Nikita Mazepin is, without doubt, among the worst Formula One drivers in recent memory. He had more spins than race starts, finished 21st in the 2021 season which saw just 20 full-time drivers, and was just a general dickhead to his teammate and others in the paddock. His home country of Russia decided to wage war on a sovereign nation during the first test of the 2022 season, and as a result the team parted ways with Russian title sponsor Uralkali. With his pay driver money dried up, the team also parted ways with Mazepin, the pay driver. So, his seat is open, who is going to fill it?
I never would have imagined that we’d still be doing silly season updates this late into the off season. Hell, it’s not even the off season anymore!
Haas has confirmed that test driver Pietro Fittipaldi will put in seat time in the VF-22 during the test in Bahrain this week, but the team have not yet decided on which driver will contest the full F1 season in the car. So let’s look at the candidates and think about which one deserves it the most.
The obvious first choice is Pietro himself. The kid made is F1 debut with Haas at the end of 2020, filling in for the injured Romain Grosjean, and was practically a shoe-in for the 2021 seat. With neither Haas seat going his way, he raced nine rounds of IndyCar with Dale Coyne’s operation and did okay-ish with a season high of 9th at Portland. The 25 year old is a safe bet for the Haas team, and it would probably play well with the press to have a Schumacher and a Fittipaldi in one team. Come on, just think of the legacy!
Gene Haas himself said he’d like to see someone with more experience in the seat, which means only one person to me. Nico Hulkenberg has over a decade of Formula One experience, not to mention a GP2 championship and a Le Mans 24 win under his belt. Some might be quick to point out that in all that time he’s never scored a podium, but it’s not like Haas is going to be in podium contention anyway. He would be an incredibly safe pair of hands for the team, and probably the right choice.
My personal favorite choice, however, is Antonio Giovinazzi. Having raced with Alfa Romeo across 2019, 2020, and 2021, the Italian never really proved himself capable of fighting beyond the midpack. Toward the back half of the 2021 season, however, he really began to show big flashes of brilliance, and I think he was starting to come into his own. It doesn’t hurt that he is already supported by Ferrari, Haas’ engine supplier.
There are a few others with an outside chance. Could this be Amercan driver Colton Herta’s time to drive for the American team? What about Oscar Piastri? This is the chance for Haas to prove it is serious about progressing. I’d love to see the team get an old hand in the seat to help Schumi Jr. progress into a real F1 racer. If they just get another young pay driver, it’ll prove the team isn’t really in it to win it.