For a team manager rather known for - quote unquote - wearing his f***ing heart on his sleeve, one can only imagine the words emanating from Haas F1 Team boss Guenther Steiner’s mouth over the past couple of weeks.

From the intense shock and relief that came with Romain Grosjean’s miraculous escape out of his fiery crash in Bahrain, to the attention trained on the team following confirmation of its two new rookie drivers for 2021 to the face palming, breast groping actions of new steer Nikita Mazepin, Steiner will have been on an emotional rollercoaster with more loop-di-loop than anything you’d find at Six Flags.

Watching the video Mazepin posted to his own social media channels in which he reaches towards a female back seat car passenger and touches her breast while she flips him the bird is crass to say the least. Fun and games privately though it may be - and it must be pointed out the woman has come out to say it was a joke - in the context of who he is about to become, it’s wincing at best.

 

 

Kudos then goes to Haas for its swift statement condemning Mazepin’s actions as ‘abhorrent’, a word used very rarely in F1, least of all by a team at its own driver… one that hasn’t even joined Haas yet. 

It’s unlikely he’ll lose his drive though, as many have been calling for, but it is an awkward refresher for Haas that it will probably need to dedicate a larger portion of its media management team to the Russian youngster.

Indeed, the timing of this incident is bewildering. When Mazepin was confirmed with the Haas F1 Team only a week ago, the questions were inevitably steered towards whether he deserved the seat on merit.

To an extent he does. A GP3 runner-up in 2018 and fifth in the F2 standings with two victories is a decent route to the top of the sport; certainly more drivers have reached F1 with fewer accolades than that.

On the other hand, as the son of Dmitry Mazepin - Chairman of Uralchem and a net worth that could allow him to buy the Mercedes F1 team several times over - there is no doubt Nikita’s appointment comes with a healthy cash incentive. For a team that has made no secret of its financial issues, Nikita’s money and apparent talent does make him a very tempting prospect.

Yet for a driver that hasn’t even started an F1 race, Mazepin had already racked up a career’s worth of red flags to make any team boss uncomfortable even before this latest faux pas.

In his first season of F3 racing in 2016 Mazepin was excluded from a race altogether after confronting Callum Ilott - whom he ironically beat to the Haas F1 seat - and punching him in the face over a blocking disagreement. 

He has also been hauled up for certain incidents on track, while he was punished in Spa this year when he drove into his P2 board in parc ferme, right in the path of Yuki Tsunoda, in a seemingly deliberate show of disapproval for a five-second time penalty that demoted him from first to second. Red mist, maybe, but these should only ever be counted on one hand only.

Does this make him F1’s new bad boy?  Well, F1 doesn’t really need one in 2020.

Sure, our rose-tinted glasses gaze back pleasingly to the ‘old days’ when F1 drivers had a beautiful woman draped over both arms with a fag in the corner of the mouth, but in the year the sport has attempted to establish its ‘brand values’, there is enough evidence there to suggest Mazepin doesn’t reflect them, at least not right now.

In fairness, Mazepin already has to work harder to clamber out from under the shadow of his new illustrious team-mate Mick Schumacher, who may be the son of an F1 bad boy in Michael but by all accounts is a calmer, more collected profile of a driver.  Plus, of course, he has ‘that’ surname.

Mazepin has issued his ‘copy, paste’ trope-filled apology and the world will move on but, as he says, as an F1 driver he must hold himself to a higher standard where actions both on and off track are held under closer scrutiny.

A PR disaster this isn’t per se but Haas was probably hoping it was common sense it wouldn’t need to remind Mazepin of considering the weight of his prestigious promotion, least of all a mere week after becoming associated with one another.

Haas will need to think very carefully about whether to allow Mazepin and his cash reserves to become bigger than the team itself.

 

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