Formula 1 titleholder Max Verstappen has been informed last season's world championship win should not count due to the absence of Russian drivers.
That's according to Russian Vitaly Petrov, who feels Nikita Mazepin's removal from the grid is enough to not credit Red Bull star Verstappen with his second title in as many years. Mazepin's Haas contract was terminated on the eve of the 2022 campaign, shortly after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, which is still ongoing today.
"Without Russia, I don't consider a single champion or Olympic title to be valid," former Renault and Caterham driver Petrov—who made 57 starts between 2010 and 2012—told reporters in Russia. "We have to stop being afraid of our people and bring Russia back into world sport.
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"For me, it's not acceptable. I don't understand at all this absurdity of imposing certain opinions on people. We can use the current situation as an impetus for the development of motorsport, training young people to guide them further into the future."
Petrov's comments fail to take into account the fact Mazepin was permitted to compete in F1 provided he raced under a neutral flag and followed several other guidelines. It's also relevant that Mazepin's father, oligarch and business magnate Dmitry, saw his Uralkali company removed as one of Haas' title sponsors.
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Formula 1 was far from the only sport to take action over its exclusion of athletes competing under the Russian and Belarusian banners. Wimbledon took place without ranking points being accrued after it banned athletes from those countries, while the International Olympic Committee also took similar steps.
"I understand it's difficult, but no one should give up," added Petrov, the first Russian driver to compete in F1. "I myself have wanted to race in Formula 1 all my life, so I understand young drivers very well. But they have to be patient, practice and not stop believing, so when the opportunity to come back comes, we'll all be ready."
The point regarding Verstappen's title win is particularly questionable considering Mazepin finished bottom of the drivers' standings in his debut 2021 season, failing to score a single point. Haas improved upon that figure dramatically in 2022 after replacement Kevin Magnussen netted 25 points thanks to his six top-10 finishes.
There won't be any Russian presence on the grid again in 2023, with Australia's Oscar Piastri, Dutchman Nyck de Vries and American Logan Sargeant the headline newcomers.
Verstappen, meanwhile, will seek to cement his place in the history books when he bids to become just the fifth driver in F1 history to clinch three consecutive titles.
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