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9 Mar, 2022 11:43

Axed Russian F1 star hits out at former team

Nikita Mazepin opened up after he was ditched by American F1 team Haas
Axed Russian F1 star hits out at former team

Russian F1 driver Nikita Mazepin has criticized former team Haas for the way it terminated his contract, while fertilizer giant Uralkali will seek an immediate refund of its sponsorship money for the 2022 season after its deal was also suspended amid Russia's military operation in Ukraine.

Motorsport authority the FIA recently left the door open for Mazepin to compete under a neutral flag, although Haas still took the decision to part ways with the Russian driver and the Uralkali company partly-owned by his billionaire father Dmitry.

Uralkali has announced it intends to seek damages and an immediate refund from Haas of the money it has already paid for the new season, while Mazepin has now blasted the American team for how it has handled the decision, saying it was "unfair" and "based on nothing" at a press conference on Wednesday.

"I value relationships in life," Mazepin was quoted as saying.

"Formula 1 is a unique sport, you need to create a team, [and] chemistry between employees. I was very disappointed with how it all happened," added the Russian, who completed his maiden campaign in F1 alongside the son of all-time great Michael Schumacher, Mick, as part of the Haas team in 2021.  

"I was worried about my future when I flew out of Russia. I was told that if I agreed to the terms of the FIA, there would be no reason to fire me.

"I appreciated the relationship with [Haas principle] Guenther Steiner, I trusted him. But I have not received any information from the team. I learned about the termination of the contract from a press release," Mazepin lamented.

"I am 23 years old, I was not ready for this. At least [they could have had] 15 minutes of conversation with me ."

Mazepin also spoke of a "painful" time for those from his region, and said that he understood "very well" that the world is not what it was two weeks ago.

"Those who were born outside of Russia see it from one side, those in Russia and Ukraine see it differently [too]," Mazepin went on.

"I have friends and relatives there who were caught up in the conflict," he revealed, while pointing out that he had not wanted to make public statements about the topic for the past fortnight.

Elsewhere in the press, Uralkali, which is one of the world's largest potash producers and was Haas' main sponsor, announced that it regards Haas' decision "unreasonable" and believes that sport "should always remain out of politics and not be subjected to pressure from external factors".

Uralkali said that it "plans to defend its interests in accordance with applicable legal procedures", and reserves the right to initiate legal proceedings and claim damages for the amounts paid to Haas for the upcoming 2022 F1 season plus losses it incurred. 

The Russian firm claims that "most" of the sponsorship money due for the new term has already been transferred to Haas, who then terminated the agreement before the first race of the season meaning Haas' obligations to Uralkali have not been fulfilled which pushes Uralkali to demand an immediate refund. 

Uralkali vow that the amount returned by the team and the remaining money it was meant to pay Haas for 2022 sponsorship will be used to create the We Compete As One athlete support fund.

Mazepin announced the fund on Wednesday morning at the press conference, for athletes "who have lost the opportunity to compete".

Confirming that it will be sponsored by Uralkali, Mazepin said the fund will provide legal assistance when athletes "wish to challenge their status" as per being excluded from international competition or having to compete as neutral athletes.

"We will start with the Russian Paralympic team," Mazepin disclosed. "The purpose of the fund is to allow athletes to receive support from sports that they do not receive, so that they can compete by sporting rules and not by nationality," he concluded.

Meanwhile, Steiner insists that Haas are financially "OK" without Haas' sponsorship money. 

"It has no implementation on the team, how we are running it, how we are doing, [or] how we plan the season. There are more ways to get the funding, so there's no issue with that," the Italian stressed.