By Georgina Melia |
Formula One’s successful, somewhat miraculous, 2020 season has just finished under the fireworks of Abu Dhabi. As is the nature of the sport, the end of the season also marks the departure of drivers from the sport or from one team to a new one. The 2021 season has not even begun and yet Haas F1 Team have found themselves having to release a statement on one of their new drivers, Nikita Mazepin, before he has even stepped foot in the car.
On 9th December, Mazepin uploaded a video on his Instagram story of him groping a woman’s breast in a car with the caption “she’s the best.” As a woman who follows the sport intensely, I felt incredibly repulsed by the action of a man that would soon by joining the pinnacle of the racing world. The Haas team tweeted that they did “not condone the behaviour of Nikita Mazepin” and that the “matter is being dealt with internally.” Haas’s statement has not given me the confidence that Mazepin is going to be dealt with accordingly. Formula One has raced under the banner of “We Race as One” this year – a promise of greater inclusivity, diversity, and a recognition of the efforts of key workers during the pandemic – which each team has committed to. Haas’s choice to deal with the incident “internally” creates a lack of transparency between fans of the sport and the team. To me, it undermines both the sport’s promise and indeed, the severity of Mazepin’s actions.
The reality is that the issue is enwrapped in both social culture and, naturally, money
This is the most recent of a long list of abhorrent and irresponsibleacts Mazepin has committed. He finished the 2020 F2 with 11 points on his licence; one more would have led to a race disqualification. He has also on more than one instance been xenophobic towards fellow F2 driver Yuki Tsunoda who will also be joining F1 in 2021. During an Instagram live F1 driver George Russell hosted this year, Mazepin commented: “I have a secret about you mate that people might call a coming out”, and in 2016 he punched fellow driver Callum Ilott for getting in the way of his run-on new tyres, giving Ilott a black eye and swollen jaw. What is clear to see is that Mazepin has a long and continual history of dangerous driving, racism, violence, and sexism. On the 10th December, the FIA (the sport’s governing body) and Formula 1 released a joint statement that it supported the Haas F1 Team in its response to Mazepin’s behaviour and that the “ethical principles and diverse and inclusive culture of our sport are of the utmost importance to the FIA and Formula 1.” I find myself questioning how important these values could be if a driver who has acted as Mazepin is only dealt with “internally.” If the reprimand is appropriate enough to withhold these standards, then why cannot it be told to the fans and used as a positive example? The reality is that the issue is enwrapped in both social culture and, naturally, money.
Haas F1 Team have struggled in the past few seasons – this season especially with an underperforming Ferrari engine – finishing the 2020 season the ninth constructor out of ten with only three points to their name. Mazepin, son of Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin, brings huge wealth and investment to the struggling American-owned team. If they took Mazepin’s seat away, they would lose the investment they desperately need to compete in the 2021 season. In a sport that remains male-dominated, in employees and fans, I cannot help but feel ostracised from the sport. What message does Mazepin retaining his seat at Haas tell women who watch the sport, women directly involved in the sporting paddock and more importantly, the women in the Haas garage – that money transcends morals? The issue transcends more than just F1 into the social battleground of consent which, frustratingly, is still constantly contested.
Twitter responses to celebrities actions such as these have a rightful reputation for being misinformed and toxic, but they are certainly telling of a culture that persists. Some responses I saw to Haas’s statement were: “don’t blame him. It’s okay to be you”, “what is his fault” and “so playing around with a woman is disrespectful now, huh?” Of course, these comments do not reflect the majority opinion, however they are indicative of a culture of trusting the perpetrator over the victim. Indeed, Mazepin’s own apology seems insincere, saying he must “hold himself to a higher standard as a Formula 1 driver”, yet not as a human being. Admittedly, the woman in the video put a statement on her Instagram story the same day saying that herself and Nikita had been friends for a long time and “he would never do anything to hurt me or humiliate me.” However before and since the incident they were not following each other on any social media platforms. I am now speculating, but I do ask the question – if they were such good friends, why were they not following each other and why in the video was she trying to remove his hand if it “was a silly way of joking” (quoted from her post) between the two? Some would argue that Mazepin has apologised and the woman involved has brushed it off, it can be forgotten about and we can move on, but the act of groping a woman – friend or otherwise – and posting it on an Instagram story of around 100,000 followers still unsettles me deeply. And indeed, a recent story post by said woman, when asking what advice people would give to their younger selves, said “don’t let anyone touch you or disrespect you again.”
The enquiry by Haas is continuing and the team principal has confirmed that we probably will not find out what has happened. I, as well as many others, await Mazepin’s presence in Formula One with a large dose of trepidation – this does not feel like the last scandal Mazepin will create nor the last undermining of the sport’s “Race as One” mantra. If Lewis Hamilton can be investigated by the FIA for wearing a t-shirt that says “Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor”, but Mazepin does not receive a more public enquiry about his actions, I remain cynical towards the governing bodies commitment to creating a more equal and inclusive environment within the sport.
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