Earlier this week, a number of fans leapt to the defence of the administrator of Haas‘ social media accounts after others once again let rip with a torrent of abuse as the backlash over Nikita Mazepin continues.
The Russian had already riled fans with his actions over the years, not least by punching F3 rival, Callum Ilott in 2016, believing the Briton had deliberately blocked him during a race. Late last year, after being announced as Mick Schumacher‘s teammate at Haas, the infamous video posted to his own social media account appearing to show him groping a young woman caused further outrage… as did the team’s apparent failure to deal with the Russian.
Even before his F1 debut, Mazepin remains surrounded by controversy, and in the same way he is dividing fans, some within the paddock also have their doubts.
“You can’t make a tiger out of a cow!” said Franz Tost in a recent TV interview, and though he didn’t name the Russian, most felt they knew exactly who he was referring to as he sang the praises of fellow rookie Yuki Tsunoda.
“In my long time in motorsport, I have found that, in the end, only drivers who are intelligent and know why they are doing something will prevail,” said the Austrian. “Of course, I could get brutal again and say you can’t make a tiger out of a cow!” he added. “In the end, it always depends on how much brain a driver has and then switches on in the cockpit”
“The social media response from all kind of groups was robust, wanting us to execute him for what he did, but that didn’t feel like the right course either,” team owner, Gene Haas told Racer this week.
“Our response to it was, I think Guenther told him that he was an idiot and you can’t do things like that, and it was totally unacceptable,” added the American who, already disillusioned with the sport, must surely be fearing the possibility of Mazepin inflicting further damage to his team.
“He’s 21-years-old, for a young man the deluge of criticism must have been difficult to take,” said the American. “I’m hoping it’s a good lesson learned. We’ll just have to see how that goes.”
Steiner insists that Mazepin is chastened by the reaction.
We continue to have dialogue with Nikita about many things, including what happened at the end of last season,” he told Racer.
“He took immediate responsibility for his actions. He apologised. He’s learned from this experience. He’s undoubtedly been chastened by it, and he’ll apply that moving forward in his career.
“The response on social media towards him is still strong,” he admitted, “we’re naturally aware of that via our team posts.
“While respecting that people are entitled to voice their opinions, no matter how vigorous, as a team we feel we have provided Nikita with the best environment to learn from this.”
Time will tell.