Nikita Mazepin’s former boss, Hitech’s Oliver Oakes, has defended the rookie driver, saying enough is enough with the “unjustified low blows”.
AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost, a man known for nurturing the talents of young drivers at Red Bull’s junior team, recently weighed in on this year’s three rookies.
But while he has kind words to say about Mick Schumacher and AlphaTauri’s own Yuki Tsunoda, he was harsh about Mazepin.
He told Auto Motor und Sport, Tost remarked: “Of course I could get brutal and say you can’t make a tiger out of a cow.
“In the end, it always depends on how much brain a driver has and then switches on in the cockpit. In my long time in motorsport, I have found that in the end only those drivers who are intelligent and know why they are doing something, and behave accordingly, will prevail.”
His ‘behave accordingly’ refers to the Russian driver’s controversial social media post in which he inappropriately touched a woman while it could also refer to the fact that the driver finished last year’s Formula 2 championship with 11 penalty points, one away from an automatic one-race ban.
However, Mazepin’s former Formula 2 boss, Oakes, says the blows levelled at the 21-year-old are unfair.
“I should really start by posing the same question that Lewis has – who is Franz Tost?” he told PlanetF1.
“Joking aside… It is very easy for someone who is in the F1 bubble to pass comment without knowing what they are talking about in junior formula. I guess that’s why Dr. Marko makes all the decisions for Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, thankfully for them!
“Nikita has been on the receiving end of some low blows lately and frankly it is unjustified.
“I would never condone any form of harassment against anyone – however, the truth is, this video did not feature anything of the sort. It was taken on a night out, among friends, who were drunk and acting silly. The girl in the video herself admitted publicly that it was posted as a joke among friends.
“Since the video, everyone has jumped on the band wagon and had their say. Nikita has rightly apologised and will learn from the experience. People need to remember that we all make mistakes, especially when we are young – how many of those judging Nikita can say they have never done something they immediately regretted, and with hindsight wish had never occurred?
“A few years back there was another F1 driver with a similar video squeezing a woman’s breast and he didn’t get this type of reaction. I just get frustrated because it is too easy to discredit people these days thanks to the reach of the media.
“People should just focus on themselves – Tost included. He should channel his efforts to be leading the midfield battle in F1. ”
Aside from that controversial video, Mazepin must also deal with pay driver criticism.
The son of a billionaire, the Russian driver, fifth in last year’s Formula 2 championship with Hitech, is the latest to enter Formula 1 with financial backing from his father.
“This whole bashing of drivers who are fortunate to have backing just drives me crazy, there isn’t one person racing in F3, F2 or F1 who is poor or doesn’t have some sort of support. It is the expensive nature of the sport of motor racing. Ultimately from F4 onwards, you’re in equal machinery so it really doesn’t matter what your bank balance is,” Oakes continued.
“The majority of F1 drivers on the grid entered their first years in F1 with financial support in one form or another until they proved themselves – whether that came from their family’s wealth, an engine supplier discount, an energy drink or whoever! The key part is those who then went on to stay there and form a career. F1 doesn’t take any prisoners, no matter how nice or talented you are…look at Albon recently.
“In F2 last season, no one gave Nikita any credit – he led a new team to F2 and remarkably he beat his more experienced team-mate, hands down.
“The drivers he beat in the championship – Lungard, Aitkin, Zhou, Daruvala etc – are all spoken about as potential stars – yet Nikita gets no credit for beating those guys at all.
“Instead, I read he’s had an advantage because he did some testing with Mercedes. It makes me laugh, every driver in F2 linked to an F1 Team did mileage in old cars. Prema even had old GP2 Cars for testing prepared with 18 inch tyres for Schumacher and Swartzman, no other team had access to that. Yet it doesn’t get a mention anywhere. It is just pure hypocrisy.
“As a new team we made a lot of mistakes, but he kept pushing us to improve and we got the right results for him to get his Super Licence and graduate to F1. He did not have the luxury like Schumacher had of getting a second year with a top team – Prema – after a poor rookie season.
“Nikita had to go off and rebuild, which takes hard work and, most importantly, character. He still has work to do, for sure – but on his day as we saw at Silverstone, Spa, Mugello etc he is as good as anyone on the grid.
“Yes, he needs to keep working to control his emotions, but that same part of his character is what makes him a great racer. I am actually tired of that being something negative and others judging it. If they are such experts, get on the track.
Most have no idea of what it is like to be in the midst of race, managing tyres, having a back marker basically drop you back into DRS – Bahrain Race 1 where Nikita got some stick for dangerous defensive driving – undoing the 40 odd laps you had led.
“He finished 2nd in GP3, had a tough rookie year in F2, then bounced back extremely well with a new team who ultimately, I have no shame in saying, made a few mistakes and without those he would have had much more of a championship push from the outset.
“I did not see them – Yuki or Swartzman – in that tough position. Swartzman got beaten hands down by Schumacher, in the top team and lost his head early on. Guys with lots of experience, Aitkin for example, were nowhere. He made his F1 debut and proved that this year was such strong field.
“It will be interesting to watch F1 next year to see how the three rookies go.
“Mick is obviously extremely well prepared, probably close to what Stroll was, alongside being Ferrari’s focus.
“Then you have Yuki, who you can obviously see AlphaTauri are seriously committing to and helping prepare, with significant mileage being clocked up in their old car. They will need him to do well, not least of all to keep Honda happy.”
Oakes has backed his former driver to show the world what he is made of as he takes to the track with Haas this season.
“I believe Nikita will surprise many people. He has always been quick in an F1 car as it suits his style, aggressive and front-footed. He also does not hold back – whether you love it or hate it, he is a fighter and has showed in F2 he is one of the best drivers out there in wheel to wheel racing. I will have a nice smile on my face as he begins to once again prove the doubters wrong.”