The governing body of British motorsport, Motorsport UK, has suspended all Russian and Belarusian licence-holding racing drivers and teams from competing on UK soil.
This comes less than a day after the FIA took a different approach by ignoring the recommendation of the International Olympic Committee to ban all Russian and Belarusian competitors.
In the days since Russia first ordered an invasion of Ukraine last week, sanctions have been introduced against Russian-affiliated businesses – with ramifications spilling over into the sporting world as a result.
One of the most notable impacts from the off was at the Haas Formula 1 team, where it was decided to remove all traces of title sponsors Uralkali with immediate effect.
The VF-22 ran on day three of testing in a plain white livery, and with no Uralkali logos on any paddock assets or red and blue stripes on the cars’ livery – a design which has long been thought to represent the colours of the Russian flag.
What About Mazepin?
Russian licence-holder Nikita Mazepin’s drive at the Haas team looks to be hanging by a thread with Motorsport UK’s effective ban on him competing at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
The son of Uralkali boss Dmitry Mazepin and sole Russian representative on the Formula 1 grid previously looked to have been thrown a lifeline by the FIA’s decision to permit him to compete in a “neutral capacity” and under an “FIA flag”. However, his forced absence from at least one race of the season, known at such an early stage, is likely to quash any of his hopes of remaining on the F1 grid. The Motorsport UK announcement will set off a domino effect from the governing bodies of different nations.
Chairman of Motorsport UK David Richards stated: “It is our duty to use whatever influence and leverage we might have to bring this wholly unjustified invasion of Ukraine to a halt.
“We would encourage the motorsport community and our colleagues around the world to fully embrace the recommendations of the International Olympic Committee and do whatever we can to end this war.”
Even in the hypothetical scenario that Mazepin is allowed to compete in all Grands Prix bar one, he could expect significant logistical issues around the World as a Russian citizen. After all, Formula 1 is an international series with races in almost every continent.
If any of the countries on the 2022 calendar opt against recognising Russian visas, Mazepin wouldn’t even get to the track and Haas would be in need of a replacement driver.
If the team were to commit to retaining Mazepin’s services, the risk on Haas’s side and the trust management would be placing on their own political judgement to make sure their driver would actually get to races, is surely too high a risk to take.
As a Russian citizen, let’s not forget that Mazepin may even be banned from visiting Haas’ UK base in Banbury, Oxfordshire.
Although unlikely to be welcomed, a possible salvation for Mazepin could be in the wording of official statements, in that prospective bans seem to be on Russian licence holders, rather than Russian citizens. Does this leave the door open for Russian drivers to apply to different countries for a racing licence, as several drivers have done in the past?
In the circumstances, it would be a highly contentious practice and something I’m sure Formula 1 would be keen to distance itself from approving.
Where Does Haas Go From Here?
In an ideal world, of which on many levels does not exist right now, and from a solely sporting point of view, Haas needs to set its driver line-up in stone before the official pre-season test in Bahrain next week.
Team Principal Guenther Steiner had previously suggested reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi would be first choice to take Mazepin’s seat if required, although many have hypothesised that a more experienced permanent candidate could be parachuted in from elsewhere.
Fittipaldi replaced injured Romain Grosjean at the team in the final two rounds of the 2020 season, and reportedly has Brazilian financial backing.
The likes of former Alfa Romeo driver and current Formula E driver Antonio Giovinazzi, former F1 driver and current Aston Martin reserve Nico Hulkenberg and lesser-experienced rookies Oscar Piastri and Callum Ilott have also been touted.
Haas-affiliated Ferrari junior Robert Shwartzman would likely be faced with obstacles similar to Russian counterpart Mazepin, therefore he could not be realistically considered as a replacement.
Crucial legal meetings are to be held this week between Haas and Uralkali, with the highly-lucrative deal which subsidises Mazepin’s drive set to be forcibly cancelled and the controversial livery and branding discarded.
Therefore Mazepin’s future in F1, at least in 2022, looks set to have come up against an extraordinary hurdle which can not be pragmatically overcome.