Nikita Mazepin was dropped by Haas ahead of the new season following the events in Ukraine
Nikita Mazepin will not be on the F1 grid this season. © Hasan Bratic / picture alliance via Getty Images
Red Bull king Max Verstappen says there must be some “sympathy” for Nikita Mazepin after the Russian racer was sacked by his team Haas because of the conflict in Ukraine.
The new Formula 1 season gets underway in Bahrain this week but Mazepin will not be among the drivers lining up on the grid after Haas announced they were canceling the 23-year-old’s contract.
The American team also dropped its sponsorship deal with Russian fertilizer giant Uralkali, which is part-owned by Mazepin’s businessman father Dmitry.
Motor racing governing body the FIA had cleared Russian drivers to compete under neutral status for the upcoming season, although the UK racing authorities said they would ban Russian and Belarusian competitors from any events in the country.
Dutch-Belgian star Verstappen, who claimed a maiden world title in dramatic circumstances last season, has shared his thoughts on the situation in an interview with the BBC.
“You always have to feel sympathy with Nikita himself. Everyone, regardless of their background, they work very hard from a very young age to be a Formula 1 driver,” said the 24-year-old, who is expected to challenge seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton for the title again this season.
“Of course you can have a lot of backing, but you still need talent to drive these cars, even in Formula 3 and Formula 2, you need to be competitive. [Mazepin] definitely was that,” added Verstappen.
“At the moment it’s very complicated for him, but yeah let’s see. Hopefully in general the world can be at peace again, that’s the most important.”
Verstappen is reigning F1 world champion. © Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images
Mazepin has been replaced at Haas by Danish driver Kevin Magnussen, who teams up with Mick Schumacher – son of racing legend Michael – for what will be the German’s second campaign in F1.
Responding earlier this month to his sacking, Mazepin criticized Haas and said he had only learned of the termination of his contract through a press release. Discarded sponsors Uralkali have threatened legal action, calling the termination of the deal “unreasonable.”
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner this week confirmed he had not spoken with Mazepin directly, only informing him in writing that he would no longer be part of the team.
“Of course I’m always sorry when you have to do something like that,” Steiner was quoted as saying.
“The external circumstances that neither I nor he can change are just the way they are. You have to live with that and keep going.”
Mazepin and his father Dmitry have both been sanctioned by the EU and UK, with the British government announcing their names as part of a list which it claims targeted President Vladimir Putin’s “propagandists who peddle his lies and disinformation.”
UK adds Russian sports figures to sanctions list
In the wake of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, motor racing governing body the FIA terminated its contract in Russia, meaning this year’s Sochi Grand Prix and the planned race at the Igora Drive track outside St. Petersburg next year will not go ahead.
Russian channel Match TV also announced that F1 had canceled its deal to broadcast races in the country.