The news that most of us expected was confirmed on Saturday: the Haas F1 team dropped their lead sponsor Uralkali and driver Nikita Mazepin. The Russian invasion of Ukraine put the relationship with Russian fertilizer company and title sponsor Uralkali on edge with the only real option to sever ties. Collateral damage in the deal was driver Nikita Mazepin, who only had his F1 seat because of his dad’s involvement with Uralkali and his seat was built into the contract. Now that the decision has been made official, it will be interesting to see how Haas responds to the major changes.
Obviously, the loss of a title sponsor is tough to absorb, especially for a small team like Haas. According to team principal Guenther Steiner, “Financially we are OK” but I’m not sure I believe that statement. He went on to say that “It has no implementation on the team, how we are running it, how we are doing, how we plan the season.” It’s hard to imagine the loss of a significant revenue stream won’t have any impact at all on the team and with the final testing sessions in Bahrain less than a week away and the season opening race a few weeks away, I imagine his sentiment in the short-term may be accurate. The long-term picture is much fuzzier for the American team.
If Haas can’t gather new funding before too long, their financial viability will be in question and may lead to the need to sell or fold the team. According to Steiner, “There are more ways to get the funding. So there’s no issue with that”, but if that were true, then wouldn’t they have brought in more funding already and expanded their team and efforts? If there is money on the table from multiple sources, than it makes it even harder to understand why Haas is as small as they are and why they are as far behind in performance. Last season, they weren’t competitive really at any point, saying there were focusing their resources on 2022, but have put fewer test laps on the car than any other team thus far. The verdict is still out on whether their focus on the new car, sacrificing the 2021 season was worth it.
The other interesting question right now is who will be the driver that replaces Mazepin. My favorite and according to some sources the most likely choice is Pietro Fittipaldi. He’s currently the Haas test driver, so is involved with the team and is an up-and-coming future driver with only 2 F1 starts under his belt. The Brazilian driver is 25yrs old and has a strong genetic link to F1, as his grandfather, Emerson, won 2 F1 titles. Another strong option for Haas and someone many believe is their choice, has a lot more experience: Antonio Giovinazzi. The Italian driver has 62 F1 starts from 2017 through 2021, driving for Ferrari (2017-2018) and Alfa Romeo (2019-2021). In 2019, Giovinazzi had his career best 5th place finish and while he has never finished above 9th in any other race, his experience is a huge plus for a small team.
If it were me, I’d ride with the young Fittipaldi, but I’m guessing the rumors about Giovinazzi prove correct. With a team losing their title sponsor, already at a significant disadvantage in resources, and facing limited track testing time, the experience may be more valuable to Steiner and Haas. Paired with 2nd year Mick Schumacher, they could be a solid pair to try and scrape Haas from the depths of the basement into the lower-middle of the pack. Some big decisions still remain for Haas F1.