Haas driver Nikita Mazepin says he took learnings from Formula 2 to help him in his first season in Formula 1 last year, and he believes he improved massively as his debut year wore on.
Mazepin was signed alongside fellow F1 rookie Mick Schumacher to replace the departing Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
Sadly for the American team, they once again fell backwards from what was already an abysmal 2020 season, and finished last in the 2021 Constructors’ Championship.
The 22-year-old suggests that he had to hit the reset button midway through the year following a difficult start to 2021, and said that that having significantly more races in F1 compared to F2 aided his development.
“I used to not be able to restart my season in the middle. To be fair, it also has to be said that the seasons were much shorter,” Mazepin said in an interview with Motorsport Magazin.
“If you only have nine races, you have a lot fewer attempts. When you have 23 races you have a lot more tries. I am happy with the way it is going though.”
Asked if he needs time to acclimatise himself with new cars and challenges, a jovial Mazepin replied: “Definitely! I’m like wine, I get better with age! When I look at my career: If the car suits me and the setup is right, then I can be quick right away.”
Continuing, the Russian said: “But I need some time to get the car, the team and myself to function as a complete package until we can make the breakthrough.”
Mazepin’s first F1 race, the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix, ended after just a matter of seconds, with the rookie crashing his Haas car into a barrier.
Despite this, Mazepin said he is pleased at his general ability to keep his car out of the barrier.
“For me it’s like this in life: you have to look at the bottom line. The bottom line is that I avoid accidents. I don’t have many accidents on the track or retirements due to my own mistakes.”
Schumacher became rather upset with his team-mate at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix earlier last year, when Mazepin came close to feeding the German into the wall. The Russian, however, sees nothing wrong with a hard defence.
“And I defended the position. Ultimately, that’s what racing is all about. I already learned that in my karting days: even if I don’t have the speed, I won’t leave the door open. I try to fight.”
The rookie insisted he has no problem being overtaken by a quicker driver on track, but maintains that he always wants to fight.
“If the position is lost, then congratulations to the other. Then he did a very good job preparing the manoeuvre. But just because he is setting a better lap time doesn’t mean he can easily overtake.
“They are two completely different arts. One of the art is to drive fast. The other is to overtake.”
Mazepin finished 20th in the Drivers’ Standings in 2021, managing a best finish of P14 at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Reflecting on the 2021 season after the curtain-closer in Abu Dhabi, Haas F1 team principal Guenther Steiner described running two rookies in Mazepin and Schumacher as like “having children.”