Since his Formula One exit, Nikita Mazepin has focused on off-road with SNAG Racing and is aiming towards a run at the Dakar Rally in the future. On Wednesday, he recorded the best time of the T3 class in the Silk Way Rally‘s seventh leg to score his first stage win in his new discipline.
Driving the #215 Can-Am Maverick Max XRS Turbo RR with Anton Vlasyuk, he set a time of 3:10:37, nearly eight minutes quicker than T3 runner-up Armen Puzyan. The stage’s course, a 350-km loop around Elista (capital of Kalmykia, Russia), was plagued by muddy conditions that forced the Moto and Quad categories to cancel their race for the day.
“The muddy section wasn’t long but our wipers didn’t work, so I hoped that it would end,” said Mazepin. “It was like being in a bunker: we couldn’t see anything. It’s an interesting experience. The car slides much more on clay, more like a drift, than a buggy. I had fun. The last three days, I’ve been driving with pleasure.
“Today, we started behind the KAMAZ trucks, then caught up with (Anastasia) Nifontova and overtook her, but then let her go because the pace she keeps, I think, doesn’t match the pace of the marathon. But in her case, I would probably look at it not as a race, but as a test. So I’m happy with my pace. The weather change definitely influenced the car, making it easier to drive. I got used to the pace, but I would like to sleep a little bit more. From the point of view of driving, the terrain has changed again, but it’s calmer to drive here.”
The Silk Way Rally, the most prestigious of its kind in Russia and a former round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, began on 6 July. Mazepin’s race began poorly as his dashboard malfunctioned on the opening stage, his UTV stalled multiple times on Stage #2 and ran out of fuel shortly after finishing the next, and he suffered brake failures during the fifth. Despite the issues, he rebounded on the sixth leg by finishing second in class to Nifontova. He currently leads the T3 category with three stages remaining and sits sixth overall. Team-mate and owner Sergei Kariakin is eighth overall and third in class.
Prior to Wednesday’s stage, Mazepin conducted an interview with Match TV’s Sergej Astahov in which he discussed his Silk Way performance up to that point, his departure from F1, and the transition to rally raid. Despite losing his Haas F1 ride in the wake of Russia invading Ukraine, he still closely follows the sport when possible and explained that the moniker of “former F1 driver” does not bother him as he is “used to calling a spade a spade.” In response to his ousting, he commented a lawsuit against Haas will take place under Swiss jurisdiction if it proceeds, though he does not expect it in the short term.
While chances of an F1 return are slim in the immediate future due to the invasion, its ensuing sanctions, and his abysmal lone campaign in 2021, Mazepin noted he is open to it if an opportunity arises. Until then, he is content with competing in off-road racing as long as he enjoys it, and still intends to do so even if he is back in F1.
“I have one life […] and I’d like to do what I like and what makes me happy, and I’ve never liked lying on the couch and playing PlayStation in a simulator,” he told Astahov. “I don’t think I ever will in the future.
“If off-road racing continues to give me pleasure, which is what I’m betting on, why not? If I can physically walk and get into the car… There is no age limit in this sport. [laugh]”
Mazepin began testing with SNAG in April before débuting at the Lagoda Trophy in June, and the team’s attire sports the “Compete As One” slogan he coined to support Russian athletes barred from international competitions since the invasion began. Although Mazepin is seen wearing gear with branding of his father’s Uralkali company (which was Haas’ title sponsor in 2021), it is not a SNAG partner.
Beyond Silk Way, he added he had been “thinking about” running the legendary Dakar Rally even before the invasion. The event has attracted various F1 faces in the past like two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, who Mazepin revealed told him during a pre-race driver parade of his interest in running rally raid again. Alonso scored a podium in the 2019 Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally before finishing thirteenth overall in his lone Dakar to date the following year, but has not returned since as he focuses on the 2022 F1 season with Alpine.
“Probably, thanks to Fernando’s performance, I got acquainted with the Dakar more deeply,” Mazepin continued. “I was interested to see how a person performing on asphalt would compete in off-road. At one of the F1 driver parades, I asked him if he liked rally raids. Fernando replied that he would like to return.
“[…] I like it, it’s something I’d like to do in my free time from Formula 1, if I have a contract with the team, or another kind of work.”
Despite uncertainty surrounding Russian competitors at Dakar due to the war, Kariakin has expressed optimism about fielding two entries for himself and Mazepin at the 2023 Rally in Saudi Arabia.