Russia's Mazepin shocked at firing from F1 team, creates foundation

Russian driver Nikita Mazepin. (XPB/Press Association Images)

Russian Formula One driver Nikita Mazepin said he's still shocked about being fired from the Haas team following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and is creating a foundation to help excluded athletes.

Mazepin was fired last Saturday following F1's decision to terminate its contract with the Russian GP.

``I did not expect Haas would break the contract with me. I didn't see it coming,'' Mazepin told reporters Wednesday in a news conference. ``It was a very painful and unexpected situation for me.''

He was not informed by team owner Gene Haas or team principal Guenther Steiner, but by a lawyer.

``I do feel like I should have had more (support) because there has been no legal reason for the team to terminate my contract,'' he said. ``I lost my dream.''

Mazepin, whose father reportedly has close links with Russian President Vladimir Putin, sidestepped questions about the war, saying he sees it ``on many more levels'' than outsiders.

Mazepin learned he was fired at the same time the press did.

``I'm a young man at 23 and I was not ready,'' he said. ``I did not receive any hint or any support to say `This is is the decision we've taken, it's going to go live in 15 minutes, just be ready for it.'''

He wants to come back to F1 but not with Haas.

``Formula One is a dangerous sport, and you have rely and believe in the team you are working with,'' he said. ``It's a question of safety. I think it's fair to say I do not have that trust in them.''

Motorsport's governing body FIA has banned Russia from all international events but allows individual drivers as neutrals without their national symbols, flags, colors and anthems.

Ahead of the new season, which starts on March 20 in Bahrain, the FIA also demanded drivers sign its principles of peace and neutrality and ``to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.''

Mazepin said he would have signed it but added that he was looking into further clauses of the document when he was fired.

``I was ready to sign. I would have done it only for one purpose, because I am a racing driver and I wanted to compete,'' he said. ``Because my contract has been terminated there really is no point in talking about what I could have signed.''

Haas also ended its sponsorship with Russian company Uralkali, which is partly owned by Mazepin's father, Dmitry Mazepin.

The company is considering legal action.

``Uralkali intends to protect its interests in line with applicable legal procedures and reserves its rights to initiate judicial proceedings, claim damages and seek repayment of the significant amounts Uralkali had paid for the 2022 Formula One season,'' Uralkali said in a statement Wednesday.

Money that should have been pumped into the F1 team will fund Mazepin's foundation called `We Compete As One' _ which echoes F1's motto of inclusion ``We Race As One.''

``The foundation will allocate resources, both financial and non-financial, to those athletes who have spent their lives preparing for Olympics or Paralympics, or other top events, only to find that they were forbidden from competing and collectively punished just because of the passports they held,'' Mazepin said.

Jobs and legal and psychological aid will be provided.

``No one is thinking what happens next to these athletes,'' he said. ``This will include athletes from all conflict zones. Our door is open to everybody. We will begin with the Paralympic team from Russia, which was banned from the Games in Beijing having first been told they could travel.''

Mazepin began his news conference by making a brief statement concerning the war.

``Those who don't live in this part of the world, or were not born here, will only see a part of it. Those of us in Russia or Ukraine see it on many more levels,'' he said. ``I have friends and relatives who have, by force of fate, found themselves on both sides of this conflict.''

But he did not directly answer whether he deplored the war and whether he could feasibly be seen as a neutral athlete given his father's reported links to Putin.

``Regarding the conflict that is ongoing, I have stated my views and my position,'' Mazepin said. ``There will be no more information.''

Mazepin received messages from F1 drivers Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc and George Russell.

``It was nothing political,'' Mazepin said. ``They supported me in feeling for me losing the opportunity.''

His former teammate was not among them.

``Mick Schumacher did not express anything positive or negative. In situations like this you can see the true face of everybody around you,'' he said.

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