Having grown up in Austria, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff feels the impact of the war between Russia and Ukraine, and is glad to see the Russian Grand Prix removed from the calendar.
On 24 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, leading to widespread condemnation from the international community.
Mohammed ben Sulayem, president of the FIA, held a meeting with other members of the governing body to discuss what response motorsport should emit regarding the war in Eastern Europe.
They decided to cancel the Russian Grand Prix that was set to be held in Sochi in September, before F1 confirmed that it had ended its partnership with the promoters of the race in Russia.
The Austrian capital of Vienna is just over an hour’s flight from Ukraine, and Wolff is in disbelief that, following the horrors of the two world wars in the 20th century, more violence has erupted in Europe.
“I am Austrian, and Austria Vienna is only 400 km from Ukraine, and who would have thought that we would see another war in Europe?” he told Bloomberg TV.
“Formula 1 and the sport seem so miniscule in that context, so we decided not to race in Sochi and I think that Formula 1 has given a robust statement like many other industries in the world.
“I think this is the overwhelming topic today and it allows us to reflect on all the little annoyances we have in the sport that there is so much more important than this.”
The Mercedes boss revealed that there are employees from both countries working for the team, and he extends his sympathy to them during a horrific war between what Daniil Kvayt described as two “brotherhood nations.”
“We have Ukrainians and Russians on the team, it is certainly not easy for all the individuals who have families there,” Wolff added.
“It is tough times and, from a personal perspective, having grown up in Vienna with parents of Slavic background, I feel what is happening even closer to my heart.”
As a result of the conflict, Haas took the decision to drop Uralkali as a sponsor, meaning that Nikita Mazepin, whose seat was paid for by his father, Dmitry – oligarch and part owner of the Russia-based firm – had his contract terminated by the team.
The 23-year-old suggested that his compliance with the FIA’s new rules surrounding the involvement of Russian and Belarusian drivers in F1 had been “completely ignored” by his team, and Wolff sympathises with the young Russian.
“I’m in two minds because for Nikita himself he is a guy that merits to be in Formula 1, he can drive,” he explained.
“You can see that some of the sports’ leagues have decided to allow Russian athletes to compete and others have been stronger in denying them access.”
However, as a result of the sanctions imposed on Putin and Russia, the 50-year-old understands why Haas ultimately had to cut Mazepin loose.
“I think as an athlete it is a difficult but to support the robust sanctions you can understand why,” he stated.
The termination of the Russian Grand Prix contract puts an end to the proposed race in St Petersburg that was due to take place from 2023.