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Scott Speed to sue over Red Bull firing

13 December 2010

Driver Scott Speed broke the news about his firing from Red Bull's NASCAR team via his Twitter feed at the end of last month, saying that the letter terminating his contract was "not huge surprise", adding in subsequent tweets that it "will for sure be weird being a free agent" and "Got some meetings today.. Puttin in applications" which were getting "alot of 'ur actually over qualified' and 'we will call u's" [sic].

However, in press interviews Speed was less sanguine and has spoken about his disappointment with how the dismissal was handled via a fax machine without so much as a telephone call from Red Bull's headquarters in Austria. "I can't describe how upset I am just by the morality of it," he is reported to have said. "I don't understand how you can treat people like this," he added: "They were, okay, we're done with you. Thank you for seven and one half years."

Speed has long been associated with Red Bull, having been the leading driver for Red Bull's Driver Search back in 2002 which led to his Formula 1 stint with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2006 that ended abruptly midway through the next season.

Speed also broke the news about the legal action in a tweet that read "today should be the day my lawyer files this lawsuit against Red Bull...Had to tell my loyal twitter followers before they saw it online."

Speed's lawsuit is for $6.5m and claims breach of contract, and was filed with the North Carolina Superior Court. The driver claims he has a signed contract with the team for 2011, while Red Bull's general manager Jay Frye said in October that Speed needed to meet performance clauses in the contract to keep the drive.

The lawsuit states that Speed's contract was amended in June 2008 to include the 2011 season at a seasonal salary of $1.5 million, which also granted RBR the right to pick up contract options on the driver for the 2012 and 2013 seasons with salary raises of $500,000 per year. The lawsuit also states that in January 2010, Red Bull revised the year's salary from $1m to $500,000 but that despite the cost-cutting moves Red Bull exercised their 20112 and 2013 options in May of this year. Speed's claim for $6.5m represents money Speed would have earned from the 2011 through 2013 seasons, plus the $500,000 in salary lost from this year plus compensation for the likelihood that he will be idle during the upcoming 2011 season since the possibility of signing with another NASCAR team this late in the year is unlikely.

Speed started 2010 - his second full-time season in NASCAR - well and was into the top 12 at one point, qualifying on the front row in Phoenix and finishing in the top ten in the series' second visit of the year to Daytona. After that his form declined. and he ended up down in 30th place in the driver's championship by the end of the year. Red Bull say that the contract's performance clause allows them to break the contract if Speed finished lower than 16th. Speed's lawyers say that Red Bull failed to provide the funding for his team to be competitive and made it impossible for him to meet the performance clause: "[Red Bull] withheld financial and technological … resources to prevent [Speed's] team from fielding competitive race cars throughout the 2010 Sprint Cup Series season," Speed states in the complaint. “[Red Bull] significantly reduced its financial commitment to Speed's race team and was unable and/or unwilling to provide [Speed] with 'supporting equipment' satisfactory for a driver of [his] skill to [be] effective [to] compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series,” Speed's complaint states.

Red Bull have already moved Kasey Kahne into the team and need to make room for the return of Brian Vickers who returns from a serious health issue that sidelined him for most of the year but which is now behind him following heart surgery to repair a hole between the right and left atrium in his heart with a stent from his leg. Vickers' return was still uncertain until late in the season, which probably explains why Red Bull left it so late to terminate Speed's contract.

Speed said last week that the filing of the lawsuit was in order to be able to pay bills due next year, given that the chances of now getting a ride for 2011 are very slim. "I don't know how to describe how much I think filing a lawsuit, how stupid it is and how ridiculous this is that we're doing this, but I literally have no other option," Speed explained. "I have to protect myself.

"I would have been so easy to deal with if Red Bull would have just explained to me straight up and honestly what the real situation was."


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