Nikita Mazepin’s anger at Formula 1 team-mate Mick Schumacher was made very clear after yesterday’s Dutch Grand Prix qualifying. But what was more revealing was the fact Mazepin was still angry about the situation long after he had the chance to understand what had really happened during Q1, having not known the full story immediately after.
After the session, Mazepin accused Schumacher of ruining his final lap deliberately in TV interviews. His anger was perhaps understandable given the team had not warned him while on his outlap that Schumacher had been given permission to pass.
What was more unexpected was Mazepin doubling down on his position later that afternoon. This had followed the team explaining exactly what had happened and admitting that the communication had been poor.
The Haas team attempted to send Mazepin and Schumacher out with a gap between them, only for traffic at the pit exit caused by rivals ahead making gaps to result in the pair leaving the pits together.
Schumacher required a faster outlap than Mazepin, so asked race engineer Gary Gannon if he was allowed to overtake.
While Haas operates a system whereby they alternate which driver goes out first by race weekend and does not permit overtaking, Schumacher did follow the protocols when he made the request.
Gannon told him he could pass Mazepin provided he did it early in the lap, suggesting he should do it coming out of Turn 3. Schumacher duly did so, but Mazepin was not told about this.
When Schumacher passed him, Mazepin justifiably questioned it. “I thought Mick was not allowed to overtake me – that’s not fine,” he said.
At the end of the lap, both got caught up in the backing-up traffic as Sebastian Vettel approached rapidly on a hot lap. Mazepin was aware of the Aston Martin’s rapid approach but Schumacher wasn’t. As a result, Mazepin attempted to pass Schumacher in Turn 13 with the pair briefly side by side.
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Neither Haas driver improved their time, Vettel’s lap was also ruined and the Haas pair were summoned to the stewards. No action was taken with Mazepin describing Vettel as “a gentleman” for his honest appraisal that the situation was the consequence of multiple cars backing up rather than one individual.
Mazepin had a right to be unhappy with the team, yet he had Schumacher firmly in his sights even once he knew the facts. He doubled down on his position that Schumacher was going against the team rules.
“Well, I’m Russian and we’re very direct,” said Mazepin when asked about his relationship with Schumacher later that afternoon.
“I know my place in the team, I’ve got a team boss and I’m more than happy to follow the rules because I think it’s very important to be a team. One day the rules will play towards you, one day the rules will play against you, but at least it’s consistent and you know where you stand.
“What I don’t like with people is when they are cheeky, fighting for P19. It just shows their true nature and I don’t tolerate that.
“I will just remain being myself, regardless of the outcome. And I will listen to my team boss, which is Guenther [Steiner], and do as I’m told until the last day of my Formula 1 career, which hopefully is very far away.”
Mazepin insisted the rules establishing the Haas drivers should not pass each other on prep laps being made clear to him in the second race of the season at Imola after he passed Schumacher “and that got him whingeing on the radio about me”.
He also claimed that Schumacher broke that rule during qualifying in Austria, which contributed to how upset he was on Saturday at Zandvoort.
When what he meant when he referred to Schumacher being “cheeky”, Mazepin elaborated.
“I’m saying that he had a good lap in mid-session [on their second of three Q1 runs]. And as the track was improving, there was an opportunity to improve the laptime and hopefully move a little bit further to maybe P17.
“But the actions that have been taken by the other driver made me feel at the time that the ultimate goal was to get in front of me, and after me being fast in FP1 and FP3, he felt that if I have a bad exit out of the last corner we’re going to stay where we are. Ultimately, I was upset about it.”
Given the circumstances, with Schumacher having sought permission to pass, Mazepin’s words to the media after the situation had been explained are curious. It perhaps points to a driver whose strength of competition with his team-mate is excessive, to the point where he sees everything that happens as a manifestation of that battle.
Mazepin’s initial anger was completely understandable, but this is something else. While he did concede the team procedures needed to be sharpened, he went in two-footed on Schumacher, to use a footballing analogy. But this is consistent for a driver with a reputation even before he reached F1.
For his part, Schumacher was diplomatic and at least could why there was some cause for frustration at first.
“I guess, yeah and no,” he said when asked if he understood Mazepin’s frustration.
“I know the communication that I’ve been given and, which has given me the OK [to pass], so I obviously in that sense don’t understand his reaction to that particular moment. On the other hand, if he hasn’t got that information, possibly yes.
“But I didn’t try to impede him, I didn’t try to ruin his lap so that’s why I also tried to also go as quick as I could to not run him into an issue later because obviously that’s the last thing I want to do as a team-mate.
“But unfortunately, we both now have got into a situation that was very difficult.”
Schumacher also gently indicated his unhappiness that Mazepin complained publicly before there had been any chance to discuss what happened internally.
“I’m used to having team internal discussions rather than public in the press, so I guess that’s a new thing,” said Schumacher when asked by The Race about Mazepin’s tendency to air dirty laundry publicly.
“But obviously every driver, every person is different and it’s just a matter of getting the right flow and right communication and then for sure things will settle.”
The rivalry between the pair has bubbled away all season, stretching back to the overtaking irritation at Imola. They have had several on-track battles, with Schumacher’s attempt to pass Mazepin late in the Monaco Grand Prix after losing the place earlier on to a temporary engine problem one flashpoint.
Schumacher also took issue with Mazepin’s high-speed block in Baku, and felt he had been forced off track by Mazepin during the French Grand Prix. He was then surprised when Mazepin pulled off a great pass on him at Club after their pitstops in the British Grand Prix at a point when both were supposed to be gentle on their tyres.
Team principal Guenther Steiner is the person who has to deal with all this and appears to be resigned to the fact that the pair will have a fractious relationship.
After all, while the team boss can attempt to tell the drivers how to behave, there are limits to that power. If Mazepin in particular, fuelled by a combination of the power he holds thanks to being the source of the backing from title sponsor Uralkali and his own sense of entitlement, is keen on escalating, then this will happen again.
“We worked quite a lot on it,” said Steiner when asked by The Race what he could do to stop the situation between the two spiralling out of control.
“They are they are both young, they want to prove that one is better than the other one. This is one of the problems you encounter when you have got two rookies, because if you have got an experienced driver, this problem is a lot less.
“So this is to be expected. I would be disappointed if they don’t want to beat each other and they’re just happy to be last and second last.
“So on one side they are competitive, both of them, and they try to the best and obviously sometimes the relationship by doing this suffers.
“It’s just part of our year this year and we just need to work on it. Hopefully, we can get it to an acceptable level that it doesn’t spiral, as you say.”
It does appear Mazepin’s determination to beat Schumacher on track has perhaps clouded his judgement in terms of blaming his team-mate for what happened. But at the same time, the team also needs to improve its management of this kind of situation to ensure there is no repeat, even though the drivers have to understand that one team of two cars does not have full control of the traffic flow in a qualifying session.
So while Mazepin did have a reason to be angry initially, perhaps his frustration should be better channelled into improving his pace during what has been a challenging season.