Nikita Mazepin of Russia steers his car followed by Haas driver Mick Schumacher on October 10, 2021.
Reuters  — 

Russian driver Nikita Mazepin hit back at the US-owned Haas Formula One team on Wednesday for firing him after his country’s invasion of Ukraine and announced a foundation to support athletes unable to compete due to war or politics.

The 23-year-old told reporters in a video call from Moscow that the “We Compete as One” foundation would be funded by money paid by Uralkali, the Russian potash company owned by his billionaire father Dmitry, to Haas.

Uralkali said separately it had already paid most of the now-terminated 2022 title sponsorship to Haas and would be seeking immediate repayment while also reserving the right to claim damages.

No financial details were available and team title sponsorship contracts are confidential.

Mazepin said there had been no contact with his former bosses or former team mate Mick Schumacher, son of seven times world champion Michael.

“In situations like this you can see the true face of everybody around you,” said the Russian, who had several moments of tension with his team mate last year after being out-performed by the German.

Others, including Mercedes’ George Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, had sent “very simple” personal messages of support, he added.

“They know how important the sport is to them, to their lives. They supported me in feeling for me for losing that opportunity to compete,” Mazepin said. “Nothing political. Just personal, keep your head up.

“It was just what I believe a good human being should do.”

He did not discuss the war or politics.

Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, has said Russian and Belarusian drivers could still take part in competitions in a neutral capacity.

Mazepin said he had intended to do that, citing the example of tennis player Daniil Medvedev who has been allowed to continue playing, but not under the Russian flag.

He said he had not given up his dreams of competing in Formula One, would stay in race condition ready for any opportunity and had no plan to seek a license from another country.

Medvedev has been allowed to continue competing.

The foundation, whose name echoes F1’s “We Race as One” initiative to promote diversity and equal rights, would start by helping Russian Paralympic athletes sent home from the Beijing Games, he added.

“The foundation will allocate resources … to those athletes who have spent their lives preparing for Olympics or Paralympics or other top events only to find they were forbidden from competing and collectively punished just because of the passports they held,” he said.

Mazepin, who would have been Russia’s sole F1 driver this year and whose career has been funded by his father, said the foundation planned to help athletes from all conflict zones.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to sanctions across global sport, and Belarus, a key staging area for the full-scale invasion, has also been punished.