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Williams Racing wins $35M lawsuit against ROKiT for missing payments

Williams Racing has won a lawsuit against ROKiT after the media and venture capital company failed to pay its multi-year sponsorship deals with the British team.

On June 28 last year Williams had announced a termination of its sponsorship arrangements with ROKiT and ROKiT Drinks, effective immediately.

At the same time, the Grove-based team started a formal sale process, reportedly citing a loss of millions of pounds in 2019. Williams was later acquired by U.S. private investment firm Dorilton Capital.

The team had signed a 5-year title partnership deal with ROKiT before the start of the 2019 season, expanding later in the season with ROKiT Drinks sub-brand becoming principal sponsor. 

Under the sponsorship agreements, ROKiT was to pay Williams installments ranging from £3.5 million to £5 million at certain prescribed times.

ROKiT is a media and venture capital company owned by ex-Goodyear mechanic Jonathan Kendrick, who aided Williams in its winning days at the turn of the century, and entrepeneur John Paul DeJoria.

Outside of F1, ROKiT has partnered with athletes, teams and events – such as Max Biaggi, Alexis DeJoria, NBA, NFL, W Series and Formula E.

Williams first filed a lawsuit against ROKiT in early 2021, after ROKiT backed out of the two sponsorship agreements it had inked with the team, which were both due to expire at the end of 2023.

Williams received £26.2 million in missed payments plus a $1 million bonus payment from a London Court of International Arbitration tribunal, but there was still money missing.

In 2019, Williams had asked ROKiT to pay a $1 million bonus it had promised earlier that year, with the company’s Jonathan Kendrick promising to pay up until March 2020.

Kendrick told the racing team he was “so blown away with what you’re doing for ROKiT and me,” according to a transcript of the message that was included in a partial award issued in July.

Later in 2020, ROKiT appeared to follow up when one of its employees sent a document to the team “which bears all the indicia of an instruction to a bank to wire” the $24.4 million owed at that time, according to legal documents.

During the case, U.S. arbitrator Klaus Reichert rejected arguments from ROKiT that it had withheld payment from Williams because the team hadn’t fulfilled its obligations under the deal.

Reichert added that, up until March 2020, the media company was “unambiguously promising” payment to the team in full and without reservation.

According to Williams Racing’s 2019 Financial Report, ROKiT had paid the British team approximately £14M as part of the first year from the deal.

Curiously, when Williams publicly announced the sponsorship termination, Deputy team principal Claire Williams hinted it was not related to any contractual breach.

I can’t go into detail on the ins and outs. What I can say is that we met all of our contractual obligations to ROKiT. 

Claire Williams, Williams Racing, Deputy Team Principal

The California Central Court attributed a payment of $35.7 million in arbitration to ROKiT for failing to oblige with the contractual agreements with Williams Racing.

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