Russian driver to race for Ferrari at Belgian GP thanks to loophole after ban

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Russian-Israeli driver Robert Shwartzman is set to race for Ferrari during FP1 on Friday as Formula 1 returns from its summer break at the Belgian Grand Prix. He is stepping in for Carlos Sainz as a result of a new FIA initiative and is the first reserve driver of any team to get the nod this season.

The new F1 rule introduced in 2022 required each driver to give up their seat in FP1 to a young driver once a season, with Sainz opting this weekend to hand the wheel over to Shwartzman. He has raced for the Scuderia twice before, though surrounded by controversy after the ban on Russian drivers.

F1 rules now state that Russian drivers can compete but they are unable to use the Russian or Belarussian flags or anthems, prompting dual-citizen Shwartzman to switch his nationality from Russian to Israeli in January 2022. He was born in Tel Aviv but raised in Saint Petersburg and Italy, competing under the Russian flag in Formula 2 and was forced to cut ties with Russian team SMP Racing.

In an interview with, Shwartzman explained switching nationalities: “I was born there, in Tel Aviv. My father’s family is from Israel, he was also Israeli. I spent the first three years of my life in Tel Aviv, then my family moved to Russia. When I started karting, my father decided that we would get a Russian license because we lived in Russia.

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“I have always had an Israeli passport. And when the situation between Russia and Ukraine worsened, I decided to apply for a racing license from Israel. In the end, I want to be a racer and my main goal is Formula 1.

“After the FIA made the decisions that they had made, I needed to make sure I was available for work as soon as possible if Ferrari needed to put me behind the wheel. We acted quickly so as not to miss our opportunities.”

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Now as an Israeli competitor, Shwartzman is allowed to compete and will be in action for Ferrari in FP1. Team boss Frederic Vasseur confirmed that it was the drivers’ decision for the 23-year-old to race this weekend, while also insisting that he will also race in Charles Leclerc’s car at the Abu Dhabi GP later in the year.

“I am very excited to be driving the SF-23 after having worked on its development in the simulator,” Shwartzman told the team’s website. “Driving a Formula 1 car during a round of the World Championship is really special and something to be proud of, especially with Scuderia Ferrari, the team that has supported me throughout my career.

“Before the summer break, I did a half day’s testing to get used to being in the cockpit once again, as it’s been quite a while since I last drove a Formula 1 car.”

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