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Nikita Mazepin

Wolff defends Mazepin after Haas axe: He merits an F1 seat

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who handed Nikita Mazepin time behind the wheel of a Mercedes F1 car back in 2019, has defended the axed Russian racer.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has moved to defend Russian racer Nikita Mazepin, a driver he says merits a Formula 1 seat.

The 22-year-old has been dropped by Haas F1, along with personal and team title sponsor Uralkali, following Russia's widely condemned invasion of nearby Ukraine.

Mazepin's father, Dmitry, is majority shareholder and current chair of Uralkali. With severe economic restrictions being placed on Russian businesses, Haas moved to sever ties with Uralkali and, as a result, Mazepin was also ousted from his race seat.

Haas' move to disassociate themselves with the Mazepins has brought to an end the youngster's F1 dream after just one disappointing season at the sport's highest level.

Despite being a two-time F2 winner, Mazepin struggled against younger teammate Mick Schumacher and was out-qualified by the German in every round besides one during 2021.

But the Russian merits an F1 seat, says Wolff, who has admitted that he is in two minds regarding calls to ban Russian drivers.

Wolff in two minds over Mazepin

The FIA never took the decision to ban Russian drivers, instead offering them the chance to race under the flag of the FIA as neutral competitors.

Mazepin released a statement on social media, saying that he would have been willing to agree to do so, with the decision to remove him being taken by Haas and not the sport's governing body.

Wolff knows Mazepin well, having handed the youngster time behind the wheel of a Mercedes back in 2019, following three successful seasons as a test driver for Force India.

"I'm in two minds, because for Nikita himself, he is a guy that merits to be in Formula 1 – he can drive," Wolff told BloombergTV.

"You can see that some of the sports leagues have decided to allow Russian athletes to compete and others have been stronger in denying them access.

"I think, as an athlete, it is difficult, but to support the robust sanctions, you can understand why."

Wolff: We have Russians and Ukrainians at Mercedes

"I am Austrian, and Vienna is only 400 kilometres from Ukraine, and who would have thought that we would see another war in Europe?" he continued.

"Formula 1 and the sport seem so minuscule in that context, so we decided not to race in Sochi, and I think that F1 has given a robust statement like many other industries in the world.

"I think this is the overwhelming topic today and it allows us to reflect on all the little annoyances we have in the sport, that there is so much more important than this.

"We have Ukrainians and Russians on the team; it is certainly not easy for all the individuals who have families there.

"It is tough times and, from a personal perspective, having grown up in Vienna with parents of Slavic background, I feel what is happening even closer to my heart."

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