Haas, the US-based motor racing team from the top-tier Formula 1, has terminated the contracts of Uralkali, the Russian potash fertilizer firm that had been its title sponsor for the last year, and Russian driver Nikita Mazepin over the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by the country.
Uralkali had been the team’s title sponsor since the start of 2021. Its owner is Mazepin’s father, Dimitry, with the younger Mazepin (F1’s only Russian driver) turning out for them since that same date, across the whole of last season, in an arrangement that went hand-in-hand with his father’s company sponsoring the team.
However, that association has now been ended because of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, which has so far displaced upwards of 1.5 million Ukrainians and has resulted in the deaths of over 400 civilians according to United Nations estimates.
Indeed, Dimitry Mazepin was one of the Russian business leaders who met with the country’s president Vladimir Putin last week in Moscow to discuss the economic sanctions which have now been placed on that country after the invasion.
The writing seemed to be on the wall in terms of Uralkali’s title sponsorship last week, when the team removed the firm’s colors and livery from its cars during pre-season testing, replacing the design with plain white. Mazepin was also taken out of the usual press conference duties with media at that point.
In a statement made on Saturday (March 5), the team said: “Haas has elected to terminate, with immediate effect, the title partnership of Uralkali, and the driver contract of Nikita Mazepin … The team is shocked and saddened by the invasion of Ukraine and wishes for a swift and peaceful end to the conflict.”
The team was not legally required to do this. Last week, motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, ruled that motor racing teams would not be forced to discard with Russian drivers, but that those individuals would have to register as neutral drivers, and that no national symbols or emblems could be worn.
This stance saw the FIA differ from the approach of many other international sporting federations, which reacted to the invasion by immediately banning all Russian athletes and participants.
However, Haas has now taken matters into its own hands by dispensing of Mazepin’s services and letting Uralkali go. Their decision on the driving front may have been helped by the fact that the UK Motorsport governing body said last week that it would not let Mazepin compete in the British Grand Prix by refusing entries to Russian license holders.
In terms of how Haas will respond to the loss of a title sponsor – whose livery was prominent on the team’s car during the last campaign – team principal Guenther Steiner said last week: “Financially we are ok – it has no [consequences] for the team, how we run it, how we are doing and how we plan the season.
“There are more ways to get the funding, so there’s no issue with that.”
However, Jacob Kemp, an analyst at GlobalData Sport, has refuted that claim, commenting: “Haas can expect to feel a real pinch in terms of sponsorship revenue now. The estimated $10 million a year deal with Uralkali had a major influence on the team’s ability to compete in 2021 and formed a significant chunk of the estimated $43.65 million generated in sponsorship during 2021.
“The loss pushes them back to 13 major brand partners for the 2022 season, putting them alongside Scuderia Alpha Tauri as the team with the fewest sponsors in the sport.
“Haas have already been fighting at the back of the grid for the past few seasons – losing a significant financial contributor will likely hamper planned efforts to push their cars up the field and could well consign them to another season bringing up the rear.”
After the news broke, Mazepin, via social media, released his own statement: “While I understand the difficulties, the ruling from the FIA plus my ongoing willingness to accept the conditions proposed in order to continue were completely ignored and no process was followed in this unilateral step.”
Last week, F1 terminated the contract of the Russian Grand Prix, which this year was due to take place in Sochi in September, before moving to St. Petersburg (where Putin was born) for 2023.
The series’ organizers have said a new contract will not be struck for the foreseeable future. That could mean as long as Putin remains in charge.
Kemp added, referencing the loss of the Russian Grand Prix: “For F1 as a sports property in general, the loss or the Russian Grand Prix will result in a substantial revenue decrease, with Russia one of the biggest payers for hosting rights.
The loss is reported to be in excess of $50 million this season, putting its cost above the estimated average annual cost of $32 million paid by host cities for these rights.”
GlobalData Sport still estimates the series will secure $696 million this year from hosting fees, however.