Guenther Steiner has detailed the day Russia invaded Ukraine which had huge ramifications for his Haas Formula 1 team.
While the effects of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 were felt more severely across Europe and the world, it also had a significant impact within the world of Formula 1 and the Haas team.
Since 2021, Haas had been taking the money of Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin in order to secure his son, Nikita, a place in a Formula 1 team.
But when sanctions were swiftly placed on Russian activities, it meant the sponsorship money dried up and soon Haas terminated both the sponsorship contract of Dmitry Mazepin’s Urakali company and the driver contract of Nikita Mazepin.
It caused more than one headache for Steiner, who once again found him and his team at the centre of a sponsorship controversy and, instead of answering questions as to how they hoped to find a few more tenths of performance, he was instead asked for his thoughts on a major European conflict.
In fairness to Haas, they acted quickly, sacking Mazepin just nine days after the invasion began, and replacing him with the returning Kevin Magnussen before announcing a new title sponsor with American money transfer company MoneyGram shortly before the 2022 United States Grand Prix.
The fateful February 24 date has been detailed in a new book written by Steiner entitled ‘Surviving to Drive’.
“Jeezoz Christ. What a day!” Steiner writes. “I’ve had to make notes so I don’t forget anything.
“I woke up to the news that Russia has now invaded Ukraine. Oh great! I obviously feel very sorry for the people who are directly affected by this but I can only look after my own ship, you know?
“When it comes to motorsport, all eyes are on us at the moment. I didn’t even turn my phone on until after I got to the track this morning as I knew it would be ringing off the hook. When I eventually turned it on there were over 100 texts and about 70 voice messages.
“The first person I saw when I arrived was one of our engineers, who made me laugh.
“Guenther,” he said. “Only Haas could have a Russian driver and a Russian sponsor at the start of a Russian war that makes everybody else in the world hate Russia!”
“I almost wet my trousers. He’s right, though. We have some kind of curse on us, I think.”
Steiner went onto to detail the conversations he had with Nikita, but the relationship certainly did not end on an amicable note with the Russian repeatedly expressing his displeasure at his sacking and also launching a legal case against Haas for alleged unpaid wages last year.
“I had to have a very difficult conversation with Nikita Mazepin, our driver,” Steiner recalls.
“I know that his father, Dmitry, who is the majority shareholder of our main sponsor, Uralkali, is close to Vladimir Putin and, at the end of the day, I don’t want our team to be associated with someone who starts a foking war, you know?
“Nikita said that he wasn’t interested in politics and just wanted to drive. I understand and appreciate what he’s saying but it’s a bit bigger than that. It’s so difficult for everyone.
“Everything we’ve had thrown at us since the invasion started has been opinion and it’s been relentless. The two things that every adult has in common are an opinion and an arsehole, and when the two meet, bullshit suddenly appears.
“I went to my office for a board meeting. They wanted to know what I thought, as team principal, so I told them. ‘Drop the Uralkali branding’ I said. ‘Change the livery to white and tell the whole foking world that is what we have done.’
“If we retained Uralkali as a sponsor and had them on our livery we’d be crucified by the media, the fans and the FIA. It would be suicide and I’ve got enough on my plate!
“The whole thing is what people these days call a very “fluid situation”, which basically means that nobody knows s**t about what’s going on. I hear it all the time. It’s trendy these days.”
Steiner’s book is released on April 20.