Williams F1 team facing US$149m lawsuit from former partner Rokit

Brand signed three-year deal with British team in January 2019, but contract was cancelled in 2020.
  • Rokit's three-year deal cancelled after just one year
  • ‘Fraudulent statements’ made about competitiveness of car before contract agreement was reached
  • Williams calls these claims ‘spurious’

The Williams Formula One team are facing a US$149 million lawsuit from former sponsor Rokit,

As first reported by Motorsport.com, the company has claimed in a court filing that Williams Racing made ‘fraudulent statements’ when first agreeing the contract. These include a promise from Williams they would have a competitive car. The team ultimately finished last in the standings, scoring one point all season.

Williams states these claims are ‘spurious’, but former team principal Claire Williams and team executives Mike O'Driscoll and Doug Lafferty have been named as defendants. Rokit claims this ultimately caused damage to its reputation.

Rokit originally signed a three-year deal with the Grove-based outfit in 2019, but the contract was cancelled before the start of the 2020 season.

The start of the 2020 season was obviously delayed due to the Covid pandemic, and this delay is where the dispute originates.

The global venture capital conglomerate claimed that it had not received the rights it was contractually due owing to the cancellation of races, but Williams cited that the contract cancellation came down to late payment of sponsorship fees.

When the reduced 2020 calendar was announced for Formula One's return, Rokit said it offered to pay a percentage of the agreed fees.

Williams ultimately decided to cancel the contract in May, which it turns out was at a time when the team was in negotiations with their new owners, Dorilton Capital.

This is not the first time Rokit has tried to bring this issue to court, however. Both the London Court of International Arbitration and the US District Court for the Central District of California both previously ruled in favour of Williams, ultimately deciding that Rokit must pay UK£26 million (US$32.5 million) in compensation to the Formula One team, as well as covering UK£1 million (US$1.25 million) in legal fees.

But, this new court submission claims that ‘the arbitrator was not aware of the fraudulent concealment of statements of material facts by defendants that were not discovered until after the arbitration had concluded’, and that Rokit ‘learned that the car was never capable of performing to the standards that defendants had guaranteed to the plaintiffs, and that defendants were aware of and concealed this fact'.

It adds that the ‘defendants intentionally and fraudulently concealed the fact that Williams Engineering simply did not have enough money to develop the F1 car.’

Asked about the legal action, the team told Motorsport.com: ‘Williams Racing is aware of this spurious claim. Having successfully won an arbitration against Rokit in the UK and successfully petitioning for the arbitral award to be confirmed by a federal court in the United States, Williams continues to trust in the court processes in regards to this unfortunate matter.’

Rokit adorned the livery of Williams' 2020 entry at pre-season testing before the season was postponed due to the Covid pandemic

However, Rokit co-founder and chairman Jonathan Kendrick remains adamant that he has a case.

“I don't want to do this, but we think we've been wronged,” he told Motorsport.com. “Why this came about was that Covid hit and the whole [2020] season was cancelled. That's why we didn't pay them.

“And then the season, if you remember, was only going to be 50 per cent. So we offered 50 per cent in writing. And they refused and immediately after that cancelled our whole contract, and sued us for the whole amount, even though we wouldn't have anything on the car.

“I've got the emails saying we'll pay you half, and then they cancelled it on Instagram, they didn't even tell us.”

Kendrick says that, in early 2019, he was given verbal assurances by the Williams management that the team would have a competitive car.

“Before we signed it, we asked exactly those questions in front of my board,” he continued. “What is the state of the car? And what is the state of the development?

“And we were told X, Y and Z, and it never, ever was true. And that's what we think we can prove, particularly when we go to court.

“The warrants and the commitments that were given by the board to us could never, ever have been fulfilled. And they just simply were not true. If you remember they turned up at Barcelona [for 2019 testing] late, because they hadn't got the money to do it.”

Additionally, Kendrick claims that he can call on witnesses who had knowledge of the team at the time.

With the 2023 Formula One season having a budget cap of just US$135 million, this legal action could prove catastrophic for Williams Racing.

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