F1 hits back over $8m Robbie Williams claim as revived race sells out

The Australian Financial Review can reveal the Australian GP has engaged law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler to fight an $8 million-plus legal claim lodged after the snap cancellation of a performance by British pop star Robbie Williams in 2020, when the scrapped race marked the start of the pandemic. Last year’s race was also postponed and later cancelled.

Legal insiders said it would be a closely watched test case with a legal defense based on “frustration” – that unexpected events prevented the performance going ahead – or potentially force majeure, or “greater force” events outside the control of organisers.

But Mr Westacott, also speaking at the SportNXT conference, said he was looking to put the past two years behind him as record ticket sales meant the event would have a sellout crowd of more than 100,000 on both Saturday and Sunday’s race day.

Fans lined up at Albert Park in Melbourne for the first day of the Grand Prix in 2020, but the gates never opened. It was canceled at the 11th hour due to COVID-19. Getty

He pointed to the changed track, the race’s hiatus and the Netflix series with its greater appeal to women, all working in their favour, despite losing the prestigious mantle as the season’s opening race.

“Ticket sales are massively up by about 25 per cent … think about your favorite rock band who haven’t toured for three or four years and you want to get along to see them,” Mr Westacott said. ”We are going to be nudging 125,000 to 130,000, not only the Sunday but the Saturday of the event.

“The cars if you can believe are going to be about five seconds a lap quicker; they are going to get up to speeds of around 340 km/h around Lakeside Drive around Albert Park. The circuit has had two turns taken out … five other turns have been widened all with a view to making the racing more exciting, more abilities to overtake. We’ve also done a huge resurfacing of the circuit.”

The annual Women Driving Leadership breakfast on Thursday headlined by Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp is an example of the increased effort to attract more women to F1.

“Women sometimes mistakenly perceive the sport as too blokey, raucous and intimidating,” Madam Wheels founder Jacquie Hayes said. “The AusGP is actually my – and many other women’s – favorite event of the year.“

Mr Westacott shrugged off the case being brought by World Touring Melbourne in the Supreme Court of Victoria, which is seeking $7.594 million for costs it incurred plus another $1.128 million in lost profits, and interest.

King & Wood Mallesons cross-border specialist Amanda Lees said the case would be closely watched as a test case. Billions in LNG, coal and iron ore contracts with China were at risk of being renegotiated during the pandemic as lawyers faced off over force majeure claims.

Most of those cases were settled, although a recent decision by the High Court of Singapore over a canceled lease should help support the Grand Prix’s defence, Ms Lees said.

“This is one of the first claims actually coming to court. There haven’t been many. A lot of people have been working out how to resolve the situation together, rather than making a formal claim,” she said.

The CEOs of the country’s largest sports were also speaking at the event where much of the talk was about the possible new revenue stream created by non-fungible token (NFTs), with AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan revealing they will soon release an NFT based on Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin’s 1000th goal.

Mr McLachlan revealed the AFL had struck a deal with the AFL Players Association for players to receive approximately 20 per cent revenue around the future sales of NFTs. The League’s NFT partnership is with Animoca.

Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan also revealed their sport was “millions” in debt due to COVID-19 and would need to work hard to return the sport to profitability.

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