B&M, Linklaters sued as F1 teams cry negligence

Pinsents instructed after Williams and McLaren miss out on sell-off of F1 commercial and media rights

Linklaters and Baker & McKenzie (B&M) are facing negligence claims that could run into millions of pounds over advice they gave to two Formula 1 (F1) motor racing teams.

According to court documents served earlier this year, Williams Grand Prix Engineering and McLaren Racing, two of the sport’s biggest names, are bringing the action over advice given in relation to an agreement with F1’s head honcho Bernie Ecclestone.

In 1997 Williams and McLaren retained Linklaters and B&M respectively to advise on an agreement with Ecclestone, which the motor racing teams claim was intended to give them an interest in the sale of F1’s commercial and media rights.

This disposal is understood to relate to the sale by Ecclestone of a 75 per cent stake in SLEC Holding, the parent company of Formula One Holdings, the company which governs the sport.

In 1999, Morgan Grenfell Private Equity agreed to buy a 12.5 per cent stake in the parent company for £203m and obtained an option to buy a further 37.5 per cent for £609m.

The claim form states: “In negotiating with Mr Ecclestone and/or the [Ecclestone Family] Trusts, and in preparing the relevant agreement dated 22 May 1998, the defendants acted negligently and in breach of their contractual and/or tortious duties, with the result that when the Trusts disposed of the commercial rights in 1999-2001 the teams were not entitled to and/or did not receive any share in the relevant proceeds.”

All Formula 1 teams receive a share of the revenue from the sale of commercial rights, which is governed by the Concorde Agreement. It is estimated that Formula 1 now generates more than £400m annually from the sale of commercial rights.

The two Formula 1 teams have instructed Pinsents partner David Lancaster, a professional negligence expert, to bring the claim.

Williams and Linklaters declined to comment. B&M and McLaren were unavailable for comment.