In the latest chapter of the controversy between the Haas F1 Team and its former title sponsor Uralkali, the only US team in the sport is allegedly refusing to refund Uralkali sponsorship money.
And insiders say Haas wants compensation from Uralkali.
Earlier this year the F1 team dropped Uralkali as its title sponsor and ditched driver Nikita Mazepin (the son of Uralkali key shareholder Dimitry Mazepin).
Haas brought back former driver Kevin Magnussen in response to global sanctions imposed on Russia at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Mazepins have close ties to Vladimir Putin.
In March 2022, Uralkali said it would be considering legal action against Haas.
The Russian fertiliser company said it would seek a refund of the 12 million Euros (US$13 million) in sponsorship payments it already paid to Haas.
“Uralkali intends to protect its interests in line with applicable legal procedures and reserves its rights to initiate judicial proceedings, claim damages and seek repayment of the significant amounts Uralkali had paid for the 2022 Formula 1 season,” read Uralkali’s statement.
“As most of the sponsorship funding for the 2022 season has already been transferred to Haas and given that the team terminated the sponsorship agreement before the first race of the 2022 season, Haas has thus failed to perform its obligations to Uralkali for this year’s season.”
“Uralkali shall request the immediate reimbursement of the amounts received by Haas.”
Uralkali also said in its statement that it was “unreasonable” of Haas to end its sponsorship deal based on Russia’s actions in Ukraine and that Formula 1 “should always be free of politics and pressure from external factors”.
Haas fires back
Now, Haas has reportedly responded with a statement of its own.
In a copy of the statement that was seen by Motorsport.com, Haas argued it had a right to end the deal with Uralkali as the agreement between the two parties had a clause in it that stated that Uralkali must not “injure, bring into dispute, ridicule, or lessen the public reputation, goodwill of favourable image of Haas”.
Haas claimed that Uralkali’s close connections with the Kremlin, along with the sanctions that have been imposed by the European Union, were sufficient enough to trigger that clause even though the EU sanctions hadn’t been passed into law at the time.
Haas believes that continuing the agreement with Uralkali would have resulted in a loss of profits and, in lieu of this, has demanded that Uralkali pay the team 8 million Euros (US$8.6 million).
Russian F1 commentator Alexey Popov has also slammed Haas’s response.
“I understand that they were under pressure and it was impossible not to break the contract with Nikita,” the commentator, who works for Match TV, said.
“But after they cooperated for a year, they survived last year with Uralkali’s money and built a good car this year,” he argued.
“So it was possible for them to behave differently than this.”
Mazepin himself also recently appeared on CNN’s Quest Means Business program, where he questioned Formula 1’s “values” and insisted that he was politically neutral when it came to the situation involving Russia and Ukraine.
“Everybody has a right to speak or not to speak and the FIA, the highest governing body, has enabled me to compete as long as I’m neutral,” he claimed.
“But I would say the biggest issue here is coming back to the sport where teams are allowed to be keeping sponsorship money without fulfilling the contract.”
As for his views on the war in Ukraine and his political position in the maelstrom of sanctions against his family, Mazepin had this to say:
“My view is that, whatever is going on right now, and I can only see a very small bit from where I am in Moscow, it’s very painful”.
“But as to my official position, I’ve said many times that it’s very important to be neutral for me, because I’m an athlete.”
What happens with Haas and Uralkali now?
Due to the serious nature of the case and the huge amounts of money potentially involved, it looks almost certain that it’ll be heading to court.
If that’s what happens, this could end up being quite a messy case due to all the factors involved.
As with many things when it comes to legal disputes, this is something we’re just going to have to keep an eye on and see what happens as it unfolds.