Max Verstappen 'recharged' ahead of new F1 season
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Former F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has launched a passionate defence of Nikita Mazepin with the Russian driver’s future hanging in the balance. The FIA have decided not to outlaw Russian or Belarusian competitors, but Haas may still be swayed towards ending their relationship with the 22-year-old after it emerged that he would be ‘barred’ from competing at the 2022 British Grand Prix.
Russian President Vladimir Putin began a widely-condemned military assault on Ukraine last week, with hundreds of thousands now attempting to flee the country.
As Ukraine calls on the wider world to mount a strong response against their neighbours, F1 were quick to remove September’s Russian Grand Prix from the 2022 calendar.
Football’s governing bodies followed suit, banning Russian clubs and national teams from UEFA and FIFA competitions.
Mazepin’s future remains a topic of debate, and the FIA called a crisis meeting with the World Motor Sport Council on Tuesday to discuss how best to proceed.
The Automovile Federatrion of Ukraine had previously requested the suspension of all Russian license holders.
But the FIA ultimately decided that Russian and Belarusian drivers would be allowed to compete under the neutral ‘FIA flag’.
Ecclestone had already raised eyebrows by describing Putin as ‘honourable’ in a recent interview, and he backed the FIA’s decision by defending Mazepin.
“It was absolutely the right decision by the FIA,” the 91-year-old told PA news agency.
“There are so many things being agreed by the world about this conflict between Russian and Ukraine. But I don’t think anybody has really thought it through, or got their heads around it.
“If there is a Russian driver in F1, what does it have to do with Russia fighting a war? There is no relationship there.
“The Russian athletes have nothing to do with this conflict. They are not part of it, and they have never been part of it. They just happen to be Russian.”
Mazepin’s father is a wealthy Belarusian-born oligarch whose company, Uralkali, is Haas’ principal sponsor.
Team boss Guenther Steiner, along with Mazepin, were both pulled out of press conference duties during testing in Barcelona last week.
Haas finished bottom of the Constructors’ Championship last season, with Mazepin partnered by Mick Schumacher, son of legendary seven-time world champion Michael.
Many have questioned whether Mazepin deserves his seat on merit, having trailed well off the pace for much of 2021.
While tight-lipped on the subject matter in general, Steiner claims that Haas have means to survive if they lose their Uralkali sponsorship.
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