Former Formula 1 driver Nikita Mazepin is set to take part in the Silk Way Rally in Russia in what will be his first official participation in competitive motorsport since his sacking from the Haas Formula 1 team.
Mazepin raced 21 times for Haas last year, missing the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi after contracting COVID-19, and he looked set to once again partner Mick Schumacher this season, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine put an end to that.
The FIA ruled that all Russian and Belarusian competitors are to compere under the neutral flag, and they banned branding from those two countries being displayed at FIA sanctioned events.
This meant that the relationship between Ukralkali and Haas came to an end and, since Mazepin’s father Dmitry paid for his seat through the partnership between Haas and his company, the 23-year-old lost his drive.
The Mazepins were also sanctioned by the European Union due to their links to Russian president Vladimir Putin, so even if Nikita applied for a superlicense in another country, he would likely be unable to compete in any world championships.
His search of employment in racing has taken him to rallying, and he approached Sergey Karyakin, who won the quad category at the 2017 Dakar Rally.
The training he received from his compatriot has now enabled him to compete for Snag Racing in the TV4 SSV category in the rally that begins in Astrakhan, heads down to Grozny, and makes its way up to Moscow, covering over 1,400 miles in the process.
Anastasia Nifontova became the first female participant in the motorcycle category at the Dakar Rally in 2017 having won the superbike world cup in 2015, and she added the same title to her collection last year.
She concedes that going from racing to rallying will be a challenge for Mazepin, but uses Fernando Alonso’s 2020 Dakar Rally appearance to highlight that experience in the pinnacle of motorsport can certainly help.
“Of course, it will not be easy for Nikita Mazepin in this race. Moving from the two-dimensional space of circuit competitions to the three-dimensional space of rally raids rarely succeeds the first time,” she said during the press conference ahead of the rally.
“I have no doubt that Nikita will be very fast, coming from Formula 1. As the example of Fernando Alonso competing in Dakar shows, a driver from Formula One can go fast, but at the beginning, he will lack raid experience.”
The rally this year is mainly comprised of Russian and Belarusian drivers and riders, since many other motorsport bodies have disassociated themselves with Russia due to their aggression on Ukraine.
Manager of the event, Vladimir Chagin, affirms that, despite an inability for many of the usual suspects to take part this year, there is no animosity being shown.
“We are in touch with riders from other countries, they assure us of sincere friendship, but this year they will not be able to take part. However, the most important thing is that the race will take place,” he said.
Mazepin has been residing in Moscow ever since his dismissal by Haas, and he has previously declared that he is not a “fan” of Putin despite suggestions to the contrary.