Updated: Jul 20
Yesterday, February 24, 2022, the Haas Formula One racing team announced that they would be running an all-white livery, stripping the previously present blue and red stripe from the car. Haas has also announced that the most prominent sponsor, Uralkali (Russian-based potash fertilizer producer and exporter), will be removed from the car. Haas also seems to be scrubbing any equipment, buildings, or trailers of the Uralkali name as well.
These actions come as the world watches what many feared as Russia’s armed forces began their invasion of neighboring Ukraine. As this invasion began on Thursday morning, much of the world voiced a response and Haas was no different.
Haas stated the team “will present its VF-22 in a plain white livery, minus Uralkali branding, for the third and final day of track running at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya on Friday 25 February.”
The team went on to state that testing would resume as normal which means that Russian-born driver Nikita Mazepin will continue testing in the morning with his teammate Mick Schumacher taking over for the afternoon stint. However, they made no further comments and have pulled team principal Guenther Steiner out of Thursday press conferences.
While these actions by the Haas team are seen by many to be taking the moral high ground, the contractual relationship between the Haas team and its Uralkali sponsor may be tested. As one of the most prominent sponsors on the team, Uralkali has undoubtedly spent millions of dollars to ensure their name is used all over the team merchandise and car.
In a sport where money drives the ultimate success of the team, sponsors fight to have their logo displayed for the international world to see. During these talks between teams and sponsors, everything is negotiated including the color, size, and location of the logo. The most important of these being the location of the logo as certain parts of the car are more easily visible during live television broadcasts. The most popular being the direct side of the car or the back side of the rear wing.
Given the nature of most sponsorship contracts, it is easy to assume that this contract included a morals clause. This clause could ensure that the Haas team can strip a sponsor of their right to be shown on its car for any morally reprehensible reasons. Many would agree that the recent actions seen in Ukraine amount to that level. However, Uralkali may have an argument that its company was not responsible for the actions of Russia’s armed forces. Another issue arises when one looks at how much Uralkali provides to the team financially. With this break-up, the Haas team could be facing hardships financially. This could be remedied if Haas included a clause stating that if Haas was to cut off Uralkali due to a morals issue, it is to keep the financial proceeds from the company.
This decision by Haas may also have possible future ramifications for Formula One as their driver Nikita Mazepin is the son of one of the directors of Uralkali, Dmitry Mazepin. The signing of Nikita to the F1 grid started with bad optics as many voiced that the only reason he was being signed was the money his father was bringing to the Haas team. While Haas has made no further comments, one can wonder what dominos will fall next as we enter the pre-season of Formula One.
Justin Mader is a 3L at the University of New Hampshire School of Law where he serves as Lead Articles Editor for IDEA: The Law Review of the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property. He can be reached on Twitter: @jmader19 and LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/justin-mader-15a602119/.