Pietro Fittipaldi to test for Haas F1 at Bahrain; ‘several candidates’ considered for open seat

Haas F1 candidates
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LAS VEGAS — The relationship between Haas F1 and its Russian sponsor and driver became untenable following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading the team to explore several candidates to replace Nikita Mazepin, the owner of the United States-based Formula One team said Sunday.

Gene Haas also said his team was financially stable despite the decision Saturday to cut ties with Russian driver Nikita Mazepin and sponsor Uralkali. The Russian fertilizer company is owned by Mazepin’s father, Dmitry Mazepin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There was a lot of intense criticism about the Ukrainian invasion and it was just getting overwhelming. We can’t deal with all that, our other sponsors can’t deal with all that,” Haas told The Associated Press on the starting grid at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Logos for Haas Automation, the CNC machine tool manufacturing company Haas founded, will be on his two cars at this week’s F1 test in Bahrain. Haas said reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi will fill Mazepin’s seat in Bahrain, but he wasn’t clear on a permanent replacement.

“We’re in the process of looking at several candidates, we’ll see who is available and what we have to deal with, but we’ll have somebody by Wednesday,” Haas said. “Pietro will definitely be in it, that’s what he’s for, he’s the test driver.”

Fittipaldi is the grandson of two-time F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi and ran two races for Haas in 2020 as the replacement for injured driver Romain Grosjean. The 25-year-old was born in Miami and holds dual citizenship in Brazil and the U.S.

But just because Haas said Fittipaldi will be in the car in Bahrain, that does not mean he’ll be teammates this year with Mick Schumacher. Haas last season overhauled his lineup with rookies Mazepin and Schumacher, the son of seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher.

Haas’ business plan allowed for a difficult 2021 season – Mazepin and Schumacher were at the back of the grid nearly every time on the track – but the introduction of a new car and an improved engine this season could make the team more competitive. The Haas organization also believes the 22-year-old Schumacher can be a global superstar.

“I think we’re looking. I think we’d obviously like to get someone with a bit more actual experience,” Haas told the AP. “We just have to see what’s available.”

Haas also insisted that his CNC company has always been the primary source of sponsorship for the F1 team and that Uralkali was only “the title sponsor” in 2021 when both F1 cars were branded in the colors of the Russian flag. The Haas team last month scrambled to remove the Uralkali branding from its cars when Russia invaded Ukraine at the same time F1 was testing in Barcelona.

Haas crew members were seen scraping the logos off the team trucks after the second of three days of testing, and the cars were plain white for the final session. It was important, Haas said, to remove the branding immediately even as the team studied its contracts to learn its options.

“Haas has always been the major, primary sponsor, I don’t know why people said it became a Russian team. Haas Automation was always on the car,” he said.

He has dumped Uralkali but said the team is fine. Haas also co-owns a top NASCAR team with Tony Stewart.

“We’re good. We’re fine. We’d like more money, of course, but we’re fine,” he said. “This just gives us a bigger negative number.”

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”