The Haas F1 team's striking new red, white and blue livery has attracted the scrutiny of the World Anti-Doping Association due to its resemblance to the Russian flag.
The American F1 team's new livery for the 2021 season was unveiled last week, with the VF-21's paint job reflecting the Russian roots of new title sponsor Uralkali, the multi-billion dollar company backing new driver Nikita Mazepin.
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The company, which Mazepin's father Dmitry owns a significant stake in, is the main backer of the minnow Haas outfit which has struggled to land significant sponsors amid a downturn in performance.
Haas' fresh start in 2021 has hit an unexpected snag though, with WADA raising concerns over the livery's compliance with a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling preventing the use of national flags or other symbols by Russian athletes.
From Russia with love? 😅 The new Haas VF-21, completely different isn’t? 🙌
The brand new car for the young boys @SchumacherMick and @nikita_mazepin 💥
Have fun boys! 🚀 ⁰#VF21 #HaasF1 #F1 pic.twitter.com/mTNlPsKIHq
— Tom Coronel (@TomCoronel) March 4, 2021
Despite a ban on the use of the Russian flag in sporting competitions, the colours of the flag are permitted. Haas have confirmed the livery has been approved by the FIA. pic.twitter.com/P49Yl9fLSE
— Will Buxton (@wbuxtonofficial) March 4, 2021
This stems from the 2014 Winter Olympics, in which it was found that Russia had engaged in state-sponsored doping and cover-ups, which resulted in a two-year ban on the country being represented at the Olympics or other major world championships that was handed down in 2020.
This ban also extends to the FIA, meaning Mazepin will not race under the Russian flag in his rookie F1 season.
Haas team principal Gunther Steiner told Autosport the team had not attempted to circumvent the ban in designing the new livery.
"No, we didn’t circumvent anything," Steiner said.
"We came up with this livery already last year before all of this came out from WADA about the Russian flag.
"Obviously we cannot use the Russian flag as the Russian flag, but you can use colours on a car. In the end, it’s the athlete which cannot display the Russian flag and not the team. The team is an American team."
Nikita Mazepin addresses groping scandal ahead of F1 season
Mazepin says he's "looking forward to a clean year ahead" after insisting that he learned his lesson from a "huge mistake" that sparked uproar last year.
The 22-year-old Russian landed in hot water shortly after signing for F1 team Haas, when he posted a video to Instagram which appeared to show him groping a female companion.
The footage generated substantial backlash from F1 fans, prompting Haas to launch an investigation into their driver's "abhorrent" actions.
Haas later revealed that the young driver would still race for the team after completing its internal investigation, with the woman at the centre of the scandal coming to the driver's defence.
The clip - which was subsequently deleted from Mazepin's page - showed him sitting in the back seat of a car where he reaches and grabs a woman sitting next to him, in an inappropriate manner by the chest.
However, the 22-year-old says the scandal has acted as a learning experience for him, and the Russian has vowed to steer clear of controversy in 2021.
"It happened that I've made a huge mistake," Mazepin said of the December incident, adding that he was not proud of his behaviour.
"I've taken responsibility for it, I've learned from it and I'm looking forward to a clean year ahead."
Asked what he had actually learned, he said he recognised he had to set an example as an F1 driver.
Questioned about his on-track record and getting into trouble with stewards, Mazepin said that would not be an issue.
"It's not something that I fear because I'm confident that's not going to happen," he said.
"I take a lot of time to go through the regulations, study them, understand where that fine line is."
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