Nikita Mazepin’s very tough introduction to Formula 1 showed no sign of stopping at the Portuguese Grand Prix.

After spinning out just seconds into his mistake-ridden debut in Bahrain and finishing last and two laps down at Imola, Mazepin endured another wretched weekend in Portimao.

The 22-year-old was slowest in every session - including being outpaced by fellow rookie teammate Mick Schumacher by almost 0.4s in qualifying - and ended up bringing up the rear of the field in the race.

Mazepin also got himself in the bad books of Williams driver Nicholas Latifi after blocking him in Q1, and Sergio Perez, who he held up on Sunday - an incident that saw him receive a five-second time penalty and a point on his F1 licence.

But does Mazepin’s miserable start prove that F1 is a step too far for him?

Here’s the verdict from our F1 team…

Yes - Underwhelming start is generous at best

Before the season got underway, Mazepin said he wanted to put his off-track controversies well and truly behind him by doing his talking on the track.

Early days it may be, but so far at least, the Russian has done nothing to help boost his reputation, or shrug off criticisms that he is only in F1 thanks to his father’s wealth.

Mazepin looked strong in F2 at times last year and occasionally came out on top against Schumacher, but since moving to F1, he has been comprehensively outclassed by the German across the opening three weekends.

While Mazepin’s struggles continued in Portugal with yet more blunders, on the other side of the Haas garage Schumacher took an impressive step forward despite neither driver having prior experience at the circuit.

Schumacher has made errors too, but crucially he has shown that he can learn from his mistakes and develop as both drivers face a steep learning curve during their respective first F1 campaigns in very uncompetitive machinery. 

On the other hand, progress from Mazepin has been noticeably lacking, especially when considering he had already racked up huge mileage during tests with Haas, Force India and Mercedes (including private runs) prior to his F1 debut.

Unless a similar improvement comes from Mazepin, the question marks surrounding whether he merits - or indeed is ready for - a place on the F1 grid won’t be going away any time soon.

Lewis Larkam


No - We're only three races in...

It’s way too early to say that Mazepin is out of his depth in Formula 1.

Granted, Haas teammate Schumacher has adapted to this year’s car a lot faster, Mazepin should still be afforded time before we fairly judge him.

You can’t draw conclusions from just three races, if we did, we’d be writing off Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren, or claiming Esteban Ocon is better than Fernando Alonso, which probably isn’t the case.

As he looked to shrug off criticism from his actions during the off-season, he went into the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix arguably with too much confidence which led to his five spins during the first weekend.

While he struggled for outright pace relative to Schumacher in Imola and Portimao, Mazepin has learnt from Bahrain and thus he’s making fewer mistakes and gradually, building up his confidence.

It’s not like Mazepin entered F1 on the back of a subpar junior career. The Russian took two victories and ran consistently at the front in Formula 2 last year, finishing fifth in the drivers’ championship.



While he has shown some flashes of brilliance, Yuki Tsunoda has also struggled immensely in the last two races. An error-strewn weekend at Imola was followed by a lack of pace throughout the Portimao weekend, without the same level of criticism.

Unfairly, Mazepin will always be judged differently due to his off-track behaviour.

While the opening three races have been nothing to shout about, he should be afforded time to adapt to Formula 1 and the tricky-handling Haas VF-21.

Haas 2021 challenger is only capable of running at the back of the field, so it's not as if the American outfit is missing out on big results due to Mazepin’s slow start to F1.

Let's at least reserve proper judgement until the summer break.

Connor McDonagh

What do you think - is Mazepin out of his depth or will he turn things around? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

 

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