“I’d like to think I’m a young man at 23, and I was not ready for it. I didn’t receive any hint or any support to say that this is a decision we’ve taken, it’s going to go live in 15 minutes, just be ready for it. I obviously had a lot of messages from people, and I just learned at the same time as you guys did.”
He added: “I have been aiming and planning to compete as a neutral athlete. This has been firstly allowed by the FIA the decision that they took. And I without any issues, was happy to agree to that decision that has been made. However, the night before my contract has been terminated there has been an additional letter which has been made.
“And by the time that we were processing that letter, and looking at options, because there was a lot of clauses in it, the next morning, early on, I received a termination of my contract. So there was no time to even say yes to it. I have just been fired.”
Mazepin explained that he is using some of the Uralkali money originally earmarked for his 2022 deal to set up a foundation called We Compete As One. He has previously expressed support for Russians obliged to compete under a neutral flag.
“There is something more important here,” he said. “I asked the question, is there no place at all for neutrality in sports? Does an athlete have a right not to just an opinion, but to keep that opinion out of the public space? Should an athlete be punished for that?
“We all know cases where one country refuses to compete with another in the Olympics because of their political disagreements.
“We saw in the 1980s that a generation of athletes lost their dreams and the chance to compete at the highest level when countries started boycotting one another. Is this where we want sports to be?
“Or are sports a way to bring people together, even at the toughest times, and especially at the toughest times?