Formula One rookie Nikita 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.
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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.
The lady then moves his hand away and raises a middle finger, before swatting the camera away.
Andrea D’lVal claims that she was the one that uploaded the video to Instagram and was sorry for the trouble it's caused.
“Hi guys, I just want to let you know Nikita and I have been good friends for a long time and nothing from that video was serious at all!” she wrote.
“We trust each other so much and this was a silly way of joking between us.
“I posted this video on his story as an internal joke. I am truly sorry.
“I can give you my word he’s a really good person and he would never do anything to hurt me or humiliate me.”
The Russian driver, whose quest to join the F1 ranks has been aided significantly by billionaire father Dmitry, apologised after the video went public earlier in December.
He already had something of a bad boy reputation for his track behaviour, notably punching British junior series rival Callum Ilott in the face in 2016 in an incident that drew a race suspension.
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.
Driver has learnt from 'huge mistake'
"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."
On his father's funding, and accusations that he was only in F1 because of the money, Mazepin said he was not really bothered.
"I'm proud of my family, I'm proud of my father and I'm not taking this in a negative way," he added.
"It's a challenge that I prove myself in Formula One and I'm going to do it."
Mazepin said he was still in a discussion about how he would be classified in races, with Russian athletes banned from competing under their national flag at world championship level as a result of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sanctions.
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