Haas boss Guenther Steiner believes the negative radio messages broadcast about his driver Nikita Mazepin is “a little bit of attention grabbing” from Formula 1.
Mazepin has been the subject of ire from fellow F1 drivers across the first three weekends of his career, initially in Bahrain and Italy being unfairly accused of breaking the so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by overtaking cars at the end of their outlaps in qualifying.
Last weekend in Portugal he was slammed by Williams driver Nicholas Latifi for not getting out of the way in qualifying, and in the race Sergio Perez called Mazepin an “idiot” for a near-miss under blue flags that Mazepin received a five-second penalty for.
It has not helped perceptions of Mazepin’s character at the start of his F1 career, having made his debut amid major scrutiny following the controversy he sparked in late-2020.
Asked about Mazepin’s reputation and whether F1 was making it worse by broadcasting the critical messages from other drivers, Steiner said: “What is said in race circumstances, when someone is in your way, you don’t normally say “this guy was not very nice”, you call him something else – who wouldn’t?
“We all know that Nikita is a little bit the bad boy, he has been made the bad boy since a while. So Formula 1 broadcasts always the comments about him because you guys like to listen to it.
“If they broadcast where nice and sweet things were said about other people, no-one would care.
“It’s a little bit of attention-grabbing from their side. But we are in racing and show business so it’s part of it.
“I don’t think it affects him. I wouldn’t like what people say about me, but if that affects you, you shouldn’t be doing this job. Go and do something different if you are this thin-skinned.”
Mazepin’s own radio communications with his race engineer have also raised eyebrows at times this season but Steiner said there is no problem internally with how Mazepin speaks to the team.
He said that Mazepin means nothing bad by his radio etiquette and Haas knows it’s just how he comes across.
“You don’t know the character so you shouldn’t judge what he said, how he said it,” Steiner said.
“I need to get to know people before I make judgement or critique them, and I’m still finding that, but I know Nikita is very direct in speaking and we can all live with that.
“Once you are in the team and you get used to the other people, how they communicate, sometimes what to you sounds harsh, for us is pretty normal.”
Mazepin apologised to Perez for their near-miss, which occurred when Mazepin rejoined after a pitstop designed to get him out of a spate of blue flags so he could focus on his own race.
Haas did not sufficiently warn Mazepin that Perez was approaching but Mazepin said it was “pretty simple” and took responsibility.
“Totally my mistake on that,” he said. “I was converted to Plan C middle of the race and to be honest, I expected to go out after the second stop – I was one of the only ones to do two stops – to go out on my own.
“Obviously I didn’t really get a warning from the team, but no excuses on this. It’s my fault. I apologised to Checo already.”
Mazepin’s extra pitstop and time penalty exaggerated his deficit to team-mate Mick Schumacher but even if the gap of over a minute was misleading this was still another event in which Schumacher had a clear advantage.
He outqualified Mazepin by more than four tenths of a second and drove a clean race that was quick enough to hang on to the tail of the midfield – and ended with Schumacher even beating the Williams of Nicholas Latifi on merit.
Asked about the gap between the drivers and whether it reflected that Schumacher was that good or Mazepin was just doing a bad job, Steiner rejected the premise of the question.
“If you look at the weekend, FP3 it was getting closer, and in the race the first 20 laps on the C2 tyres, I think he fell back about four seconds, then we pulled him in because he would have come out of the pits with the lapped traffic,” said Steiner.
“That’s why you saw a big gap between them, and then we did an additional pitstop.
“Mick has a little bit the upper hand, but I wouldn’t say he is ‘this quick’ or Nikita is ‘this bad’.
“They’ve done three races, I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions.
“We need to wait a little bit longer. Maybe Nikita takes a little bit longer to get up to speed.”
Schumacher’s race was his most impressive of his three F1 starts so far although ironically a 17th-place finish marked his worst result.
The son of F1 legend Michael said that Haas has made a “big step forward” from the previous race at Imola and reckons he might have even caught the faster Williams of George Russell had he been able to pass Latifi more quickly.
“I was very surprised to see George so close to us and obviously he started P11,” said Schumacher.
“We are creeping up there and we are getting closer and closer every day.
“The team is working so hard to really give us the car that we need and I feel like we are getting closer to getting that perfect car.”
Steiner added: “We matched or were better than Williams on race pace.
“George can do a fantastic lap in the car, he’s like Charles Leclerc, he can just pull it off. For us this was a very encouraging race because we could see we can at least match or be quicker than one Williams, we just cannot get past them on the straight because we are missing about 10kph.
“So it was difficult to pass them, but we can match them or be faster.
“We need to be a little bit patient with everything, with our drivers, and we need to keep on being patient.
“If it would be this easy coming into Formula 1 and immediately be as fast as the other people that are here a few years I don’t think it would be called Formula 1.”