Sunday’s chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix, was one of those rare possibilities where F1 legendary commentator Murray Walker’s famous phrase was never more apt. ‘In Formula 1 anything can happen, and it usually does’ an alignment of words synonymous with the much-missed voice of motorsport. For Haas F1’s Nikita Mazepin, the very worst thing happened when he was taken out of the race on lap 4 through no fault of his own. A sequence of events eloquently described by the Russian as ‘****ing annoying’. However, in the long-term Sunday may prove to be one of the best moments of Mazepin’s F1 career so far.
The Haas F1 Team has been focusing on 2022 for the majority of the season. As a result of running largely the same package as 2020, the team has struggled to compete on track. This means that all fans of the American-owned F1 team have been left with is seeing whether Mick Schumacher or Nikita Mazepin will come out on top in the battle of the teammates.
Therefore, such is the performance of their VF-21 that any chance of points will surely only come in the unlikeliest of circumstances. As such, Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix which saw Alpine record a most improbable victory through Esteban Ocon whilst both Williams Racing drivers scored points - was tailor made for Haas F1 Team.
Unfortunately, for Nikita Mazepin, his race was over by lap 4 when an unsafe release for Alpha Romeo’s talismanic driver Kimi Räikkönen caused irreparable damage to the Russian driver’s right-front suspension. Nikita Mazepin described the incident as ‘very ****ing annoying’ but actually being seen as an innocent bystander may be exactly the turnaround in PR this divisive racer needs.
As the lights went out and chaos ensured following the late braking of a remorseful Valtteri Bottas, a free from harm Nikita Mazepin, on intermediates, gained five spots on the opening lap. Unfortunately though, he also sustained a puncture as a result of the debris which slowed his progress. When the inevitable red flag followed to clear the track, with the race just 3 laps old, there was real hope for the restart.
After the debris had been cleared, and the race restarted some thirty minutes later, Nikita Mazepin was set to take the restart from a promising 14th position. Following a formation lap, his second of the day, the Russian rookie and the rest of the field bar seven-time F1 Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton – boxed to change tyres due to the improving track condition.
Having entered pitlane and started to turn into his allocated pitstop position, Mazepin was met by an unsafely released Alfa Romeo with Kimi Räikkönen behind the wheel. Mazepin was a passenger to what followed as he was side-swiped by the number 7 challenger of the former F1 Drivers’ Champion.
Nikita Mazepin’s left-front sustained terminal suspension damage and he was forced into an immediate retirement. In response, the stewards unsurprisingly decided that Alfa Romeo was the culpable party and warranted a 10-second time penalty for Räikkönen.
Kimi Räikkönen’s post-race comments showed he was well aware of the promising prospect ahead of his team on Sunday.
“Everybody decided to come and change tyres and then unfortunately they released me and I got hit. I pretty much knew that we were going to get penalized because that’s what happens when you release in the wrong time. And that was pretty much the end of our race at that point. We had a good chance to score a lot of points, but obviously we gave them away.”
At the time of Räikkönen’s post-race remarks, Sebastian Vettel had not been controversially disqualified for failing to provide a sufficient fuel sample reasoning. As things stand, Kimi Räikkönen did make it into the points after all by claiming 10th position. An outcome which no doubt further compounded Mazepin’s misery.
Alfa Romeo at the time believed they had thrown their points away but Nikita Mazepin was well aware that he had his chance of points taken away:
“The lack of laps and lack of a result is very ****ing annoying. That’s one race I really wanted to be in,” Mazepin continued, “not only for me but I think this race offers a lot of opportunities and my team does really need those opportunities, and it’s just unfortunate that other teams make mistakes and send cars out.
The incident had come in the melee of an unexpectedly overcrowded pitlane as a host of drivers sought to capitalize on track condition:
“I mean, it was obvious that I need to double stack. I’m not allowed to stay in the pit lane and hold people up, so I need to go somewhere, and I was willing to go into my box, I couldn’t turn in any later, and the Alfa just came out and took my tyre off.”
Nikita Mazepin had an inauspicious start to his F1 career following some controversial social media posts. As such, the fanbase of F1 largely turned against him and this coupled with ‘Mazespin’ jokes turned the racer into a caricature for many.
However, to his credit – as far as Mazespin goes – the Haas F1 Team, Mazepin and Team Principal Guenther Steiner have masterfully embraced this and lightened the pressure in doing so. Such was the popularity of the viral post which featured Steiner presenting his driver, Nikita Mazepin, with his own spinning top with the engraving - ‘spin to win’.
Following this, the ‘We say no to Mazepin’ brigade do appear to have lessened and after a sequence of clean(er) races, Mazepin was starting to be judged for his on track performance rather than incidents off it. Consequently, Sunday’s start in Hungary had all the signs of a promising drive for the Russian.
Nikita Mazepin was asked whether he felt the pitlane crash had cost him his first F1 points, he told F1.com:
“It could have been but it’s not going to be. I strongly believe that I have a long career in Formula 1 but that’s seriously not the way I want to go into summer break. You want to give it everything and at least leave this weekend tired with a sore body and a sore neck… It’s just really annoying.”
Annoying it may be for the Russian racer but being seen as a sympathetic figure may in reality do Mazepin’s growing popularity no harm. Maybe it will be that which keeps him in Formula One for many years to come.