Williams criticise as ‘spurious’ former sponsor’s $222m lawsuit
By Ian Parkes
Tuesday 4th April, 2023 - 9:28pm
Williams has described as “spurious” a lawsuit from former F1 sponsor Rokit.
The telecommunications and drinks company, that took on a title sponsorship agreement with Williams in 2019, has lodged a legal claim at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida seeking $222million (US$150m; £119m; €137m) in damages.
Documents lodged with the court cite Williams as making what it has described as ‘fraudulent’ remarks about its performance potential prior to the 2019 season knowing it did not have the funds to develop the car to that level to substantiate its claims.
The paperwork says Williams “intentionally and fraudulently concealed the fact that Williams Engineering simply did not have enough money to develop the F1 car which would be subject to the sponsorship agreements to an industry-leading standard”.
It further states that in mid-January 2019 at the team’s Grove headquarters, Rokit representatives were informed the FW42 “had industry-leading performance capabilities, including a Mercedes-Benz engine, and would have excellent chances to be competitive, would place in the upper side of the leaderboard, and would not be slower than the 2018 Williams F1 car.”
It adds that the defendants “knew that the F1 car, which would be subject to the sponsorship agreements, had no chance to be competitive, or at the least, place in the upper side of the leaderboard, and actively concealed this fact” from Rokit.
Williams endured the worst season in its history in 2019, finishing bottom of the constructors’ standings with only a point to its name.
When Covid-19 struck early the following year and the season was put on hold, Williams announced in May 2020 its sponsorship agreement with Rokit had been terminated. On the same day, the team was also formally put up for sale.
Rokit claim reputation damaged
Rokit now claims it has “suffered significant financial loss and damage to their goodwill and business reputation” and is seeking damages of “an amount in excess of $149,528,550 dollars or in an amount to be determined at by a jury at trial”.
The legal case comes after Williams successfully sued Rokit in 2021 after a London Court of International Arbitration tribunal found the latter to be in breach of contract.
An initial three-year sponsorship deal was agreed upon between the two parties and later extended to five years.
Williams was awarded a then sum of $49.2m (US$35.7m), which has since required action to be taken in a federal court in Los Angeles and then through the Central District Court of California for the money to be obtained.
Rokit is now counter-suing, claiming it “was not aware of the fraudulent concealment of statements of material facts by defendants that were not discovered until after the arbitration had concluded”.
In response to the latest legal action, a statement from Williams to Speedcafe, reads: “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.”
Former deputy team principal Claire Williams, along with Mike O’Driscoll and Doug Lafferty, who were then group CEO and chief financial officer respectively, have been named in the proceedings.
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