(GMM) Former team driver Kevin Magnussen is returning to Formula 1 to replace the axed and furious Russian Nikita Mazepin, whose sponsor Uralkali is not ruling out legal action.
Mazepin, who has just turned 23, told reporters on Wednesday that boss Gunther Steiner did not even give him any notice that the Ukraine crisis had resulted in cancellation of his contract.
“I’m a young man, and I was not ready for it,” said the Russian, who was personally mentioned in the latest swathe of European Union sanctions along with his father Dmitry, for the closeness of the relationship with Vladimir Putin.
“I did not speak to Gunther personally and I still haven’t,” Mazepin revealed.
“It’s situations like these when you see the real face of those around you.”
Mazepin insisted he didn’t want to even mention the Russia-Ukraine conflict that has gripped the world, but he says the consequences have “destroyed” the careers of many Russian athletes.
“I appreciate the small number of drivers who expressed their support for me – Sergio, Valtteri, Charles, George, they all contacted me. They know how important the situation is.
“Nothing political, but just on a personal level because athletes and lives have been broken and destroyed.”
Mazepin and Uralkali, a major Russian fertilizer company, have in response set up the familiarly-named ‘We Compete As One’ foundation.
“It will be funded by Uralkali using the money that had been intended for Formula 1 this season,” he said.
“We will begin with the Paralympic team in Russia, which was banned from the Games in Beijing.”
At the same time, Dmitry Mazepin-run Uralkali issued a statement demanding that Haas repay sponsorship money that has already been paid for 2022.
“Haas failed to meet its commitments by terminating the contract prior to the first race,” a spokesman said. “Uralkali should therefore be promptly compensated for the payments Haas received.”
Nikita is also not ruling out legal action, insisting he has “a few options open”.
He is not, however, interested in a return with Haas.
“Formula 1 is a dangerous sport and you have to trust the team you work with. Unfortunately, I have to say that I don’t have any confidence in them anymore,” the Russian said.
However, it is the European Union that has now banned Mazepin from even travelling in Europe, prompting the racing driver to wonder: “Is there no place anymore for neutrality in sport?
“Does an athlete not only have the right to an opinion, but also the right to keep that opinion out of the public space?” he added.
Mazepin did, though, insist that much of the Western world is missing the bigger picture about the conflict.
Speaking from Moscow, he said: “Those who do not live in this part of the world see only part of the conflict. People from Russia and Ukraine understand it on many more levels.”
Finally, Mazepin said he is not planning to race in another category this year, but insists that his Formula 1 chapter is not “closed”.
Haas’ freight delay in Bahrain means the team will only emerge in the afternoon of day 1 on Thursday, with Magnussen saying he is “excited” to return to F1.
“I really have to say thank you to both Peugeot and Chip Ganassi for releasing me promptly,” said the Dane.