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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - DECEMBER 04: Pietro Fittipaldi of Brazil and Haas F1 walks in the Pitlane after practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Sakhir at Bahrain International Circuit on December 04, 2020 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

F1: Who is in the race for the Haas drive?

Pietro Fittipaldi will run during Testing, but that doesn’t mean he’s secured the seat

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Gene Haas has confirmed that Pietro Fittipaldi will be in the car in Bahrain, but it is still unclear as to who will partner Mick Schumacher in 2022.

Whilst speaking to the Associated Press, Gene Haas told them that Fittipaldi will drive the car in Bahrain during pre-season testing. Whether he’ll be alongside Schumacher for the season, or even the first couple of grand prix, remains to be seen.

This follows a turbulent few weeks for the team. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has altered the face of global politics, and the implications have been far-reaching.

The war made Uralkali’s sponsorship of the team untenable, which in turn made Nikita Mazepin’s position in the team untenable as well. It is widely accepted that the former driver was only in the seat because Haas’ former title sponsor is partly owned by his father, Dmitry Mazepin.

On Saturday 5th March, Haas officially ended their relationship with Uralkali. In the same announcement, the team confirmed the termination of Nikita Mazepin’s contract, with immediate effect.

Gene Haas told the AP that “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.”

What does that mean for their driver line-up?

Fittipaldi deputised for Romain Grosjean in the final two races of the 2020 season. This came after the latter suffered injuries from his horrific accident at the re-scheduled Bahrain Grand Prix.

As their reserve driver, Fittipaldi is somewhat a known quantity to Haas. However, he is lacking in overall experience. The Brazilian-American will be well-acquainted with the car, the team around him and the simulator, but Haas are hoping to put someone with more than two race starts in F1 in their second seat.

“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,” confirmed Haas. “Pietro will definitely be in it, that’s what he’s for, he’s the test driver.”

“I think we’d obviously like to get someone with a bit more actual experience.

“We just have to see what’s available.”

Haas’ comments indicated that it is increasingly unlikely that Fittipaldi will be in the car for the entire season. But that’s not to say he won’t start the year in the line-up.

Who else is in contention?

Former Alfa Romeo driver, Antonio Giovinazzi has also been linked with the vacated seat. It’s no secret that the Italian would welcome a return to F1. And he’s part of the Ferrari family, who power the Haas cars.

Antonio Giovinazzi
Antonio Giovinazzi is considered to be one of a number of options open to Haas

Image Credit: Peter Fox via Getty Images

Although currently with Dragon / Penske Autosport in Formula E, it is said that a clause in Giovinazzi’s contract would allow him to resume his career in Formula One.

He would provide the sought-after experience and a quantifiable benchmark to compare Schumacher by. The German is highly regarded, but the disparity in performance between him and his former teammate, Mazepin, meant it was hard to judge his results.

Another familiar name linked to the seat is Aston Martin reserve, Nico Hulkenberg. A veteran of 179 race starts, he would provide stability and experience. Although a talented driver, he is seen as someone who failed to reach their potential in the sport and has been without a full-time drive since 2019.

Nico Hulkenberg
Nico Hulkenberg is the most experienced F1 driver to never achieve a podium finish

Image Credit: Bryn Lennon via Getty Images

However, Hulkenberg performed well when standing in at Racing Point on three occasions during the COVID-19-disrupted 2020 season.

What are Haas’ other options?

Another name that has been floated is that of F2 champion, Oscar Piastri. The young Australian is regarded as an incredibly exciting prospect. It’s just a matter of time before he gets a full F1 drive with Alpine. As such, it’s only conceivable they’d allow him to go to Haas ‘on loan’. That said, it is understood that he is not in the running for the seat.

The BBC has reported that current F2 driver, Jehan Daruvala is under consideration. But like Piastri, he does not possess the desired experience, so it is unlikely Haas will go for him.

Neither Romain Grosjean, nor Kevin Magnussen, are seen as viable options.

In lesser, but related news, the AP has also confirmed that Haas will run re-branded cars at the Bahrain test. The livery will feature Haas Automation, a CNC machine tool manufacturing company founded by Gene Haas.

Featured Image Credit: Mark Thompson via Getty Images

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