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.”

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”