The long-awaited news has finally arrived: Nikita Mazepin has officially been removed as Haas' F1 driver for 2022.
The American team made the announcement on Saturday morning. The team's title sponsor, Uralkali, have been removed with immediate effect, due to their involvement with the Kremlin amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Uralkali owner Dmitry Mazepin had bankrolled the struggling Haas team, with his son Nikita taking one of the team's two seats as a result.
With the financial backing now gone, so too is Mazepin. The Russian driver struggled to keep pace with the rest of the field in 2021 - on one occasion, qualifying four seconds slower than his teammate Mick Schumacher.
The talk now turns to who will replace the Russian at Haas, with plenty of names linked with the seat. With just two weeks until qualifying at the opening race of the season in Bahrain, the emergence of an unexpected extra spot on the grid is sure to pique the interest of a few familiar faces.
Nikita Mazepin: Who will replace the Russian driver at Haas for 2022?
Haas' brief team statement on Saturday morning merely revealed the news that ties had been cut with the Uralkali brand and Nikita Mazepin, without any word of who may replace Mazepin for the fast approaching 2022 F1 season.
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) March 5, 2022
With pre-season testing continuing in Bahrain this week, Haas are under a lot of time pressure to find a new driver. They are sure to have plenty of contenders...
The obvious choice here is current Haas reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi. The Brazilian's job would normally designed for scenarios like these, and we expect him to, at the very least, appear at this week's test in Bahrain. On Thursday, Haas shared an image of Fittipaldi racing for the team at Bahrain in 2020, hinting at his imminent return.
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) March 3, 2022
That being said, there are doubts as to Fittipaldi's suitability to Formula One. Though perfectly respectable, his junior category results were less than impressive, and it is likely he would struggle to keep pace with teammate Mick Schumacher.
Given that their binds to Mazepin and Uralkali's financial backing are now gone, Haas may look for an upgrade on Mazepin's driving ability, and Fittipaldi might not fit that bill quite as well as other contenders.
We wouldn't be surprised to see Fittipaldi appear at the season-opening double header in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, before a more experienced head is brought in for the full season. Which brings us to...
It's been just three months since Antonio Giovinazzi seemingly departed Formula 1 for good, and now there's a decent chance he will be back for 2022.
After losing his seat at Alfa Romeo to Guanyu Zhou, Giovinazzi signed with Dragon Penske for the new Formula E season. He has struggled to adapt to the different driving style required for electric single-seaters thus far.
Despite that, and despite some qualms about his driving ability during his time in Formula 1, Giovinazzi consistently flew under the radar with excellent results - not least his qualifying form, as he regularly put a poor Alfa Romeo into Q3.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 22, 2021
The Italian has maintained his role as Ferrari's test and reserve driver for 2022, meaning he will still be around the paddock despite his Formula E commitments. Given the fact Haas get their engines from Ferrari, a driver from the Scuderia being popped in to the Haas seat for 2022 would make perfect sense.
We wouldn't be at all surprised to see Giovinazzi end up taking Mazepin's seat.
We have to say, we missed Nico Hulkenberg in 2021. The German driver has consistently been among F1's unluckiest drivers, and holds the record for most races started (179) without a single podium finish.
Nonetheless, he has shown himself to be one of the most talented drivers on the grid in every year he has spent in the sport. His pole position for Williams in 2010 is proof that he can perform in a car with less raw speed than the frontrunners, and his experience would be invaluable alongside a youngster in Schumacher.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 11, 2020
He has also stepped in last-minute previously, doing so on two occasions in the 2020 season for Racing Point when Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll contracted COVID-19. His performances across those races were among the drives of the season, proving he is adaptable at short notice.
Hulkenberg feels like something of an outside bet here, despite his experience, and he would be a choice from left-field. But, given his history in the sport, and his experience, we think he would make an outstanding choice for the final seat on the 2022 grid.
Just last July, he failed to deny rumours he was in discussions with Haas for 2022 so, perhaps, this was just what was needed to get "The Hulk" in the car.
Unfortunately for 2021 Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri, it's unlikely Haas will go for a driver who doesn't bring funding or experience to the team.
With the American team struggling for both in 2021, it would be a huge gamble to bring in a rookie without any significant financial backing for the team. That is despite Piastri's undeniable pace and ability, with the Aussie dominating last year's F2 championship.
His affiliation with Renault/Alpine may also cause a conflict of interests, given Haas' links to Ferrari.
We're veering into more unlikely territory here, though it is disappointing that Piastri is unlikely to be on the 2022 grid.
The outside bets to replace Nikita Mazepin
The last few names here are very unlikely for a variety of reasons, but stranger things have happened in Formula One...
Kevin Magnussen: Magnussen drove for Haas for four years between 2017 and 2020, before losing his seat ahead of 2021. He has since signed as one of Peugeot's drivers for the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship. Despite his links to the team and obvious pace, his contract with Peugeot makes it unlikely he will be considered.
Romain Grosjean: Similarly to Magnussen, Grosjean raced with Haas for the first five years of their existence. With the Frenchman already confirmed to depart ahead of 2021, his fiery crash in Bahrain in November 2020 brought a premature end to his F1 career. He would be a hugely popular choice to make a grand return, but he is committed to the Andretti team in IndyCar for 2022. Unfortunately, it's unlikely we'll see Romain Grosjean in F1 again.
We are so thankful that Romain Grosjean was able to walk away from this. We did not need a reminder of the bravery and brilliance of our drivers, marshals, and medical teams, nor of the advances in safety in our sport, but we truly got one today#BahrainGP 🇧🇭 #F1 pic.twitter.com/z8OeTU5Nem
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 29, 2020
Calum Ilott: Another star of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Ilott would have made the perfect case for this seat if these unfortunate circumstances had happened before he signed up for a year of IndyCar. As is, the Brit is in the same boat as Grosjean and Magnussen. With a contract signed for the year ahead, there's little to no chance we'll see Ilott in Formula 1 in 2022.
We shouldn't have to wait too long to find out who will replace Nikita Mazepin at Haas for 2022, with some announcement likely ahead of pre-season testing resuming in Bahrain on Thursday.
Our money is on Antonio Giovinazzi to take the seat long-term, but there's an outside chance of a surprise name getting in ahead of the Italian.