American F1 team makes Russian money demand – report
Formula One team Haas and its Russian former sponsor Uralkali appear set to embark on a courtroom battle after Haas refused to pay back sponsorship money and also demanded loss of earnings compensation from the fertilizer giant, according to reports.
The relationship between the two parties was terminated in March as a response to Russia's military operation in Ukraine. Furthermore, though the FIA had allowed Russian drivers to compete in the 2022 season under neutral status, the American team still cut ties with Russian racer Nikita Mazepin, whose father Dmitry held a controlling stake in Uralkali until recently.
Uralkali revealed it was considering legal action as a means of recovering the money already paid to Haas for sponsorship for the ongoing 2022 term and demanded "the immediate reimbursement of the amounts received by Haas," said to total €12 million ($13 million), as it had "failed to perform its obligations to Uralkali for this year's season".
Haas has reportedly now responded to a letter from Uralkali challenging its rights to terminate their contract and claims that it did indeed have the right to end their deal due to a clause in their agreement that stated Uralkali cannot "injure, bring into dispute, ridicule, or lessen the public reputation, goodwill of favorable image of Haas."
In the document that Motorsport.com claims to have seen, Haas says that the disrepute clause was triggered when the European Union imposed its sanctions on the Mazepins for their alleged links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, though those sanctions weren't in place when the Haas-Uralkali contract was terminated.
Despite this, Haas provides reasoning for not returning the sponsorship money to Uralkali, as "according to unanimous legal scholars and case law, the party which terminates the agreement" is "under no obligation to return to such party what it has already received under the agreement."
"The claim of Uralkali to obtain the re-payment of the down paid amount of EUR 12,000,000 is therefore ungrounded and rejected," Haas says.
Not satisfied with not returning the considerable amount of money, Haas reportedly also wants an additional payment of €8 million ($8.7 million) for loss of earnings that it believes would have been forthcoming without the termination of the Uralkali deal.
Requesting that the amount is transferred in the next few days, Haas also says that it will not hand over one of its 2021 F1 cars as previously agreed until it has received the money, and has "no obligation" to deliver the vehicle until the transaction has been completed.
A Motorsport.com source who claims to have good knowledge of the dispute says that Haas has refused to pay Nikita Mazepin the part of his 2022 salary due before his contract was ripped up, with Haas' stance having allegedly left Uralkali shocked.
"Everyone understands the world is in a difficult situation, but it is patently ridiculous to argue that Haas is entitled to keep money paid from a contract it exited unilaterally, without rendering any of the agreed upon services," said one source.
"They seem to be fine with spending Russian money – and even are asking for more – but don’t want to have any Russians around."
"It's a truly shocking treatment toward a title sponsor who stepped up last season when the team badly needed resources and who had offered to go above and beyond the contracted amounts to provide additional bonuses to team staff to achieve better results for all involved."
Uralkali was asked by Match TV about Haas' reported request for extra compensation on Thursday.
"We won't comment on the details of the contract, including amounts," a spokesperson from the company's press service said.
"Uralkali's position is consistent, as we previously indicated in our press release, we consider Haas' actions to terminate contracts and Haas's position to be unlawful. The company intends to defend its interests in the future," Uralkali finished.
Since parting ways with Haas, Nikita Mazepin has announced plans to start a Uralkali-backed support fund for Russian athletes who have been prohibited from participating in international competition by federations that followed an International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendation.
Earlier this week, the Mazepins suffered a fresh blow when Italian police seized properties linked to them which are understood to be worth around $115 million.