Nikita Mazepin is the first rookie driver confirmed for F1 in 2021, as he steps up to the big leagues with Haas next season.In an announcement that has come as little surprise, Haas have announced that Formula 2 racer Nikita Mazepin will step up to Formula 1 with them next year and fill one of their two vacant seats. The 21 year old Russian has been closely linked with the seat ever since Haas confirmed that they would drop Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for next year in favour of finding drivers with significant sponsorship backing.
Nikita Mazepin is very much a man coming from an affluent background, similar to the likes of Lance Stroll, Nicholas Latifi, and Lando Norris. His father is Dmitry Mazepin, founder and main shareholder of Russian chemical company Uralchem. Valued at a net worth of $7.1 billion in 2018, Dmitry’s fertiliser company Uralkali is emblazoned all over the racing cars of Nikita as they fund his career. In 2020, that sponsorship money secured him a drive with Hitech GP which has provided him with competitive enough machinery to work his way up to Formula 1.
It’s not yet confirmed that Uralkali will follow Mazepin to Haas, but don’t be surprised when the announcement is made. Haas, as a Ferrari engine customer, could have taken on Formula 2 title contender Callum Ilott, who is part of Ferrari’s Driver Academy. They’ve chosen not to, and they haven’t made that choice based purely on talent.
While Mazepin has arrived in Formula 1 with oodles of cash backing him, it would be unfair to say that he is there without any talent to back him up. His Formula 2 campaign with Hitech this year has been a big step forward compared to his first year in the series with ART. Only managing 11 points on his way to P18 in the championship in 2019, he has scored 162 points this year and is still a contender for the title outright. He’s 29 points behind Ilott in the title fight, and 43 behind Mick Schumacher. Mazepin won the feature races at Silverstone and Mugello this year, as well as appearing on the podium on four other occasions. In a year where the talent pool in Formula 2 is pretty strong, his performance has been meritorious and certainly not to be dismissed.
Mazepin was also runner-up in the GP3 Series in 2018, finishing only behind the late Anthoine Hubert after winning four races during that season. Hiw previous two years, in Formula 3, were less impressive with P10 in 2017 and P20 in 2016. He tested for Force India in mid-2016, and has since tested with the team on a few occasions as well as with Mercedes at the in-season test in Barcelona in 2019.
Less impressive was an altercation with Callum Ilott at the Hungaroring in 2016. Aggrieved by an incident on track, then 16 year old Mazepin approached the British driver and punched him in the face. Ilott was left bruised and shocked by the attack, while Mazepin was given a race ban for the incident.
“In life, when you make certain mistakes, people will ask you why you made them. I think it’s important to be asked those questions because that’s the only way to understand what you’ve done wrong.” Mazepin told Racer.com.
“It was a very young decision to take, and it’s just a mistake I’ve done. I had quite a lot of grief about it, and I had plenty of time to realize it. Things like this happen. Some people do stupid things on track, some people bad things off track, and I seem to be the one doing them off track. I’ve learned big time from it. I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
It’s evident that Mazepin has managed to learn to control his temper since, and has become increasingly impressive as a racing driver over the years since. His wealthy background has generated opportunities for him, including Formula 1 but Mazepin does appear to have sufficient talent and pace to justify his promotion. Team boss Guenther Steiner says his increasing maturity made him the best all-round choice for one of their seats next year: “Nikita has underlined his credentials in Formula 2 this year with a brace of victories and a handful of podiums in what’s been a strong sophomore season for him. He’s developed into a mature racer moving up through the junior ranks.”