Nikita Mazepin still holding out hope for Dakar 2023 entry

As Russian competitors continue to back out of the 2023 Dakar Rally in objection of the FIA’s policy to condemn their country’s invasion of Ukraine, Nikita Mazepin still seems to think he has a chance. Speaking with state-controlled publication Rossiyskaya Gazeta, he argued he might still be able to take part in the race despite little indication he would agree to the FIA’s measures.

“I wouldn’t say that it didn’t work out with the Dakar,” said Mazepin. “In Formula One, I successfully took part, taking a neutral position. The world is changing very quickly, both in a positive direction and in the opposite direction. The race starts on 31 December. I love motorsport. We have to wait and see what happens. I can’t say that I won’t compete in the next Dakar.”

Under the FIA rules implemented following the invasion, Russian and Belarusian competitors are to denounce the invasion of Ukraine, stand in solidarity with said country, and agree to not display the Russian/Belarusian flag or other related emblems on their vehicle and gear via signing an “emergency measure” document. While some like Konstantin Zhiltsov and Denis Krotov agreed to the terms and will race at Dakar under different nationalities, others like Mazepin’s employer Sergei Kariakin and fellow SSV racer Anastasiya Nifontova have strongly refused to follow suit.

A day before Mazepin’s comments, Truck category giant KAMAZ-master withdrew their Dakar plans to virtually no surprise as parent company KAMAZ builds vehicles for the Russian military. While Mazepin races in a different class, he is friendly with KAMAZ-master’s members and participated in a test with them in 2021.

According to Mazepin, KAMAZ’s size and relationship with the government (being owned by the state) make it impossible for the team to consider heading to Dakar. Conversely, he feels that as he is operating on his own, he can potentially compete as a privateer with an interested outfit.

“This is an interesting case. We should definitely talk about it. I am well acquainted with the head of KAMAZ, Vladimir Gennadiyevich Chagin,” continued Mazepin. “As for me, I have great hopes. Athletes should always have the opportunity to remain neutral both on and off the sports field. There are no exceptions, whether it is a rally raid or other competitions.

“I think that KAMAZ had to refuse because they are a large team, which has more than a hundred people. An individual racer can join an already prepared team, so I have three more months to achieve respect for human rights and the opportunity to be neutral.”

While certainly an optimistic outlook on his part, it is also a very naïve view as barring a massive Russian collapse or decisive Ukrainian victory in the coming months, he would still need to sign the FIA’s measures. Chagin had attempted to negotiate with race organisers but ultimately backed out as he and KAMAZ-master declined to comply with the policies.

Mazepin has not explicitly rejected the document but commented after Kariakin’s opt-out that he was among its first recipients and had “studied it very clearly” before adding he preferred to take a neutral stance. However, this sentiment is blunted by his family’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin; father Dmitry Mazepin, an oligarch whose company Uralchem is a major contributor to Russia’s economy, is within Putin’s inner circle. Both Mazepins were sanctioned by the European Union and United Kingdom weeks after the invasion, while a villa owned by the two was seized by Italian police in April.

The 23-year old switched to rally raid after a single season in F1 with Haas F1 Team, during which Dmitry’s Uralkali served as title sponsor, before being fired in the wake of the invasion. He decried the action as the frequently-misused term “cancel culture” and established the “We Compete As One” initiative to support Russian athletes impacted by global sanctions.

Mazepin subsequently joined Kariakin’s SNAG Racing and won the T3 class in his début at the Silk Way Rally in July. While his father’s businesses do not sponsor the team, SNAG’s team clothing features the phrase “We Compete As One”.

The invasion is in its 219th day. Mazepin’s comments come nine days after Putin declared mobilisation as Ukrainian counteroffensives strike occupied territory.