Immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine in March, the Haas team unilaterally terminated its Uralkali sponsorship deal due to company owner Dmitry Mazepin’s ties to the president. of the country, Vladimir Putin.
He also ended the deal he had with racing driver Nikita Mazepin, who has since been replaced by Kevin Magnussen.
At the time, Uralkali said he was considering legal action over the matter as he was seeking reimbursement of the sponsorship money he had paid before the season.
In a statement released last month, the company said: “As the bulk of the sponsorship funding for the 2022 season has already been transferred to Haas and given that the team terminated the sponsorship agreement prior to the first race of the 2022 season, Haas has therefore failed to fulfill its obligations to Uralkali for this year’s season.
“Uralkali will demand the immediate reimbursement of the sums collected by Haas.”
Uralkali then wrote to Haas challenging the team’s rights to terminate the contract, as well as asking for a refund of 12 million euros ($13 million) that had been paid in advance.
It has emerged, however, that Haas has now officially responded to Uralkali’s letter and has completely dismissed the company’s claims.
In the Haas team’s letter to the Russian company, a copy of which has been seen by Autosport, the American team insists that it had the right to terminate the agreement due to a clause of the sponsorship agreement which stipulated that Uralkali not ‘damage, challenge, ridicule or lessen the public reputation, goodwill of the favorable image of Haas’.
Nikita Mazepin, Haas VF-22
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport footage
Haas says Mazepin’s ties to the Kremlin, allied to sanctions imposed by the European Union, triggered the discredit clause. However, no sanctions had been imposed by the European Union or any other party when the contract was terminated.
In the letter, Haas explains why he thinks Uralkali’s sponsorship should not be refunded.
“According to the unanimity of jurists and case law, the party which terminates the agreement for default by the other party has no obligation to restore to this party what it has already received under the agreement” , he says.
“Uralkali’s request to obtain reimbursement of the deposit of EUR 12,000,000 is therefore unfounded and rejected.”
Haas adds that beyond the money already paid, the team is also entitled to compensation for the shortfall it claims would have occurred had the Uralkali deal continued.
He then demanded an €8m payment in lieu of that, which he wants to transfer within days.
Haas also clarified that he would not fulfill a clause in his original contract for Uralkali to receive one of Mazepin’s 2021 F1 cars until he received the €8m payment.
The letter adds: “Unless and until the above amount has been paid to Haas, no obligation exists on Haas’ side to deliver and no delivery of the F1 car will take place.”
According to a source familiar with the situation, Haas also refused to pay Mazepin his salary for the time worked this season before his contract was cancelled.
Nikita Mazepin, Haas F1 Team
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport footage
Haas’ stance reportedly left Uralkali stunned, with sources saying they were “in disbelief” about the withholding of cash, the 2021 car and the demand for additional payment.
A source said: “Everyone understands that the world is in a difficult situation, but it is obviously ridiculous to claim that Haas has the right to keep the money paid from a contract he unilaterally left, without rendering any of the agreed services.
“They seem to be willing to spend Russian money – and even ask for more – but they don’t want to have Russians around.
“This is truly shocking treatment for a title sponsor who escalated last season when the team was in dire need of resources and offered to go above and beyond contractual amounts to provide additional bonuses to the team personnel to achieve better results for everyone involved.”
Representatives of Uralkali and Nikita Mazepin declined to comment on the matter and instead referred to a previous statement which had been posted on the company’s website.
The Haas F1 team has been approached for comment but has not responded at press time.
The case now looks almost certainly headed for the courts, unless there is a last-minute change in Haas’ approach to the money.
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