Russian F1 driver Nikita Mazepin took a knee on Sunday but gave the gesture new meaning by honoring World War II victims and veterans as Russia marked the 76th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany.
Russia held parades and ceremonies across the country on May 9 to honor the estimated 27 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives in the war against Hitlerite forces which came to an end in 1945.
Away from parades such as those on Moscow’s iconic Red Square, F1 driver Mazepin made a tribute of his own at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya racetrack in Spain.
Haas racer Mazepin was seen dropping to one knee at the circuit along with fellow drivers, and later revealed it was to mark Victory Day rather than being associated with Black Lives Matter.
“In my actions before the race I decided to kneel to show to respect to those who have lost their lives 76 years ago in the war,” the 22-year-old driver wrote on Instagram, sharing an image of himself.
In additional comments to the Russian press, Mazepin said the war had affected his family just as it did for almost all his countrymen and women.
“It was a one-off action on my part,” Mazepin said. “I think it’s important to show respect in this way to people who died during the Great Patriotic War, there were almost 30 million of them.
“My grandmothers and grandfathers also took part in the war, they were in concentration camps. It’s an important day for my family, and I thought it was necessary to make this gesture on this important day.”
In his debut season in F1, Mazepin is not the most popular of drivers on the circuit but won widespread praise for his gesture in Spain.
“Fair play mate,” replied one fan on Instagram while another added: “You did the right thing brother.”
“A very nice gesture of respect,” read another response.
“Haters: I will ignore this,” added one fan sarcastically, signaling that Mazepin’s detractors would be quick to overlook his gesture of respect.
But sure enough, Mazepin was soon subjected to criticism for his actions – with some even suggesting he was taking a snide swipe at the BLM protests by using the same gesture associated with the movement.
“You can’t choose what [you] kneel for. This is specifically for the drivers to show their respect and support for the black lives matter. Your choice of words here show you do not care about fighting racism. How shameless can [you] be?” fumed one response.
you can’t choose what u kneel for. this is specifically for the drivers to show their respect and support for the black lives matter. your choice of words here show you do not care about fighting racism. how shameless can u be ?
— ambi kai’s wife ♡︎ (@MARASMOTIVE) May 10, 2021
“Yes, you can absolutely choose what for, when, and how you want to protest,” came a reply in defense of Mazepin.
“There’s not some monopoly on protesting and people have been doing it well before BLM was even a thought.”
Yes, you can absolutely choose what for, when, and how you want to protest. There’s not some monopoly on protesting and people have been doing it well before BLM was even a thought
— JMG (@griffisjm) May 10, 2021
“In Russia the 9th of May is known as the ‘Day of victory’, when the Nazis capitulated, and it is a day when the dead are remembered.
“Nikita still completely missed the point of why the drivers are/were kneeling,” claimed one critic with a Twitter handle containing the hashtag #WeSayNoToMazepin.
In Russia the 9th of May is known as the “Day of victory”, when the Nazis capitulated, and it is a day when the dead are remembered. Nikita still completely missed the point of why the drivers are/were kneeling
— AS19 | Alex | #WeSayNoToMazepin (@AS19_Portsmouth) May 9, 2021
In another reply defending Mazepin, one fan wrote: “I think that he has the right to have his own point! He chose to honor the memory of the fallen in the greatest war against racism! This must be respected! An act of a strong man and personality!”
I think that he has the right to have his own point! He chose to honor the memory of the fallen in the greatest war against racism! This must be respected! An act of a strong man and personality!
— CmepeoTun (@Ozylab) May 10, 2021
“Thanks man. Those trolls who dare to open their mouths to banish you for this gesture are completely unaware that 76 years ago people literally lost their lives fighting against the racism,” came one response in defense of the Russian racer.
Thanks man. Those trolls who dare to open their mouths to banish you for this gesture, are completely unaware that 76 years ago people literally lost their lives fighting against the racism.
— Alex Myodov (@amyodov) May 10, 2021
“You can’t just choose what you want to kneel for,” tweeted one person with a smile – before another Twitter user added “actually, they can,” sharing a snippet of a BBC report on changes to the F1 rules on protests for drivers.
you can’t just choose what you want to kneel for 🙂
— Nataša 🌙 (@lacunanas) May 9, 2021
Actually, they can
— Binisiu (@BinisiuMacaco) May 9, 2021
The full version of the report reads that drivers can “choose their own gesture to support inclusivity on the grid,” and there was no suggestion Mazepin was contravening the rules with his actions.
While numerous drivers continue to kneel regularly in a nod to the BLM movement, those such as Mazepin and bigger stars like Mercedes ace Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull sensation Max Verstappen have not done so.
Mazepin’s act of kneeling was not the only way he marked Victory Day – which in Russia is celebrated on May 9, as opposed to one day earlier in Western Europe due to the timing of the signing of the German surrender.
The young driver also appeared in a specially-designed helmet bearing a number 9 and the black and orange colors of the Ribbon of St George – a symbol associated with the national remembrance and celebrations.
On the track, Mazepin finished at the back of the field in 19th in Sunday’s race, which was won by Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton.
Haas teammate Mick Schumacher – son of F1 legend Michael Schumacher – finished one place above Mazepin in 18th as the team’s struggles continued against their much quicker rivals.
There was one lighter note, however, as Mazepin shared an online poll in which he was voted fourth in the ‘driver of the day stakes’ – writing “Thanks for your votes, let’s keep pushing” and adding a laughing emoji.
Mazepin joined Haas this season as his father, Russian billionaire Dmitry Mazepin, joined as a major sponsor of the team with his company Uralkali. That led to accusations of Mazepin effectively buying his spot on the team, although he shone as he emerged through the F2 ranks.
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