The Haas Formula One team has a new sponsor, Uralkali. You’re probably not familiar with the Russian company part-owned by Dmitry Mazepin, the father of Haas’s new driver Nikita Mazepin—and that probably means you haven’t heard the drama surrounding the company. So let me just fill you in.
Uralkali is a potash fertilizer producer and exporter. Potash is, in its most basic essence, a potassium-rich salt mined from underground deposits of evaporated sea beds. Potassium is a key element in the growth and development in human, animal, and plant life—so when it’s included in fertilizer, potash boost crop yields, increases plant quality, protects plants from extreme temperatures, deters pests, strengthen roots, allows plants to use water more efficiently—you get the gist. Potash is essential to farmers who own high-yield fields that they depend upon as their livelihoods.
But potash mines are subject to sinkholes. It’s part of the game. But Uralkali’s potash mines near the towns of Berezniki and Solikamsk. Sinkholes have been popping up in that region for a long time, since the towns are situated on either abandoned or existing potash mines—and those sinkholes were only exacerbated by a series of small earthquakes.
But brine flowing into the mining holes turned catastrophic, as per the New York Times. Operations had to be stopped, with the sinkhole soon clocking in at 120 by 125 meters—or roughly 393 by 410 feet, The Moscow Times reported. The sinkholes have taken parts of the towns and mine workers with them for years, and they’ve forced the residents of those towns to evacuate and find somewhere else to live.
“Cracks are showing up everywhere, and they just keep coming,” one Berezniki resident told DW Akademie, gesturing to a ceiling and wall falling to pieces.
According to that same DW Akademie video, mining operations in the area have consistently ignored regulations, mining huge swaths of potash while it became increasingly dangerous for the people living just above the carved-out land. But despite some parts of the mines caving in, Uralkali consistently claimed that there was no danger of the other mines in the system collapsing—even as the homes above the mines began to crumble or sink.
Some people who lost property were compensated for it, but not everyone. Most residents were just expected to leave and start over again somewhere else. People living in homes on the edge of the sinkhole were told their homes were still “partly inhabitable,” and thus weren’t offered compensation—or were offered sums paltry enough to be laughable.
So while there’s plenty of valid criticisms to be made about the potential presence of the currently-banned Russian flag adorning the Haas machine this season, it’s worth looking into where the money for one of the team’s few sponsorships has come from.