Mazepin made his first entry at the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix back in MarchLukas Raich/Wikimedia Commons

Formula 1 is often described as the “playground of the rich” that’s only accessible by virtue of wealthy relatives and hefty financial backing, and this outlook hasn’t been helped by the prevalence of pay drivers in the sport. Such drivers are able to provide large financial incentives for the team they race for, as opposed to being paid by the owner of their car to compete.

Esteban Ocon, the son of a French mechanic, and Lewis Hamilton, whose father worked multiple jobs to support his child’s early karting career, are usually championed as examples of less fortunate individuals reaching the lofty heights of F1. These are notable anomalies, however, as the wider field this season is predominantly made up of racers hailing from immensely privileged beginnings.

“Mazepin is evidently allowed to conduct himself with a degree of impunity off the track, but also on it”

There are varying degrees to which the presence of familial wealth is visible in the sport. For example, the part-owner of Aston Martin F1 Team is Lawrence Stroll, whose son Lance conveniently occupies one of their two seats in the paddock. Lance Stroll is a talented driver, becoming the second-youngest driver ever to reach a podium in the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix at just eighteen years old. Before Lawrence assumed ownership of Aston Martin last year, he reportedly gave Williams F1 $80 million to ensure Lance’s seat. While he can be described as a pay driver due to his billionaire father’s monetary involvement, Lance’s presence in the paddock is backed by solid performances on the track.

Russia’s Nikita Mazepin, on the other hand, is a pay driver whose performances have certainly not warranted a place in F1. Mazepin signed with Haas F1 in the 2021 offseason after placing fifth in last year’s F2 Championship, winning only two races over the course of the season. He is joined at Haas by Mick Schumacher, son of F1 legend Michael Schumacher, who won the 2020 F2 Championship.

Mazepin’s father, Dmitry Mazepin, is a majority shareholder of Russian chemicals company Uralchem. The oligarch originally tried to purchase the team now known as Aston Martin back in 2018, but actually lost out to Stroll in a controversial bidding war. Eventually settling for Haas F1, Mazepin promised to ensure “financial stability” in exchange for Nikita’s place at the wheel. The Haas car is now emblazoned with the name of Uralchem’s subsidiary company, Uralkali, and is also painted with the colours of the Russian flag; a clear indicator of the oligarch’s influence over the team.

“His recklessness and basic errors have characterised his brief F1 career and fellow drivers have not been shy with their criticisms”

Barely a week after Mazepin’s arrival at Haas, he posted a video on Instagram of him inappropriately touching a female in the back seat of his car. The woman, who later defended Mazepin, outstretched her middle finger in the video to reject his advances. The scandal caused a furore amongst the F1 community, with more than 40,000 people signing a petition calling for Haas to rescind his contract. Haas, however, did no such thing, unwilling to lose out on the rewards that Dmitry Mazepin could provide. It’s hard to believe that, if another driver without such financial support posted a similar video, their contract wouldn’t be terminated.

On top of this, Mazepin has made questionable remarks on social media, responding to a fan who informed him of a racist message he had received with “this is a real world,” followed by a Russian flag. Back in November last year, he celebrated the “birthday” of Covid-19, attributing it to “the guy in Wuhan [who] ate a [bat emoji].”

Mazepin is evidently allowed to conduct himself with a degree of impunity off the track, but also on it. In pre-season testing in Bahrain, he spun off the track twice, following that up with two more in qualifying. Finally, in the race proper he managed to crash after losing control on Turn 3, ending his first F1 race in approximately thirty seconds. At Imola, Mazepin crashed in practice and finished last out of those who completed the subsequent race, while in Baku this summer he almost collided with Schumacher after swerving at the last second as his teammate attempted to overtake. Such driving has earned him the nickname “Mazespin” amongst the F1 faithful. His recklessness and basic errors have characterised his brief F1 career and fellow drivers have not been shy with their criticisms, sending irascible radio messages calling out Mazepin for dangerous manoeuvres.


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Although Mazepin’s time in F1 has been rocky, it must be said that it is not entirely his fault. Schumacher has also struggled in the Haas car, widely acknowledged to be the worst mechanically out of this year’s field. The team hasn’t secured a single point all season and finishes most races trailing the leaders by a few laps. While Mazepin has undoubtedly been bad this season, the car he is racing in is a good way behind the others and makes his job even more difficult. With his father’s money, Haas could make genuine improvements before next year’s season and, if they do, Mazepin has no excuses to not perform and can no longer hide behind the ailing machinery he currently deals with.

Nikita Mazepin has only been in the sport for eight months, but he has firmly established himself as the brat of F1. Arrogance and entitlement off the track, combined with poor driving on it, cements his status as a pay driver. Without Dmitry’s chemical billions, he would not be on the roster. He is a talented driver, for sure, but not talented enough to be in F1 on merit. Unfortunately, Haas needs money, and so Mazepin’s presence in F1 will not be as short-lived as many hope.