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.
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.
“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.”