Haas keen to 'concentrate on the season ahead' despite Mazepin backlash

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While "respecting" the backlash from fans, Haas now want to "concentrate on the season ahead" with Nikita Mazepin.

Signing the Russian driver was already controversial, with many seeing him as just another pay driver, but the rejection of the former Formula 2 driver skyrocketed after he was filmed inappropriately touching a woman in a car in Bahrain last year.

Haas issued a strongly-worded statement in response and said the matter would be dealt with internally, which led to further criticism from fans.

But as the barrage of comments continues, notably following a recent social media post showing Mazepin completing his seat-fitting, Haas chief Guenther Steiner made it clear the team wants to move on.

“Having Nikita at the factory was good for us all as it means we are getting closer to the start of the season, frankly,” he told RACER.

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“We continue to have a dialogue with Nikita about many things, including what happened at the end of last season.

“He took immediate responsibility for his actions — he apologised. He’s learned from this experience, he’s undoubtedly been chastened by it, and he will apply that moving forward in his Formula 1 career.

“The response on social media towards him is still strong, we are naturally aware of that via our team posts.

“While respecting that people are entitled to voice their opinions, no matter how vigorous, as a team, we feel we have provided Nikita with the best environment to learn from this and now with Bahrain fast approaching, the opportunity to concentrate on the season ahead.”

Echoing that sentiment was team owner Gene Haas, who added: “Our response to it was I think Guenther told him he was an idiot and you can’t do things like that and it was totally unacceptable.

“I think he got a lot of criticism from all sides that just piled on him — he’s 21 years old, for a young man the deluge of criticism must have been difficult to take, so I’m hoping it’s a good lesson learned.

“We’ll just have to see how that goes. The social media response from all kinds of groups was extremely strong, wanting us to execute him for what he did, but that didn’t feel like the right course either.”