The Russian driver Nikita Mazepin has said he made a huge mistake in inappropriately touching a woman. Mazepin will make his Formula One debut for Haas this season and has been the subject of widespread criticism since a video of his actions was posted on social media in December.
Haas had just confirmed Mazepin would join them to drive alongside Mick Schumacher when the video surfaced. The team swiftly condemned the behaviour as abhorrent and the FIA and the new chief executive of F1, Stefano Domenicali, have described it as unacceptable, though Mazepin has not been subject to any official sanction.
The 22-year-old faced more questions on the incident at the launch of the new Haas car on Thursday. “I have made a huge mistake,” he said. “How I reflect on my actions is pretty clear. I am not happy it happened. I am not proud of it. I didn’t behave as I am meant to behave as a Formula One driver and I have taken responsibility for it.”
His words echoed a similar apology issued on social media last year and he was pressed to consider whether he understood his behaviour was unacceptable as a human being, rather than simply as an F1 driver.
“I have taken the responsibility for it both on and off the circuit,” he said. “We as human beings have to show a certain behaviour towards each other to live in a calm, humanitarian world so I’m confident I will be one of those humans from now on.”
Mazepin’s father, Dmitry, is a Russian billionaire who has bankrolled his son and who co-owns the Russian fertiliser company Uralkali, which is a primary Haas sponsor. The new Haas car, the VF-21, was unveiled sporting the Russian national colours on its livery, although Mazepin cannot race under the Russian flag because of the World Anti-Doping Agency ban.
The team has felt a backlash since the incident, with the hashtag #SayNoToMazepin circulating on social media. Haas said the matter has been dealt with internally and Mazepin said he had learned from it in terms of his treatment of women.
“Being a Formula One driver means that all of a sudden you become a sort of example to a lot of young kids who are aiming to get to the same championship,” he said. “With that, you have to bring a certain way of behaviour towards yourself. I haven’t done it. I was too late to realise that, unfortunately.”
Schumacher, the son of the seven-times world champion Michael, will also make his debut this season. His father remains in recovery from the skiing accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury in 2013 and his son is already under intense scrutiny, though he says his family name only empowers him.
“I have never felt it was pressure and I am pretty sure I never will because I am very happy to carry that name and to bring it back to F1 and I am proud of it,” he said. “It is a motivation and it gives me a boost every single day to work as hard as I can.”