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19 Oct, 2021 11:03

‘He was always with his son’: F1 newcomer Mazepin recalls influence of Michael Schumacher before legendary driver’s ski accident

‘He was always with his son’: F1 newcomer Mazepin recalls influence of Michael Schumacher before legendary driver’s ski accident

Formula One racer Nikita Mazepin has recalled his dealings with teammate Mick Schumacher's father, Michael, and how he reached out after the seven-time champion's skiing accident that left him with a brain injury in 2013.

Schumacher junior's first full Formula One season has been a testing one alongside newcomer Mazepin, with both prospects still yet to put points on the board for the Haas Ferrari team and persistent talk of tensions between the two 22-year-olds.

Arguably the driver who has received most criticism from fans this season, Mazepin has been accused by Schumacher of being hellbent on beating him in races, while the Russian hopeful has insisted that the pair have a good relationship off the track and are determined to push each other to positive effect when they are in action.

"The team certainly doesn't like it," Mazepin told RBC, discussing the occasional collisons both drivers have been involved in this season and his rise through the ranks with Schumacher.

"More often not in my car, but in my partner's car – several times they changed wings due to his mistakes. And there were difficult conversations related to this.

“I don’t remember our first meeting, but I remember well our first difficult incident. It happened in a race, if I'm not mistaken, in 2013.

"It was the penultimate lap. We fought wheel to wheel. As you know, karting is a contact sport compared to Formula 1.

"And it so happened that [Schumacher] turned around, and I won the race. In karting, no-one discusses such moments, but he was terribly unhappy."

Schumacher and his revered father were "not entirely happy" with the German prodigy's "general form", according to Mazepin.

"He once again stayed in the junior class, and I became the vice-champion of the world [in 2014, behind current Formula One driver Lando Norris] and got a promotion in the class," he added. "The whole year was then in my favor."

Despite their longstanding rivalry, Mazepin has described the respect he held for the Schumachers during their formative years – and revealed that he swiftly became aware of the horrific accident that the 52-year-old remains in recovery from.

"At the age of 11, I still did not understand his contribution to world motorsport, and for me he was just a famous racer," he said.

"I don't remember the details of our first meeting, but I remember well how I first realized the popularity of Schumacher.

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"He was always with his son, my rival. We had quite a few contacts, but we always had the most respectful relationship. He is a fantastic person and will always be an example for me.

"We were in the neighboring resorts of the French Alps [when the accident happened]. My family was in Courchevel, and Mick was with his family in Meribel, so we were among the first to know about what happened.

"I phoned and wished him a speedy recovery. A week later, we met with Mick at the winter starts in Italy, and I was amazed at how professionally he approached them, despite what had happened. And this at a young age [of 14]."

Details of Schumacher's progress have been scant, although numerous reports have suggested that the champion with Benetton and Ferrari, who is one of the greatest athletes of all time, has made slow improvements while finding his communication abilities limited.

Mazepin says he has also been influenced by the time his father – businessman Dmitry – spent in the military, his early experiences watching MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko with his dad and the guidance of Radmir Gabdullin, the President of the Union of Mixed Martial Arts MMA of Russia who became his first coach.

"It has always been in my heart," he said, explaining that he only stopped pursuing MMA because of his racing talent.

"Even last year, I spent a 14-day training camp at the Olympic base in Kislovodsk together with our MMA team and Radmir Gabdullin. That's why I really love it."

Former UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is an ally and inspiration. "I am always ready to watch how he works," said Mazepin.

"We had lunch together in Moscow and now we keep in touch. Recently, during the Sochi Grand Prix, I was written off. Everyone is good at [different skills]: Khabib is in a cage, I am on the track."

Mazepin and Schumacher will race again at this weekend's US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

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