Haas team principal Guenther Steiner has dismissed criticism of his decision to sign Nikita Mazepin for the 2021 F1 season.
He placed second in GP3 two years ago behind team mate and champion Anthoine Hubert, but ahead of fellow ART drivers Callum Ilott and Jake Hughes.
Steiner said new drivers should not be judged on the basis of whether they bring financial backing. He pointed out other F1 drivers have been supported by wealthy benefactors, sponsors or teams.
“I always go back to this, that there is always these ‘paying drivers’ coming,” said Steiner. “I mean, there’s a lot of drivers which get into F1 thanks to financial backing.
“There is very good drivers in F1 which in the beginning brought a sponsor. The first one to call is Checo [Perez]. Checo came to F1, everyone said ‘oh he is a pay driver’. Look at Checo now, he finishes on the podium, he’s doing a good job.
“George Russell for me is one of the best drivers. Without the help of Mercedes, he would not be anywhere. There’s a lot of them there. Lance Stroll, he was on the podium. If they are good in F2 and they have a sponsor, that’s a perfect solution.”
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Past Formula 1 champions such as Niki Lauda also paid for their first drives in Formula 1, Steiner pointed out.
“When I spoke with Niki a long time ago he said ‘I made it into F1 thanks to a bank which sponsored me so I could go and buy a drive’, I think it was with BRM at time. This is old, he was [three times] world champion.”
Teams will naturally prefer talented drivers if they also bring backing, said Steiner.
“If you want to see it as a positive or negative, it’s your angle of how you want to look at it. If somebody is good and he has a financial backer for sure he’s got a better chance than somebody who is the same good and has no financial backer. I mean, why would you choose that one with no financial backing?
“As long as they’re good in F1 and Nikita is lying third at the moment so I cannot doubt him, what else do you need to do?”
Steiner has kept a close eye on Mazepin’s progress in F2 this year, which has included two wins, plus one ‘on-the-road’ victory which he lost due to a penalty.
“I followed him I would say the whole season this year what he was doing. For sure he had a difficult start. Without the difficult start he would be fighting for the championship. So that is what I see. I can’t see any more than that. Results always talk.”
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