As a father to two girls, it’s comforting knowing that when they ask me if they can be something when they grow up, I can confidently tell them “yes they can”. My middle daughter recently came to me asking if she can go karting, which being a motorsports enthusiast myself made me excited that I can (eventually, she’s not QUITE old enough) share this experience with her. I certainly think in my lifetime we will again see a female driver compete in Formula 1 in a driving role (not just a test or reserve driver). The question though is, will they feel welcomed and safe? I ask this, because of recent events within Formula 1 around the behavior of Haas driver, Nikita Mazepin. Known in F1 circles as a “pay driver” his reputation certainly hasn’t been helped by some of his on and off-track antics. But nothing will come to define him as much as the Instagram controversy recently that should have, but sadly did not derail his future F1 career.
About two weeks after being signed to Haas, Mazepin shared a video of himself to his Instagram stories which showed him reaching into the back seat of a car he was riding in and groping a visibly intoxicated woman. Condemnation of this was quick, and harsh forcing Haas to issue a response that they would “handle the situation internally and quickly”. Sadly, that I’m even writing this means that in the end, Mazepin kept his seat and will be driving at the pinnacle of motorsport next year and any punishment from Haas was a slap on the wrist. But why?
Like anything else in our world today, money is king, Formula 1 being no exception. Nikita is the son of Dmitry Mazepin, a Russian billionaire footing the bill for his son in motorsport. Without his dad’s money, Nikita wouldn’t have a seat in motorsport, his finishes in lower categories falling into the mediocre to bottom of the rung territory. But when you have something many of these teams desperately need, Haas being no exception here, you find yourself moving up the motorsports ranks along with truly talented drivers like Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Callum Ilott. That’s not to say that all pay drivers are bad, after all Niki Lauda was at one point a pay driver. That said, more often than not your average pay-driver is closer in skill to Pastor Maldonado than Niki.
Throughout the MeToo movement, we’ve seen a variety of people and organizations fail the victims of sexual harassment and assault. Universities like Penn State and Baylor, judges like Aaron Persky and now Haas in motorsport. About all they did though was release a statement in the immediate aftermath of the incident;
“Haas F1 Team does not condone the behavior of Nikita Mazepin in the video recently posted on his social media. Additionally, the very fact the video was posted on social media is also abhorrent to Haas F1 Team. The matter is being dealt with internally and no further comment shall be made at this time.”
Well, as we know now, Haas didn’t do anything about it, so it was likely dealt with “internally” with a “hey we like your dad’s money, we don’t like bad press so please keep your nose out of trouble”. I won’t lie and say I don’t understand Haas’ decision here, I just don’t like it. Haas’ monetary struggles as a team are certainly well known. To stay in the sport, they need the money, so for them its an easy one to put business before their principles, and don’t get me wrong, that’s what it is. It likely doesn’t hurt that the man providing all this money is a known litigious ass. But Haas certainly isn’t alone in this, plenty of other layers of leadership are condoning this action through their inaction.
In all likelihood, the average person likely thinks of Ferrari when they hear the name Formula1. Haas is, through their relationship with Ferrari a de facto junior team to Ferrari. Since joining the grid in 2016, they have shared a close technical relationship with Ferrari, culminating in the standing up of a technical center in Maranello in advance of the upcoming 2021 season. While Ferrari doesn’t directly receive funding from Mazepin, they are certainly receiving indirect assistance through this working relationship with Haas. Being linked through partnership, Ferrari was in a great position to leverage their power to compel Haas to make a change, they did not. Ferrari runs the Ferrari Drivers Academy, which currently provides Haas it with its other driver, Mick Schumacher (yes, of THAT Schumacher family). One of the other names attached to Haas (and Alfa Romeo) before they signed Mazepin was Callum Ilott, another Driver Academy driver. Having two of their drivers instead of just one in F1 is obviously a benefit for them. Given their relationship with Haas, its not out of the realm of possibility that they could have pushed harder on this. For whatever reason though, they’ve decided not to get involved and are and will be linked to all this by association.
In terms of s**t rolling uphill, we have Formula 1, and its sanctioning body itself, the FIA. From the outset, their joint statement on the matter was that it was an internal Haas matter;
“We strongly support the Haas F1 Team in its response to the recent inappropriate actions of its driver, Nikita Mazepin, ”the statement read; “Mazepin has issued a public apology for his poor conduct and this matter will continue to be dealt with internally by the Haas F1 Team. The ethical principles and diverse and inclusive culture of our sport are of the utmost importance to the FIA and Formula 1.”
I don’t even mind F1 and the FIA’s initial stance, but once Haas refused to deal with it, it WAS on them to act and do something about the situation. Considering both organizations have initiatives to get more women and girls involved in motorsports at all levels, this to me is one hell of a missed opportunity to send the message that this won’t be tolerated.
Of course, we have the man, or rather men at the center of this, Nikita and Dmitry Mazepin. Given Dimitry’s billionaire status, its obvious they live in a different class (and they know it) than the rest of us. Their status means they can buy their way out of problems like this. Their supporters trot out the same typical tropes we heard when the Donald Trump Access Hollywood tapes broke; “boys will be boys”. Excuse my French, but that’s a load of shit. Until we truly hold men like this accountable, regardless of how much money we have in our bank accounts then these problems will persist. Motorsports will continue to be a “rich boys club” despite the best efforts of organizing bodies to diversify their ranks.
As the father of a son, I would certainly hope I’m raising him to know that this is not the way to treat the women in his life. As father’s, we want nothing but the best for our children, I’m sure Dmitry is no different. The best for our children however can’t come at the expense of others. As I’ve mentioned though, this certainly isn’t Nikita’s first foray into terrible behavior, he’s got a long history of it on, and off track details of which can be found here, here and here. If his father WERE interested in truly teaching him right from wrong, I wouldn’t be writing this. No, a middling career in motorsport comes before being a decent human being.
As an almost 20-year fan of Formula 1, it hurts to have to write this. The sport has certainly had its fair share of controversies over the years, but given the times this one is different. My hope is, instead of boycotting races (if fans are allowed back in in 2021) is those who show up make it known very loudly that Nikita isn’t welcome. If the teams won’t, and the sanctioning bodies won’t, its on us as fans to stand up to this behavior. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen all too often recently these situations aren’t the exception, they’re the norm. Penn State, Michigan State, Baylor, Brock Turner, Donald Trump, the list goes on, and on, and on. Until we start holding men accountable for their horrible behavior, while women will be able to succeed at the highest forms of motorsport, they won’t feel welcome and fully equal. Take a stand, demand better, and do something about it.