Decision on Russian F1 star Mazepin ‘has to happen now’
Formula One team Haas are said to have played down a claim that they have axed Russian driver Nikita Mazepin after just a season with the team.
The team, which has a Russian main sponsor in Uralkali and removed its Russian flag-colored livery in pre-season testing following the invasion of Ukraine, have 'separated' from the Moscow-born rookie, according to Sky.
The report quoted Ralf Schumacher – the brother of seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher and uncle of Mazepin's teammate, Mick Schumacher – as saying that a "complete separation has to happen now".
Haas called the report "inaccurate", according to Sky Sports, although Mazepin has been hit with a ban from the British Grand Prix in July after Motorsport UK barred all Russian and Belarussian racers from competing.
It was unclear whether six-time F1 race winner Schumacher was referring specifically to Mazepin or potash fertilizer producer Uralkali when he explained: "We have two factors.
"On the one hand there is external pressure and, on the other hand, the fact that Haas is an American team.
"But [Haas team boss] Gunther Steiner emphasized that the team is financially broad enough.
"I can also imagine that one or the other sponsor will come around the corner. I think the team will close this gap."
The governing body for Formula One, the FIA, said on Tuesday that Mazepin would be allowed to start the season, which begins in Bahrain on March 20, under a neutral flag as part of sanctions against Russia.
Sky also claimed that reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi is in line to take over from Mazepin for the start of testing in Bahrain ten days before the race.
Haas had sounded an optimistic tone before the start of Mazepin's debut campaign, unveiling their striking new colors ahead of a season in which neither the prospect nor fellow newcomer Schumacher earned a point.
Mazepin's father, Dmitry, is a Russian businessman who has a stake in Uralkali and is on the company's board of directors.
In a public message on February 25, 23-year-old Mazepin said: "To my fans and followers – it's a difficult time and I am not in control over a lot of what is being said and done.
"I'm choosing to focus on what I can control by working hard and doing my best for my [team]. My deepest thanks for your understanding and support."
The ban on Russian and Belarusian drivers at Silverstone is the latest punishment imposed on sportspeople from the countries.
The Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games and football governing bodies UEFA and FIFA are among the other major sporting organizations to have taken action.