If you cast your mind back to the 2022 Formula 1 pre-season shakedown at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, you will remember it took place not long after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. At the time Haas was still fielding Nikita Mazepin, whose father is oligarch Dimitry Mazepin, and their main sponsor was Russian company Uralkali. Questions were raised over whether they would be able to keep both Mazepin and the sponsor. But once other sponsors threatening to pull their backing and the FIA effectively banned athletes from competing under the Russian flag, Haas ultimately severed ties with the two parties. In his new book entitled ‘ Surviving to Drive ‘ Steiner candidly recalls the turbulent period in which the team’s future was on the brink, and the team boss had to field uncomfortable questions about their ties to the Russia state. “Everybody wants to know about the Russia situation but what can I tell them? I’m not Vladimir Putin!” exclaims Steiner. “I kept saying to the reporters, ‘Do you want to talk to me about the car or the team? I mean, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?’ They got the message.” Steiner: As elephants in the room go this one is the size of a foking mountain! Before pre-season testing began, Steiner had a call with Haas director of communications to discuss the ongoing situation. “‘Guenther, I need to speak to you,’ he said. I thought to myself, S**t, here we go . The test hasn’t even started yet and already we’re having problems,” recalled Steiner. “He told me that Russia might be on the verge of invading Ukraine. To any other team that wouldn’t be a problem, as such, but to us it could be disastrous. “Not only do we have a Russian driver but out title sponsor is also Russian. I don’t even want to think about it at the moment. “About an hour later I saw Nikita. Everybody’s trying to act as normally as they can around him but as elephants in the room go this one is the size of a foking mountain!” Haas decided to drop Uralkali and Mazepin Mazepin went on to complete the three days of the test with the team, but a few days later the team made a decision to part ways. “As soon as the test was over I went to my office for the board meeting. They wanted to know what I thought, as team principal, so I told them: ‘Drop the Uralkali branding,’ I said. ‘Change the livery to white and tell the whole foking world that is what we have done’,” said Steiner. The decision was made largely due to the backlash that the team would receive from the world’s media and the potential ramifications of retaining Mazepin, as it was not clear whether he would be able to contest all of the rounds. Steiner refers to it as a “fluid situation” although – in his blunt way – concedes that the team was in the dark when making many of their decisions. “After the board meeting I called Uralkali’s chairman and told him what we’d decided. I think he’d been expecting it. I could have called Nikita’s father but every time we speak we end up having an argument. Although the decision was unanimous, I asked the chairman of Uralkali to tell me in his own time how they saw things. I still haven’t heard back from him. “The whole thing is what people these days call a very ‘fluid situation’, which basically means that nobody knows shit about what’s going on. I hear it all the time. It’s trendy these days. “‘I don’t know how to do my job any more; Hey, don’t worry, man, you’re just in a very fluid situation!’ “What a load of bulls**t.” Steiner also addressed the rumours around the team’s potential demise due to funding, while also discussing the various meetings and correspondence between the FIA and the teams over the situation with banning Russian competitors. After a busy day, he ends the excerpt by saying: “On a s**t scale from one to ten, today has been about a million. Seriously, who’d have my life?” Surviving to Drive is published by Bantam Press and releases on 20th April.

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