Nikita Mazepin may be Russian, but he’s the perfect American anti-hero | Formula One

The classic American sports villain has many forms. Bill Laimbeer was the elbow thrower for the Detroit Pistons. Bill Romanowski was the Denver Broncos’ loogie eater. Mike Tyson bit a guy’s ear. And now there is Nikita Mazepin, the Formula 1 driver who is also an all-time foil.

Without a doubt, the inclusion of Mazepin in this thug’s gallery will strike some as harsh given that this is the 22-year-old’s first season at the wheel of Haas, the tanker backmarker representing the United States. . But to those of us who have watched him in the last five Grands Prix, his early work looks like bogus Russian literature – slow and winding. Last weekend in Monaco marked the first time he overqualified his teammate Mick Schumacher – but that was largely due to the fact that Michael’s boy caused damage of around half a million dollars in dragging his car into a Casino Square exit barrier.

During the race itself, Mazepin proved to be the lesser enemy of the circuit limits in Monaco, where the prospect of witnessing an overtake in the narrow streets of the principality becomes more and more fantastic as the cars of Modern Formula 1’s get longer and wider; his biggest crime last Sunday was crossing the track limits, a point of contention that most drivers have relied on all season. Prior to that, however, the driver – who would earn the nickname “Mazetwirl for a series of unforced erasures – was on a downward spiral.

Earlier this month at the Portuguese Grand Prix, Mazepin got his first points penalty for five blue flags – the international sign for make way for the much faster driver behind you. One of those drivers was Sergio Pérez, who was fighting desperately to keep the lead of his Red Bull squad when he collided with the aggressively stubborn Russian, forcing the Mexican to give up the pass and lock his brakes to avoid a collision. After an immediate investigation, the race marshals slapped Mazepin with a five-second ticket, when he was already one minute from the peloton at the time of his transgression. Pérez’s assessment of Mazepin on his team radio, however, was much more blunt: “Fuckin ‘stupid.”

Last month at Imola, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi called Mazepin ‘a fool’ and ‘honestly, so stupid’ after rookie Haas interfered with the Italian’s final qualifying round. (Mazepin response: “The track is just not big enough for all of us.”) A week later, in Catalonia, Mazepin ruined Lando Norris’ qualifying session, dooming the McLaren driver to ninth place.

Naturally, Mazepin received another points penalty and was entered on the grid for the blue flag foul. But since he qualified dead last to the race and his team remain scoreless this season, it’s fair to question not only if the punishment equals the crime, but if it emboldens the criminal as well. Mercedes manager Toto Wolff appeared to struggle with exactly this paradox during the Spanish Grand Prix. At the end of the race, Lewis Hamilton, in the lead, rushed towards Mazepin, who once again closed his elbows. “Blue flags! Wolff barked at race director Michael Masi over the radio. “This guy is making us lose position!”

In a championship where words are terse and spoken in coded sequences, it was a stunning revelation that, to the well-trained ear of ex-pilot Jolyon Palmer, nonetheless sounded like more fodder for the antagonistic arc of Mazepin. But Mazepin is not just a bad boy. He is a To pay driver. His father, Dmitry, a billionaire chemical and fertilizer monopoly who is close to Vladimir Putin, attempted to buy Force India after the team was established in 2018. But after the Canadian auto mogul Lawrence Stroll beat him on that deal, Dmitry reportedly bought his boy a seat with Haas late last year. Earlier this month, the two scions almost came close in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, with Stroll knocking down Mazepin the Bird in an irony too rich even for the sport.

After all, Stroll himself was seen as a rolling traffic cone before becoming a more than competent midfielder – proof that money can at least fuel racing talent, if not outright buy it. But the elder Mazepin might well write checks that can’t be cashed by his boy, who would surely be out of seat if his last name was Hamilton or even Raikkonen. (Worse, this even more damning video of him quibbling with engineering instructions in the middle of the Monaco GP makes it seem like Mazepin doesn’t have the most basic open-wheel driver talent for high-speed multitasking.) And yet: Mazepin jumped into F1 despite a hectic junior career that includes a ban on throwing a punch that left a rival with a black eye and a swollen jaw.

Haas taking risks was in some ways inevitable given owner Gene Haas’ shady past and his cash-strapped F1 team’s banter with soft drink sponsor Rich Energy. It was hardly a surprise when, four months after Nikita’s signing was announced, Dmitry Uralkali’s potash fertilizer conglomerate followed as title sponsor and dressed up the Haas livery in the colors of the Russian flag – under which Nikita is notably unable to run due to recent decisions against the country’s systemic doping practices. (Wada would investigate Haas’ color scheme.) Since then, Haas has had to defend against rumors of a total takeover of Mazepin.

So it turned out that when an Instagram story surfaced of Mazepin groping a woman’s breast after Haas signed, the driver didn’t suffer much beyond having to issue a public apology ( the woman later said they were friends and it was a joke, although she later ditched it on Instagram after posting a MeToo hashtag). In fact, watching him do his part in F1’s We Race As One PSA for inclusion and justice is witnessing a deeply empowered white man who doesn’t care. He almost confirmed it earlier this month.

After insisting not to join his fellow pilots, who showed their solidarity with the global struggle for social justice by kneeling before the races, Mazepin buckled down for the Prix d’Espagne – but to commemorate the Soviets who fell in the Second World War on the 76th anniversary of the surrender of the Nazis. “My grandparents took part in the war,” Mazepin told Match TV in Russia. “Yesterday I saw statistics say that it is a holiday which is even more important to Russians than the New Year.” Honoring the suffering of one’s country in the past is of course commendable, but not caring about acknowledging other suffering is the worst type of All Lives Matter trolling.

That aside: maybe Palmer is on to something. It is perhaps a little wrong to designate Mazepin as the No.1 public enemy in a sport which owes its world domination of motorsport as much to dishonest leaders like former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone as to questionable world leaders like Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman. Also, in an America where a reality TV star who brags about grabbing women can be president, where there are “great people on both sides”, where citizens don’t think their supplier of local fuel pays a ransom in bitcoins if that means there is no more hoarding. gas in garbage bags, who could really call Mazepin a bad guy? The more he fails upward and rubs shoulders with the law, the harder it is not to appreciate him for who he really is: the perfectly-timed all-American hero we so richly deserve.

About Keith Tatum

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