Rookie Nikita Mazepin says Formula 1 is a “two-faced world” in which successful drivers don’t receive equal criticism for making the same mistakes as others.
Haas driver Mazepin has come under fire several times in his first season in F1, mainly for impeding other drivers.
However, he has previously pointed out that drivers who criticised him for not respecting F1’s unofficial ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, by overtaking cars in the final sector on out-laps in qualifying, have committed the same offence against him.
In this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix qualifying session, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel impeded Fernando Alonso and stopped Alonso from progressing into Q3.
There were also instances of drivers apparently ignoring the race director’s revised instructions not to slow on out-laps between Turns 9 and 10.
When asked for his opinion on the incidents at the Red Bull Ring given the criticism he has previously received for blocking people in qualifying, Mazepin said he had been made “a very easy target” at a time he didn’t understand the supposed unofficial agreement – in particular during his first grand prix weekend.
“Everyone’s made a big deal out of it at a point where I didn’t know very much about the qualifying itself in Formula 1,” he said.
“It was my first ever one and also I have never raced in a category where that was applied or discussed.
“And as a newcomer into Formula 1, that does not get discussed in a drivers’ briefing or in any other meeting with drivers included.
“But I just think that F1 is a very double-faced world, and if you’ve got a big name under you with loads of championships on your belt, your actions are less criticised than if you don’t.
“In the drivers’ briefing our race director has made new rules, saying that you have to make your track position in Turn 8 and you’re not allowed to back up in Turn 9 and 10, which means that you have to keep up the speed into those two corners.
“What I’ve seen happened in Q2, and the incident [between Alonso and Vettel], is the exact opposite.
“Every driver is human, they can get caught out. And they’ve been caught out.
“Everyone just needs to apply the same rules to each other and then it will be a happy place.”
Though it is understandable for drivers with more experience or better track records to be given the benefit of the doubt compared to those who don’t, Mazepin is right to criticise F1 for double standards at times.
The so-called ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ is a fundamentally flawed concept and until F1 moves on from such thermally-sensitive tyres there will always be the risk of a messy situation developing as drivers seek to get good track position without hurting their tyre preparation.
As for Mazepin himself, though he has undeniably made mistakes this season and shown errors in judgement he has also been made to look worse in certain situations by F1’s broadcast direction.
The worst example was at Imola, where the world feed made it appear that Mazepin had mugged Antonio Giovinazzi at the start of their final runs in Q1, as they ran side-by-side all the way up to Turn 1 and a furious Giovinazzi radio message was played as well.
But the broadcast didn’t highlight that there was barely any time remaining in Q1 or play the radio message Mazepin received telling him he needed to start his lap or he would run out of time.
Mazepin’s team boss Guenther Steiner even said earlier this year that F1’s TV direction was “a little bit attention-grabbing” with how they broadcast his most irate radio messages, too.
Asked by The Race about the coverage misrepresenting certain incidents and whether F1 should do better to include more context, Mazepin said that was the right intent and would help less-informed viewers.
But he added: “It’s a battle that we will never win. And in the end Formula 1 is an entertaining sport, and people love to see happiness and angriness at the same time.
“They like that spectrum of emotions and I think F1’s doing a great job of delivering that.
“So I don’t think we’re going to be able to improve that, unfortunately.”