KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (AP) — Russian driver Nikita Mazepin was dropped by Haas F1 despite the FIA ruling he could compete in Formula One races under a neutral flag.
Haas also ended its sponsorship with Uralkali, the Russian fertilizer company owned by Mazepin’s father. Dmitry Mazepin is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his son's contract to drive was linked to the team sponsorship.
“As with the rest of the Formula 1 community, the team is shocked and saddened by the invasion of Ukraine and wishes for a swift and peaceful end to the conflict,” Haas said in a statement Saturday.
Formula One earlier this week terminated its contract with the Russian GP. The race in Sochi was contracted through 2025.
That put the spotlight on Haas, an American team entering its seventh season of F1 competition. Haas last year overhauled its lineup and added rookies Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher.
Haas removed the Uralkali sponsorship markings from its cars last week following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Mazepin's status remained uncertain. The FIA ruled Friday all drivers must agree to its principles of peace and neutrality and “acknowledge the strong commitment made by the FIA to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine."
Mazepin posted on Twitter he had agreed to the stipulations and was disappointed in Haas' decision.
“While I understand the difficulties, the ruling from FIA plus my ongoing willingness to accept the conditions proposed in order to continue were completely ignored and no process was followed in this unilateral step," Mazepin wrote.
“I have treasured my time in F1 and genuinely hope we can all be together again in better times.”
Haas did not announce a replacement for Mazepin, who turned 23 earlier this week. He did not score a point last season and was derisively referred to as “Mazespin” for his propensity to bring out the caution flag.
Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi, is the reserve driver for Haas. He competed in two races for Haas in 2020 as the replacement for injured driver Romain Grosjean.
The 25-year-old was born in Miami and holds dual citizenship in Brazil and the United States. Fittipaldi, who lives in North Carolina not far from Haas' primary headquarters, ran three IndyCar races last season. He was in Abu Dhabi for the F1 season finale when Mazepin tested positive for COVID-19, but Fittipaldi was not eligible to replace him in the car because he'd not been on track that weekend.
F1 testing continues in Bahrain next week. The season opens March 20 in Bahrain.
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