Steiner defends Haas over ‘pay driver’ claim

Jon Wilde
Nikita Mazepin

Haas open to Hitech supporting Nikita Mazepin.

Guenther Steiner has defended the Haas team’s decision to hire a driver in Nikita Mazepin who brings significant funding with him.

Mazepin has been dismissed in some quarters as a ‘pay driver’, one whose financial benefits can be construed as outweighing what he contributes in terms of talent.

The Russian is the first driver to be confirmed by Haas for 2021 as a replacement for Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.

His team-mate has yet to be confirmed, but it is expected to be Mick Schumacher in a line-up of two Formula 1 rookies.

Schumacher currently leads the F2 Championship and is favourite to wrap up the title in Bahrain at the weekend. The son of Michael Schumacher, the seven-time F1 World Champion, is 14 points ahead of Callum Ilott, with Mazepin another 29 points back in third.

Mazepin’s father, Dmitry, is a billionaire businessman who, two months ago, was linked with buying the Haas team – something which has subsequently been denied.

Haas team principal Steiner has insisted that just because a driver provides an injection of money, it does not mean he is not up to the job – and cited some credible examples.

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Haas team principal Guenther Steiner
Guenther Steiner

“There’s a lot of drivers who get into F1 thanks to financial backing,” Steiner told Autosport. “There are very good drivers in F1 who in the beginning brought a sponsor.

“The first one to call is Checo [Sergio Perez]. Checo came to F1 and it was ‘he’s a pay driver’. Look at Checo now, he finished on the podium [Turkish Grand Prix], he’s doing a good job.

“George Russell for me is one of the best drivers, but without the help of Mercedes he wouldn’t be anywhere.

“There’s a lot of them there. Lance Stroll, he was on the podium [Italian Grand Prix]. If they are good in F2 and they have a sponsor, that’s a perfect solution.

“When I spoke with Niki Lauda a long time ago he said ‘I made it into F1 thanks to a bank which sponsored me so I could go and buy a drive’. I think it was BRM at the time. And he was a three-time World Champion.”

Steiner stressed that Mazepin’s strong F2 form has qualified him for the drive, adding: “I followed him the whole season, what he was doing.

“For sure he had a difficult start, and without that difficult start he would be fighting for the championship.

“So that’s what I see. I can’t see any more than that. Results always talk.”

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