The relationship between Haas F1 and its Russian sponsor and driver became untenable after Russia invaded Ukraine, the US-based Formula 1 team owner said on Sunday.
Gene Haas also said his team was financially stable despite Saturday’s decision to cut ties with Russian driver Nikita Mazepin and sponsor Uralkali. The Russian fertilizer company is owned by Mazepin’s father, Dmitry Mazepin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There was a lot of intense criticism about the Ukrainian invasion and it was just getting overwhelming. We can’t handle all of this, our other sponsors can’t handle all of this,” Haas told The Associated Press on the starting grid at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The logos of Haas Automation, the CNC machine tool manufacturing company founded by Haas, will feature on both of its cars during this week’s F1 testing in Bahrain. Haas said reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi would fill Mazepin’s seat in Bahrain, but was unclear on a permanent replacement.
“We are looking at several candidates, we will see who is available and what we have to deal with, but we will have someone by Wednesday,” Haas said. “Pietro will definitely be in it, that’s what he’s here for, he’s the test driver.”
Fittipaldi is the grandson of two-time F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi and ran two races for Haas in 2020 replacing injured driver Romain Grosjean. The 25-year-old was born in Miami and holds dual Brazilian and American citizenship.
But just because Haas said Fittipaldi will be in the car in Bahrain doesn’t mean he’ll be a teammate this year with Mick Schumacher. Last season, Haas overhauled his training with rookies Mazepin and Schumacher, the son of seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher.
Haas’ business plan has made for a difficult 2021 season – Mazepin and Schumacher were at the back of the grid almost every time on the track – but the introduction of a new car and an improved engine this season could make the more competitive team. The Haas organization also believes the 22-year-old Schumacher can be a global superstar.
“I think we’re looking. I think we would obviously like to have someone with a little more real world experience,” Haas told the AP. “We just have to see what’s available.”
Haas also insisted that his company CNC has always been the main source of sponsorship for the F1 team and that Uralkali was only “the title sponsor” in 2021 when the two F1 cars were branded. Russian flag colors. Last month, the Haas team rushed to remove the Uralkali brand from its cars when Russia invaded Ukraine just as F1 was testing in Barcelona.
Haas crew members were seen scratching off team truck logos after the second of three days of testing, and the cars were plain white for the final session. It was important, Haas said, to remove the brand immediately even as the team studied its contracts to learn its options.
“Haas was always the main main sponsor, I don’t know why people said it became a Russian team. Haas Automation was always on the car,” he said.
He dumped Uralkali but said the team was fine. Haas also co-owns a premier NASCAR team with Tony Stewart.
“We are fine. We are fine. We would like more money, of course, but we are fine,” he said. “It just gives us a larger negative number.”