Formula 1: Nikita Mazepin already playing the victim card?

Nikita Mazepin, Haas, Formula 1 (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Nikita Mazepin, Haas, Formula 1 (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) /

Nikita Mazepin wants you to know that much of the hate he gets as he embarks on his journey in Formula 1 is because he is Russian.

The start of the 2021 Formula 1 season is just around the corner, and soon-to-be rookie Nikita Mazepin is coming off of a wild offseason that included not only one key controversy but an interesting instance of him playing the victim card as he prepares to make his debut alongside reigning Formula 2 champion Mick Schumacher at Haas.

Everybody is out to get him. That may be half-true after his tumultuous offseason, but have patience as I try to explain why he thinks that is the case.

Thanks in large part to his billionaire father Dmitry, the majority shareholder and chair of Uralkali, Nikita has landed on the path to becoming the Formula 1 driver he is now slated to officially become this weekend.

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And this isn’t just the whole “daddy’s money” garbage we hear about Lance Stroll. Anyone who actually follows the sport knows Stroll has proven he belongs in Formula 1, and it’s been quite entertaining watching him quiet the critics in recent years.

But Haas literally admitted why Nikita is here, and his limited success, relatively speaking, during his ascension to Formula 1 shows it.

Back to the Nikita’s past.

He punched fellow driver Callum Ilott in the face, leaving him with a black eye, a cut cheek, a cut neck and a swollen jaw. He tried to get a girl’s nudes in exchange for paddock passes and insulted her when she didn’t give him what he wanted. He made some questionable comments about COVID-19 and threatened to reveal a “secret coming out” about fellow driver George Russell.

He has endorsed multiple racist comments about Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda — and these aren’t the typical “racist” remarks that get flagged and deleted on social media simply because they have to do with supporting an opposing political candidate, which I’m sure many if not all of us are more than aware of by now.

And he insulted those who pointed out the inappropriateness of said comments.

He drove into the P2 board in parc ferme, sending it flying and nearly hitting Tsunoda with it after Tsunoda had beaten him Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps as a result of a penalty. He sent both himself and fellow driver Nobuharu Matsushita to the hospital after a crash at Sochi Autodrom two years ago.

Notice how I didn’t even mention the breast-grabbing Instagram video, which he has finally commented publicly on after several months following his deleted Twitter apology.

And he’s only 22 years old.

So why do people hate him?

Supposedly, because he’s Russian.

Obviously, right?

Not kidding. That’s literally what he thinks.

Here is what he had to say earlier this offseason — just weeks before the Russian flag-themed Haas 2021 car was revealed — on Russian TV program Match TV.

"“There are certain reasons, which have nothing to do with the world of speed, for which I am treated differently. I am used to criticism and I have no problems with it. Other Russian drivers, all at the highest level, professionals in all situations, have heard criticism that was not deserved. But life is like that. The fact that Russians are treated differently does not surprise me. All Russian drivers receive these criticisms, this hatred. Am I prepared for this? It is part of life. If you want to run, you need to face things like that.”"

Now that we’ve had several weeks to reflect on that statement, including the Russian flag controversy, the harsh feelings he and his father may have as a result of it, and the ensuing introduction of the Russian flag-themed VF-21, we still have one question as he prepares to make his Formula 1 debut this weekend: what is he on about?

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Let’s take a look at the Russian drivers in Formula 1 specifically, since that is where Mazepin is set to compete this year. Let’s debunk that theory right away.

There have been three Russian Formula 1 drivers all-time, most recently Daniil Kvyat, who lost his seat after the 2020 season. Kvyat, aka “The Torpedo”, was criticized for some of his early mistakes, but that goes for anybody, Russian or not. Overall, he and Vitaly Petrov, the only Russian driver to compete in the sport before he did, were well-liked by the media and the sport’s fanbase alike.

Everyone knows Kvyat has been shafted multiple times throughout his career and deserved better treatment than he got. Case in point, the fact that he again finds himself outside of the sport in 2021.

Given Mazepin’s history, however, it is quite ironic that Tsunoda is the driver who is set to replace Kvyat for the 2021 season. It should be interesting to see what happens the first time Tsunoda goes to put Mazepin a lap down.

Maybe Mazepin thinks that AlphaTauri hated his (and obviously Kvyat’s) Russian blood so much that they stuck his rival in the seat. No, seriously. That might not actually be too far-fetched, given the above quote.

Then there is the man, the myth, the legend: Sergey Sirotkin, who spent just one year in the sport.

“Hatred”??? For Sirotkin???

Sirotkin won a Sky Sports F1 online vote for the driver of the 2018 season by a significant margin, despite scoring just one point in 21 races.

While that was definitely more of a joke than not — and pretty much everybody got that joke and saw what was done there — can you see the same thing happening for Mazepin under any circumstance — even as a joke?

I don’t think anybody would be okay with that. But it wouldn’t matter, because nobody is going to allow that to happen.

I will give him some credit regarding the aforementioned Russian flag controversy, in that he won’t be able to compete under the Russian flag due to other incidents involving the country on the international sporting level. So there is that tension.

But nobody is out here blaming him for that or criticizing him for that, save for the fact that his father is effectively trying to get around it by having the sport’s lone American team run a Russian flag-inspired livery. However, nobody is accusing Mazepin of being a part of the doping scandal.

The unfortunate part is that Mazepin has done enough on his own to garner that sort of negative attention, both on and off the track.

But, I guess if it helps any before his rookie season starts: Formula 1 fans, please stop being out to get Nikita Mazepin. Stop hating him for being a Russian. It is clearly implied that this is the reason why you hate him. It has nothing to do with what he has done and how he has conducted himself on and off the track en route to his Haas drive.

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Fortunately, people can learn from their mistakes. People can change. That is one thing that Haas have vowed to work with him on, and Mazepin is supposedly open to growing, even though that hasn’t gotten anywhere in the past. Let’s hope, for everybody’s sake, that it happens. You never want to see someone outright fail, and that goes for him too, no matter what he has done in the past.