Formula 1: Could the new Haas livery cause major issues?

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Formula 1 (Photo by KAMRAN JEBREILI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Formula 1 (Photo by KAMRAN JEBREILI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

Haas unveiled their livery for the 2021 Formula 1 season, and many have pointed out that this could cause problems due to a recent ruling.

On Thursday, Haas announced that Russian chemical company Uralkali had become their new title sponsor, their first since Rich Energy in 2019, ahead of the 2021 Formula 1 season, and they launched their challenger, the VF-21, for the upcoming season.

Rookies Mick Schumacher, the reigning Formula 2 champion, and Nikita Mazepin, the son of Uralkali majority shareholder and chair Dmitry Mazepin, are set to drive the VF-21 throughout the record-breaking 23-race campaign.

Take a look.

Many were quick to criticize Haas, the sport’s lone American team, for effectively “selling out”, introducing a Russian flag-inspired livery.

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The team admitted when they signed Mazepin that they did it primarily because they needed the money, and he is heavily backed by his father. However, could this actually cause a deeper issue than fans simply being turned off by the design of the livery?

In December, the international sports tribunal Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reached a verdict in the Russian doping case, leading to Russia not being allowed to participate in sporting events for the next two years. This includes a ban on the Russian flag and national anthem.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had imposed a four-year ban on Russia the year prior after it was discovered that Russian authorities had deliberately erased and manipulated doping data stored in a Moscow laboratory in order to prevent their athletes from being punished for taking banned drugs. So the ban was effectively halved.

It remains in effect through 2022.

This punishment was targeted at keeping Russia out of the Olympics, which it will do for the 2021 Summer Olympics and the 2022 Winter Olympics, making a return possible no earlier than the 2024 Summer Olympics. But because of the international impact it has, its effect is not limited to just that.

It also prevents Nikita Mazepin from being able compete in Formula 1 under the Russian flag.

So father Dmitry came to the rescue and effectively turned the cars of America’s Formula 1 team into Russian flags.

Is that allowed?

There is no clear-cut answer — other than, of course, the implied.

Formula 1 is sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), and the FIA have been a Signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code since December 2010.

This livery, even if already cleared by the FIA, should certainly garner some attention, given the damage it very well may do to the value of Liberty Media’s investment. In fact, the WADA are already investigating it.

There are a few other things to consider here. While there are several parts of the car where the Russian flag is clear (as in, it isn’t just “Russian-flag inspired” and you could literally cut out a Russian flag), including but not limited to both sides of the front wing, the case could be made that the actual flag doesn’t appear anywhere.

And that case, while not technically true, could be perceived as accurate.

So could the case that “red, white and blue are America’s colors”, but we all know that wasn’t the goal here.

However, the only way that case ends up actually needed to be made by anybody (and it might happen, given the ongoing investigation) is if the team are put in a position where they are deliberately lying about the design.

It’s obvious that that’s what the goal was — a Russian flag. Whether it was meant as an “F U” to the WADA or not, who knows. But this goal is best explained by pointing to the fact that Uralkali, Mazepin’s business, does not have a color scheme that looks anything like his nation’s banner. So the colors clearly aren’t for sponsorship purposes.

But at the same time, given their past, it would surprise absolutely nobody if nothing ends up happening and the Mazepin duo are effectively exempt from the ban.

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Preseason testing is scheduled to take place from Friday, March 12 to Sunday, March 14 at Bahrain International Circuit, and the season is scheduled to get underway at the same location with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, March 28.