In late February, just as Formula 1 testing had gotten under way, the Haas team realised it had no choice but to drop its main sponsor and the driver whom that sponsor had effectively been paying for.
Russia's Nikita Mazepin didn't think of himself as a pay driver, but he was. For instance, as ESPN F1 associate editor Nate Saunders wrote recently, "like many pay drivers before him, Mazepin would not have been in F1 on pure talent alone."
His father Dmitry Mazepin holds the controlling stake in Uralchem, which since 2013 has held about a one fifth stake in potash producer Uralkali, who began sponsoring the Haas team ahead of the 2021 season.
Nikita's response to his sacking was starting an initiative to support Russian sportspeople affected by what he described as "cancel culture against my country," which itself is a problematic statement because it's nationalistic in nature. Moreover, offering legal aid and more, "I have decided to make a foundation that will be supporting athletes that have lost their chance to compete in the sport at the highest level because of a non-sporting decision," he said.
But his cause has not been helped by a variety of factors. We'll circle back to cancel culture, but let's start with the sporting side of things, and whether all others believe that sport and politics are separate.
A symbol that looks like the latin letter Z (which isn't in the Cyrillic alphabet that Russians and many others use) has become a Russian war propaganda meme. It's one of a few symbols seen on their military vehicles (along with O and V) to mean something to other Russian forces, but when people online began asking what it meant the Kremlin leaped on the opportunity to turn it into a way of showing support for Russian military aggression and for President Putin.
Meanwhile, as a result of investigations into a state-sponsored doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, no athlete is currently allowed to compete at IOC events under the Russian flag. And yet, President Putin still had a ceremony in April to commemorate the Russian medal winners from Beijing's Winter Olympics. So Putin himself certainly sees the sporting achievements of Russian citizens as another way to positively influence his image through his position as their political leader.
And then there's the view of all other sports who sanctioned Russia after the invasion.
As for the Mazepin family, they have close financial and political ties to the Kremlin themselves. Thus, by March 8 the Mazepins were among the oligarchs personally sanctioned by the EU and the UK, with Italy for example seizing a seaside property in Sardinia among assets worth 105 million euros.
This somewhat validated the Haas team's actions, but it also might have helped to preserve the team's reputation since they had acted before they were legally forced to.
As for cancel culture as a concept, it's just the current catchphrase for boycotts and sanctions. I would argue that the biological instinct to shun non-compliant members of a group is older than any species of human (the earliest known is Homo habilis who emerged up to 2.4 million years ago).
Regardless of whether it's a boycott or a sanction, the end goal is to change behaviour. If it's nations imposing sanctions, it's a non-violent response to the actions of a regime or those supporting it. If it's ordinary consumers deciding collectively to boycott an entity or individual, then it's also using non-violent pressure to regulate the behaviour of that entity or individual.
Cancel culture towards Russia also affects China's strategy for Taiwan. According to geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan, the Chinese have now seen the power consumers have to put pressure on corporations, which he says they never imagined to be possible.
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