Russian teenager Nikita Mazepin has been signed to the Force India F1 team’s development driver roster on ‘a long term association’ ahead of his debut in the European Formula 3 Championship this year.
Mazepin finished runner-up in the 2014 CIK-FIA World Karting championship – ahead of fellow Force India protégé Jehan Daruvala – and moved to open-wheel racing in 2015 where he finished twelfth overall in the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC title race.
This year he will race in the European Formula 3 Championship with Hitech Racing (pictured above).
“This is a fantastic opportunity for Nikita to begin his Formula One apprenticeship and become fully embedded inside our team,” Force India team principal Vijay Mallya said.
“We have a strong track record of identifying and nurturing young talent and it is clear that Nikita is already a very capable and determined racer.
“We plan to use him extensively on our new simulator and he will also support our in-season testing programme, which will play an important role in the development of the VJM09.
“It’s also exciting for the team to begin working with a young Russian driver given the success of the Russian Grand Prix in recent years. It’s a market with huge potential for Formula 1.”
The last remark in Mallya’s comments is perhaps the most telling, given both the team’s questionable financial situation and the fact that Mazepin’s father Dmitry is the owner of the Uralchem Integrated Chemicals Company and has a personal wealth of over $1.4 billion, according to Forbes.
Given Nikita’s relatively modest showing in his first year of car racing across a number of feeder categories, a number of the more cynical F1 insiders have suggested that cash – rather than talent – is perhaps his bigger asset.
By dint of finishing a fine fifth overall in last year’s Constructors’ Championship standings, Force India will pocket in the midst of $70 million in prize fund bonuses over the course of 2016, although a large chunk of that was already advanced to the team last year.
The Silverstone team’s ownership situation is even more uncertain. The team is 85% owned by the Orange India SARL holding company, the shareholding of which is split 50:50 between the since-jailed Subrata Roy of Sahara and Mallya’s own holding company. The latter was funded by a $135 million bank guarantee provided by the Diageo drinks giant, which acquired the ownership of Mallya’s United Spirits empire.
Mallya has subsequently defaulted on that loan and so Diageo has gone down the path of trying to recover the money and claim shares in Orange India Holdings, although it is jostling for position among a host of other creditors who are owed money as Mallya’s business empire falls apart around him.
It is from this situation where the Aston Martin rebranding stories emerged late last year, and which have ultimately come to nought so far.
Image via Motorsport.com