be the case, with Mazepin not just winning the first race of the year, but beating his rival in the championship overall. Mazepin ended the season on 198 points, with Ilott on 167, however they both lost out to their teammate Hubert, who’s consistency 11 podiums from 18 races handed him the title.
Mazepin testing for the Sahara Force India F1 Team in 2018 // Image credit: The Checkered Flag
This result, despite potentially being an anomaly in Mazepin’s record, granted him a promotion into Formula 2 in 2019 with ART, while Ilott landed a seat at the renamed Sauber Junior Team by Charouz thanks to his Ferrari backing. Ilott has a good debut year considering Charouz aren’t a frontrunning F2 team – with two podiums and an emotional maiden pole at Monza, just one week after the death of his friend and rival Anthoine Hubert.
On the other end of the table, it was business as usual for Nikita Mazepin. In a front running car, and with F2 veteran Nyck de Vries as his teammate, Mazepin had all the tools to fight at the front. It was, however, an abysmal season. He finished P18, the second lowest driver to participate the full season, with just 11 points, while de Vries won the title with 266.
A particular low point was at his home event in Sochi – Mazepin had secured a reverse grid pole, however after running wide at T2 at the start of the race, instead of following Jack Aitken and taking the escape road correctly, he decided to go the wrong side of the boards, resulting in him and Aitken colliding, sending Mazepin into Nobuharu Matsushita who crashed very heavily into the wall, before being hit again as Mazepin’s out of control ART arrived at the barrier. It was a perfect opportunity for Mazepin to impress in front of his home crowd, yet it ended up as a disaster.
Between the 2019 and 2020 F2 seasons, Mazepin participated in the 2019-20 F3 Asian Championship. Despite failing to win a race, he finished a respectable P3, but 43 points behind Jack Doohan in P2. He did however beat the likes of Williams young driver Jamie Chadwick and Haas F1 reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi.
Going into 2020, not much was expected from Mazepin – he was with Hitech GP, the team which he raced for in Asian F3 and European F3, but the team was new to the F2 championship and Dallara F2 2018 car. The team struggled in the opening two rounds, with veteran Luca Ghiotto suffering from reliability issues as well as a lack of pace. From the third event at Hungary however, something clicked at the team, with Mazepin taking P2 in Race 1, and Ghiotto winning Race 2.
Ghiotto then went on a pointless streak at the two Silverstone events, but Mazepin would consistently score points, taking the odd podium and win along the way, meaning at the time of writing, Mazepin enters the Bahrain double-header finale in P6 on 140 points, while Ghiotto lies in ninth on 104.
Mazepin celebrates victory at Mugello in 2020 // Image credit: FIA Formula 2
Meanwhile Ilott, now with UNI-Virtuosi Racing alongside preseason favourite Guanyu Zhou, is locked in a title battle with Mick Schumacher, with both Ferrari Driver Academy drivers impressing in their second years in F2. Fellow FDA driver Robert Shwartzman, reigning F3 champion, started the season strongly and looked favourite to win the title, however is yet to score in the last 4 races.
While Mazepin has impressed on track this season, with an outside shot at the F2 title, off track he has once again caused controversy. Ilott and Schumacher were meant to make their FP1 debuts at the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring for Haas and Alfa Romeo respectively, however all running on that Friday was cancelled due to fog and low cloud. During the day, Williams driver George Russell was live on Instagram, when Mazepin made an extremely disrespectful comment about Russell – “I have a secret about you mate that people might call a coming out.”
Regardless of whether Russell identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community or not, outing someone is unimaginably horrible. If someone isn’t out, its for a reason, and usually because the situation feels unsafe for them to be out. Saying something like this is not only disrespectful and rude, but could potentially put someone in danger.
For me, and many others, this was the last straw for Mazepin. After such a comment you would think Haas would want to look elsewhere for a driver, especially with the two FDA drivers of Schumacher and Ilott ready for F1. However, what Mazepin lacks in humanity and speed is made up for by money.
Money is key in Formula 1, and the Mazepin family is full of it. Dmitry Mazepin, Nikita’s father, owns the Uralchem Integrated Chemicals Company. Not only would Nikita’s immense backing by his father and other sponsors such as SMP and Uralkali, but there are rumours that Dmitry Mazepin is looking to buy into the Haas F1 team, or even completely buy the team off Gene Haas. Haas are one of the smallest, if not the smallest, teams on the grid at the moment, and after another poor year they won’t be getting much prize money, so a driver with lots of backing like Mazepin is exactly what they need.
Dmitry Mazepin, Nikita's father, in the F1 paddock // Image credit: Planet F1
If Alfa Romeo hadn’t announced today that they will retain both Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi for next season, it would be less of an issue – the previous rumours were for Schumacher to drive at Alfa alongside Räikkönen (which commercially would be heaven for Alfa Romeo), while Ilott and Mazepin would team up at Haas in a potentially juicy partnership, something that Haas isn’t new to.
However, while nothing is yet announced, it looks like Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher will lineup at Haas in 2021, leaving Callum Ilott on the sidelines. The decision for who drives at Haas next year could have career-defining implications for Ilott – if he doesn’t land an F1 seat, where else will he go? A return to F2 is unlikely, Formula E has filled up, as have most of the top IndyCar drives. SuperFormula would make sense, but the COVID-19 pandemic could play havoc with those plans with travel restrictions in and out of Japan. Ultimately I think it would be up to Ferrari, so let’s hope whatever happens, Ilott’s F1 chances for 2022 aren’t hurt.
There we have it, a look into the history behind Nikita Mazepin and the pros and cons of him making his F1 debut with Haas in 2021. I hope you enjoyed the read, and feel free to let me know your views on the matter in the comments.