Cash-strapped Haas recently gave one of their racing seats for the 2021 season to Nikita Mazepin. However, that decision is facing a lot of criticism from the Formula 1 community, the reason behind that being his father, Dmitry Mazepin. Hence, the Russian driver is now carrying a label of ‘pay driver.’
Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner is arguing that similar ‘pay drivers’ currently exist in F1 already. He thinks that a lot of successful drivers start with some sort of financial backing. Not shying away from naming and shaming them, he said –
“There are very good drivers in F1 who in the beginning brought a sponsor.
“The first one to call is Checo [Sergio Perez]. Checo came to F1 and it was, ‘He’s a pay driver.’ Look at Checo now, he finished on the podium, he’s doing a good job.
“George Russell for me is one of the best drivers, but without the help of Mercedes, he wouldn’t be anywhere.”
The most notable example in F1 history, perhaps, is that of Niki Lauda. The late Austrian is among the pantheons of great drivers.
“When I spoke with Niki a long time ago he said, ‘I made it into F1 thanks to a bank which sponsored me, so I could go and buy a drive’.
“I think it was BRM at the time. And he was three-times world champion.”
In selfish terms, Haas made the decision that was in their best interests. From their point of view, they are correct. However, comparing his situation to Niki Lauda and George Russell is redundant. George Russell, like Lewis Hamilton, earned his financial backing through his sheer driving skills.
Comparing him to the legendary Niki Lauda is even worse. Born into a wealthy family, his father did not support his racing career. Hence, he had to finance his career on his own means. Yes, he bought his seat, but the liability was solely on him. He had to perform to pay back the loan from his own pockets.
Needless to say, the FIA must look for ways to get only the most talented drivers to the F1 grid.