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F1 team Haas is enjoying a superb start to the season – but their disgraced former driver has taken aim at the sport on the eve of the Australian GP race. FOLLOW QUALIFYING DAY LIVE

Nikita Mazepin has blamed his Haas sacking on “cancel culture against his country”.

The Russian was axed just days before his father Dmitry was sanctioned by the EU after the invasion of Ukraine, amid apparent ties to Vladimir Putin.

Mazepin, 23, struggled during his one year in Formula 1, failing to pick up a single point throughout last year’s campaign.

He was axed by team principal Guenther Steiner ahead of this year’s opener in Bahrain and replaced by Kevin Magnussen.

Speaking to the BBC, Mazepin moaned: “I don’t agree with being in the sanctions.

“I’ve said before I agree to fight it.

“Perhaps now is not the right time.

“If you look at the whole situation that is happening against athletes in the general case, it’s cancel culture against my country.”

Nikita has been described by the EU sanctions list as a “person associated with a leading businessperson involved in economic sectors providing a substantial source of revenue to the government of the Russian Federation”.

While his dad Dmitry was called a “member of the closest circle of Vladimir Putin”.

While bemoaning his Haas sacking, Mazepin has described the situation in Ukraine as “painful”.

He said: “It’s very painful to watch that on many levels.”

Mazepin’s replacement Magnussen has enjoyed a great start to the F1 season in the improved Haas.

The Dane was absent from initial testing in Barcelona back in February, which came prior to Nikita’s axing.

But he has since taken to his new wheels well – bagging 12 points from his first two races.

12:09PM WHY VERSTAPPEN IS MORE CHILL IN 2022

By Rebecca Williams

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says Max Verstappen’s maiden Formula One world championship win last year has released the pressure off the Dutch star in 2022.

The 24-year-old will be in pursuit of his second win of the Formula One season in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix after his victory in Saudi Arabia.

Asked if he had noticed any differences in Verstappen as a world champion this year, in and out of the car, Horner said he was “very relaxed” at the start of his title defence.

Horner said the expectation of claiming a first world championship was a weight that had not been lifted off Verstappen’s shoulders.

“He is very relaxed. He is still racing with the same vitality that he has always had,” Horner said.

“But having that first world championship on his CV now, having that No.1 on the car, in many ways it releases you of pressure.

“That expectation for that first title is always obviously very high but now he has achieved that already.

“We saw it with Sebastian (Vettel, who won four consecutive world titles with Red Bull) and in many respects it relieves pressure and he is just continuing to evolve, continuing to develop.

“You have to remember that he is still only 24 years of age.”

Verstappen claimed his first world championship in a controversial finish to the 2021 F1 season in Abu Dhabi last year.

11:30AM AUS GP TRACK UNDERFIRE

Changes to the Australian Grand Prix F1 track have been met with mixed reviews by current and former drivers.

Having not hosted a race since 2019 due to the pandemic, Albert Park underwent a significant facelift for the first time since 1996.

The track has undergone a full resurfacing, seven corners have been modified and two removed, reducing the number of turns to 14 on what is being billed as an improved, more aggressive track with better overtaking opportunities.

While the changes are expected to see faster laps, records tumble and more overtaking opportunity. Not everyone has welcomed them.

Former driver and Sky pundit Paul Di Resta was particularly unimpressed on the first day of action.

“I’m not convinced on it to be honest,” he said on Sky F1.

“I don’t think taking out the corners was the right call. 2022 is very different to 2019, 4 DRS zones is too much I think but I don’t want to see an artificial race.

“I just feel some of the corners was necessary to open them up.

“Turn 11 which used to be 13, I don’t know why they changed it, leave it as it was. I don’t know how they’re going to get two cars there.”

His colleague Karun Chandhok agreed “I’m not sure why they have made some changes but let’s see what we get,” he said.

11:15AM SUPERCARS UPDATE

By James Phelps

Shane van Gisbergen has extended his championship lead with a hitback win at Albert Park.

In an ominous display of speed from the V8 king, van Gisbergen survived two safety cars to rack up his fifth win of the year.

But it was another dark day for DJR with Anton De Pasquale finishing back in 20th after being forced to double stack and Will Davison beaten to a podium by Dave Reynolds and Lee Holdsworth.

11:00 AM PIASTRI FEELING THE LOVE

How good is this. Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso and OPscar Piastri with the F1 fans at Albert Park this morning and chantes of Aussie Aussie Aussie for the young F1 star in waiting.

Questions remain over where Piastri may get his first drive. Amid on going covid protocols he may well get the nod this season but his hopes of something more permanent took a hit on Friday after Alonso announced he wanted three more years in the sport.

11am HAMILTON HAS NO HOPE

A dejected Lewis Hamilton said that nothing being done to his under-performing Mercedes was making a difference after he managed just 13th in second practice for the Australian Grand Prix.

The British seven-time world champion has had a tough time so far this season, with his car alarmingly adrift of pace-setters Red Bull and Ferrari.

The German manufacturer’s problems with porpoising — bouncing at high speed — are still an issue and he is frustrated.

“It’s just nothing we change on the car makes a difference at the moment,” he said, after finishing nearly two seconds behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who topped the timesheets.

“So that’s the difficult thing. You’re getting very optimistic, and then you make changes, and then it doesn’t seem to be wanting to improve.

“We made some changes going into P2. P1 was better. P2 ended up being a bit harder for me. So I don’t know, it’s just a tricky car.” Hamilton, who finished third at the season-opening race in Bahrain then 10th in Jeddah, said he was resigned to not being competitive around the revamped Albert Park circuit this weekend.

“It’s frustrating because you’re pushing and pushing, and even when you pull off a good lap, you look at the times and we’re over a second down,” he said.

“We’ve got lots of work to do to close the gap.” His teammate George Russell didn’t fare much better, ending 11th. “We’re not in a position where we want to be, there are quite a few midfield cars ahead of us and we’re obviously a long way off the pace from the front,” he said.

“We need to work hard tonight and understand the limitations.”

DRIVERS FEAR FOR F1 LEGACY

Drivers enthusiastically welcomed on Friday Las Vegas hosting a night-time Formula 1 Grand Prix, but voiced concern that traditional races in Europe could pay the price as the sport expands in new directions.

Racing returns to ‘Sin City’ next year for the first time since 1982, becoming the third Grand Prix in the United States alongside Miami and Austin.

It is part of a concerted effort by the sport’s US bosses to attract a new, younger audience, rather than relying on a traditional, ageing fanbase.

Part of that strategy was allowing Netflix to make the ‘Drive to Survive’ series about the sport and it has proved hugely popular.

Drivers at the Australian Grand Prix were unanimous in looking forward to racing around Vegas’s famous strip, taking in its most famous landmarks, hotels and casinos.

But they also said it was important to remember Formula One’s history and tradition. France, Belgium and even Monaco are all seen as vulnerable races.

“I think that’s going to be awesome, it’ll be good for business … just being there and the spectacle,” said seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of the Vegas move.

Hamilton’s former Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas agreed that it was good to grow the US market, as did fellow veteran Fernando Alonso, but he was more muted.

“It’s the way Formula One is going,” said Spain’s former two-time world champion Alonso.

“On the other hand, I think we need to be careful with the number of races. “We should have a limit because for the teams it is quite demanding, the schedule and the calendar, as it is now, especially as we don’t have so many races in Europe now.” There are currently 22 races scheduled in 2022, nearly half in Europe. Russia has been axed, but a replacement is expected.

– ‘Our heritage’ –

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said he was “a big fan” of more races in the United States, but is also worried about Europe’s future.

“Obviously a big fan of having to go to Miami and Vegas, but it could be a big loss for those classic European races. Hopefully for the future we can find a compromise,” said the Spaniard.

“Maybe where races that cannot afford to be on the calendar year in, year out can be on the calendar once every two years or three years so we keep coming back to the places where we have always been.

“Business is business … but I wouldn’t like to stop racing in Europe. It’s a great place to go racing, it’s where our heritage is and I think we need to keep coming back even if it’s not every single year.” Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was also keen on Las Vegas but noted that some of the new additions to the Formula One circuit, which he didn’t name, lacked character.

“It’s a great opportunity for the sport but at the same time it would be good to keep our history in the sport, we need those historic tracks to always be with us,” said the Mexican.

“We have to make sure that when we go to new venues to really have some character in the tracks. I feel some of the new tracks lack character.”



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