After Nikita Mazepin’s contract at Haas was terminated on Saturday, his sponsor Uralkali has said it will seek damages against Haas Formula 1 team for sponsorship already paid to the team for the 2022 season. Uralkali is partly owned by Dmitry Mazepin, Nikita’s father, who is one of the oligarchs closely associated with the Kremlin and specifically to Vladimir Putin.
The statement from Uralkali says it was told there was a “unilateral termination of the sponsorship agreement with Uralkali due to the current geopolitical situation,” which clears up exactly what Haas’ motivations were. However, from Uralkali’s perspective, “the company views the team’s decision as unreasonable and believes that sports should always be free of politics and pressure from external factors.”
That might raise some eyebrows with Ukrainian athletes currently being displaced by an extremely brutal war and presumably feeling some pressure from external factors like the threat of thermobaric missiles. However, the statement continues to say that “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.”
It says that “most of the sponsorship funding for the 2022 season has already been transferred to Haas,” arguing that given the early termination of the contract, Haas is now in breach of contract to Uralkali and has to pay it back. Apparently—and it turns out there was a way to make this particular branding even more cynical, somehow—the returned money will be used to set up a new We Compete As One foundation for excluded athletes.
Whether Haas could actually pay Uralkali any money isn’t just a question of whether the team still has it. Sanctions regimes could mean that it’s literally not legally possible to send money to a Russian entity, especially one as politically involved as Uralkali. And there’s not that much chance of legal action having very much effect during the (Uralkali’s phrase) “current geopolitical situation.” So this might not be the latest tranch of bad news for Haas, who is already having a pretty grim week.
Today, the team had to confirm that freight delays have meant it won’t be able to run the Thursday morning test session in Bahrain but is hoping to get test and reserve driver (and candidate to replace Mazepin) Pietro Fittipaldi out in the afternoon.
Hitech GP, a Formula 2 and 3 team that had been badged with Uralkali sponsorship and which Uralkali was, at one point in 2018, the majority shareholder of, also confirmed this week that it had terminated all ties with the company.
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